11 'The West Wing' Episodes That Will Restore Your Faith In Government & Politics
For seven seasons, The West Wing was a liberal dream of what the U.S. Executive Branch could be. President Bartlet, a Democrat, presided over a West Wing staff of fellow liberals, all of whom were ready to alternatively take up worthy causes and comply with more political demands. The idealistic show was in no way an accurate representation of government; that much has been made clear in the years since the show went off the air in 2006. But despite the fact that it isn't always realistic, these 11 episodes of The West Wing will restore your faith in government.
In 2018, it can sometimes be hard to remember why the government of the United States is so great. Volatile cabinet appointments, in-fighting, and extreme partisanship are just part of the everyday news cycle, and it is exhausting. Naturally, people look for an escape, but it can be hard to leave the political news behind by, say, marathoning another true crime show on Netflix or rewatching Gilmore Girls.
This is where The West Wing comes in. Not only is the show a great escape from turbulent political times, it's also not too much of an escape that it can't help you in the real world. Yes, watching Lorelai and Rory will put a smile on your face, but will it make you hopeful for the future of government? Alas, only The West Wing can truly restore your faith in government, and luckily, it does it well.
1"Isaac and Ishmael" S3E1
The West Wing's first episode back from 9/11, "Isaac and Ishmael," took a break from the series' usual narrative and instead focused on a philosophical debate about terrorism and America's role in the global community. The episode is idealistic, but interesting and urges us all to look at complex issues from multiple perspectives, something a lot of government officials could learn a thing or two about.
2"The Supremes" S5E17
After what America went through with the partisan fight to confirm (or, as it turns out, not confirm) Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, some of us might need a reminder that Supreme Court nominations can work. In "The Supremes," Josh and Toby bring in a super liberal judge, played by Glenn Close, in to interview for a Supreme Court nomination for show, only to fall in love and — spoiler alert — nominate her, despite the fact that she has had an abortion.
3"Mr. Willis Of Ohio" S1E6
"Mr. Willis of Ohio" features a rarity in Washington D.C.: a congressman who doesn't want to play games. Mr. Willis stepped into a role as Representative after his wife, who originally held the office, died, and in this episode he finds himself in the middle of a partisan fight over the U.S. Census. Unlike the other politicians in the room, Mr. Willis is actually willing to listen to arguments and reason instead of playing politics. Can you imagine?
4"Celestial Navigation" S1E15
Deputy Chief of Staff Josh takes viewers through a week in the White House in "Celestial Navigation." The episode features a lot of funny subplots that aren't particularly government-centered, but it's a good episode to watch when you need to be reminded that politicians and White House officials are people too.
Chinese refugees come to California seeking freedom from religious persecution in "Shibboleth," putting President Bartlet in the awkward position of having to determine if they are actually Christians. Not to spoil the ending, but let's just say the episode will help renew your faith in the empathy of political leaders.
6"The Women Of Qumar" S3E9
"The Women of Qumar" revolves around an arms deal between the U.S. and Qumar, a country that is known for the mistreatment of women. It might not restore your faith in government, but it will restore your faith in the individual. In the episode, C.J. struggles to stay on message about the entire thing, and eventually takes a stand against the government of Qumar, proving that even political operatives can take a stand against their own administration, if they so choose.
7"20 Hours In America: Part 1 &2" S4E1-2
The West Wing's Toby, Josh, and Donna are stranded in middle America in this two-part episode that exposes life on the campaign trail and shows the importance of political players to be in touch with actual American people.
8"The Birnam Wood" S6E2
President Bartlet is determined to make a peace deal between Israel and Palestine in "The Birnam Wood," an episode as much about finding common ground as it is about accepting irreconcilable differences. Despite the infighting among White House staff in the episode, seeing an American president believe in the power of diplomacy offers a nice change from our current White House.
9"Six Meetings Before Brunch" S1E18
We all want to believe that there are smart, intellectual, and passionate people in all levels of government, like, say, an Assistant Attorney General. "Six Meetings Before Brunch" has one such nominee for Assistant Attorney General, the only problem is, he's publicly supported reparations for slavery, putting his nomination and the Democrats in a tough spot if they want to get him confirmed. The episode features a spirited debate between him and Josh, and the ending will definitely make you have hope for a government full of ideas and intellectual curiosity.
10"Game On" S4E6
The West Wing tends to focus on, well, the West Wing of the White House, but in "Game On" the show steps outside of Washington D.C. to focus on local politics. The episode introduces Will Bailey, a campaign manager determined to keep his candidate's ideas and positions alive, even after his death.
11"Slow News Day" S5E12
In "Slow News Day," Toby goes on a quest to fix Social Security and manages to get bipartisan support on one condition: that nobody knows the officials involved are working with the other side. It's a depressing, but useful reminder that bipartisanship is necessary to the function of government, and a healthy warning that it's actually good not to know the inner workings of the U.S. government all the time.
The West Wing has famously foreshadowed real life political events. Let's hope the faith in government it inspires will also end up manifesting itself in real world results.