My husband and I have been doing a rewatch of The West Wing lately, which isn’t surprising since the show is how we met. It’s certainly not our first rewatch individually — each of us has seen the series several times, I’m sure. It’s our first rewatch together, though, and for me, at least, it’s been awhile since I last visited the Bartlet White House.
It was a great show, for so many reasons — the cast, the writing, the score, the setting. It ran for seven seasons and while I felt there was a bit of a slump in the penultimate year, by the end I would have eagerly signed on for a President Santos sequel. All good things come to an end, though, and in retrospect, maybe it ended just when it was supposed to.
Watching it now, I can’t help but feel there’s an almost naive optimism to the show that doesn’t entirely gel with the horribly divided, much more cynical political landscape we’re living in right now. It’s always possible I’m the cynical one, but it’s hard to imagine anyone in government being that idealistic anymore. Bartlet’s presidency was its own little Aaron Sorkin-esque Camelot, and you can’t keep the magic going forever. You know, Matt Santos was modeled after then-Senator Barack Obama. In the final episode of the show, we’re left hopeful, excited and eager to start anew. That’s how I felt in 2008, but sadly not at all how I feel about the landscape today. Am I more disappointed because this fictional show gave me real-life expectations that were unreasonably high? Maybe, but I think that oversimplifies how defeated I feel every time I see another bill trying to encroach on women’s rights, learn of another brutal regime we’ve chosen to sell arms to, or hear another politician trying to legislate hate. I wasn’t asking for a utopian made-for-tv world, just something a little easier to live with than this.
Having said all of that… this probably won’t be the last time I’ll rewatch The West Wing. Like a nostalgic alum, I’ll keep coming back for homecoming and reunion, checking out the old dorm, driving the new-show kids nuts, remembering when. I might be a lot more cynical about politics, and a little more pragmatic about the world we live in, but I’ll never fall out of love with Josiah Bartlet, Toby Ziegler, Leo, Sam, CJ, Josh, Donna or Charlie. In that sense, I’ll always be a Wingnut, and proudly so.