In the middle of his second year, Democratic President Jed Bartlet (Sheen) and the White House staff strive to make the country a better place while maintaining lives of their own…
You’re probably thinking that a show about politics would be boring as hell. A dry, snooze-fest. Changing legislations, creating policies, yapping on about the constitution… it could so easily have been a one-way ride to dullsville. Instead, what we got when it debuted back in ’99 was a smart, savvy, funny and insightful drama which, despite a few signs of dating, still stands among television’s finest.
So who to thank? Well there’s so many (we’ll get to that cast in a minute), but the main praise should clearly be laid at the feet of showrunner Aaron Sorkin. Following up his highly-praised but hardly watched Sports Night, the scripts (most of which he wrote or co-wrote himself) are truly exceptional, veering between witty comedy and genuine human moments in a natural rhythmic way. Sometimes, even within the same sentence. What stands out most though is the rapid-fire, zinger-filled dialogue which bounces back-and-forth between White House staffers who walk-and-talk in true Sorkin fashion. At times, undeniably, the material tip-toes into sentimental territory and even borders on preachy, but thankfully it always stops short of cheesy or silly.
Still, none of this sparkling banter would work if the cast didn’t ‘get’ the material, and with the notable exception of Moira Kelly’s aggressive Media Consultant (who didn’t return for season 2), the ensemble visibly thrives on it. At first, you’ll wonder who is who and who does what, but it falls into place quickly. Bradley Whitford’s strutting Josh Lyman is Deputy Chief Of Staff (basically, the go-to guy), Richard Schiff’s grumpy, beardy Toby Ziegler is Communications Director (he directs all communications) and Rob Lowe’s quirky, besspeccled Sam Seaborn is Deputy Communications Director (he helps Toby direct all communications).
Then there’s Allison Janney’s flamingo-like Press Secretary CJ Cregg, who controls the press-pack and enjoys the shows best romantic plotline with a nice-guy White House reporter (an also beardy Timothy Busfield). Saving the best till last, John Spencer (RIP dear friend) brings plenty of class as the President’s trusted number two, whilst Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet is the type of man you’ve love to lead the free world.
All in all, it’s a classy, brilliantly-written affair. And, with regards to any of those ‘best ever TV show’ polls, definitely worth voting for.