“Boy, Those Were the Days, Huh?”

Thanks to the @sorkinese Twitter account – one of the best there is – I learned today is the 15th anniversary of The West Wing’s premiere. Sam, Toby, CJ, Leo, Josh, Bartlet, et al entered America’s living rooms on September 22, 1999. The show has only been part of my world for the last 18 months, but nonetheless, I celebrate its beginnings because I like thinking of people watching the show in real time, in an age when Toby’s airplane phone and Sam’s pager were actually technological marvels.

I know anniversaries are completely arbitrary, and why should we celebrate the 15th over the 14th or the 9th or the 37th or whatever. But since basically any day is an excuse for me to celebrate this show, I’ll do it today, too.

As someone with plenty of TV/movie/culture obsessions, I think a lot about what makes something an obsession versus just something I simply enjoy. I enjoy How I Met Your Mother. I am obsessed with The West Wing. Why is that? Sometimes I can barely make it through the first episode of something. Other times, I can just feel it, five minutes in. I am going to spend a lot of time with these characters.

It may not have been five minutes in for me with The West Wing, but I remember watching the pilot for the first time and when the President makes his entrance…I just knew. What was this show! He comes in with just a few minutes left in the episode. The whole time, you’ve been hearing about him – POTUS in bicycle accident? – but you don’t see him until much later. And the thing is, you don’t even notice! You’ve been swept away by all sorts of other stories. And then…oh, yeah. The President.

And it all comes together. This would not be the last impassioned Bartlet speech that brings the rest of his staff to its senses. It would not be his last cry against religious fanaticism. But it was his first entrance, and it was a great one.

As I went deeper into the show, characters other than President Bartlet became my favorite, but in my mind, that first episode is all about him (though Toby delivers some of his finest shouting in that first episode).

So happy birthday, West Wing. I do The Jackal in your honor.

 

No Mandy, a Sam, and (for now) a Landingham

Twitter led me to something insanely wonderful this morning: A graphic designer explaining “17 People,” his favorite West Wing episode, in a gorgeous, infographic-style website, SeventeenPeople.com.

Seriously, take a look at it.

I came to the site through an interview with the designer, Jon White, on Vox.com. I was intrigued because it seemed White’s intentions were in the right place. This kind of project could easily be something that a person with too much time on his/her hands spends months on and then awkwardly expects everyone else to love and appreciate. White understood pretty clearly that most people would find this undertaking insane – “this is a micro-micro-niche,” he told Vox – but he just had to do it. The idea was stuck in his head, and designing “17 People” was the only way to get it out. He knew it wouldn’t necessarily be anything more than artwork for West Wing ultra-nerds to marvel at, but he had to make it anyway. I love that sense of determined passion.

In addition to the visual beauty of the finished product, I loved some of White’s own commentary on the show. Speaking to the perfection of this particular episode, he explained how this was the show at its golden age, all the characters familiar and developed. For West Wing fans who appreciate the purity of an early episode like “17 People,” this is a brilliant line: “We’re given 45 minutes in which there’s no Mandy, there’s still a Sam, and there’s still (for now) a Landingham.”

After obsessing over this all day, I watched “17 People” tonight because I wanted to be reminded of every little detail in White’s creation. What stood out to me:

1) CJ doesn’t appear at all in this episode. Not that it means anything. But after looking at the diagrams all day, I didn’t realize until actually watching the show that CJ was nowhere to be found in this hour.

2) I forgot how much I love Ainsley Hayes’ hatred for the Equal Rights Amendment. “A new amendment that we vote on, declaring I am equal under the law to a man? I am mortified to discover there was reason to believe I wasn’t before.” (Also, talking about Ainsley Hayes is the perfect excuse to fondly remember Lionel Tribbey and his cricket bat.)

3) The characters are so cute in their little cartoon forms! It makes me wish there was a West Wing comic book or video game.

4) All in all, this really is a phenomenal episode. After my first spin through the West Wing (season by season, show by show), I’ve jumped around to watch episodes with my favorite characters and scenes. Sometimes I forget what storylines were connected in certain episodes and how their connectedness makes for a wonderful hour of television.

I Love You, Toby Ziegler

I know this puts me about seven years behind the times, but I’ve spent an embarrassingly large portion of my last three weekends watching The West Wing on Netflix. I’ve never been much into politics or television dramas, but since I went through a brief Washington, D.C. obsession after reading a Ben Bradlee biography and watching House of Cards (and because my sister kept telling me how The West Wing was God’s one and only gift to television), I decided to give it a go.

The West Wing really is God’s one and only gift to television. (Well, maybe not the only gift. There’s also 30 Rock.)

Toby Ziegler, the Director of White House Communications on the show, has emerged as my favorite member of the Bartlet administration. What can I say? I’m a sucker for TV characters who speak with a biting wit, point out grammar mistakes and love pie.

My all-time (so far) favorite Toby moment, not included in the above montage:

I’m not an expert on political dramas or Aaron Sorkin shows, but I can’t get enough of The West Wing and the way it’s a drama mixed with a bit of workplace comedy. Another thing that intrigues me about this show (actually, about a lot of TV shows) is how it blends reality and fiction. Jay Leno, a real-life celebrity, shows up at a benefit for a fictional president. Real-life newspapers report on real-life political issues as they play out in a fictional White House. It’s not completely made-up, but it’s not completely real, either. I get it – this is TV, and of course Jay Leno would attend a benefit to support a president who stars in an NBC show – but the interplay between real and fictional issues and characters is intriguing.

I’m only on the second season, so there’s plenty more obsession to indulge. Let the Netflix binge continue.