I’m watching The West Wing for the first time and decided to keep a record of the journey through. So for anyone who has not watched the show and intends to do so HERE BE SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE AND SEASON TWO UP TO EPISODE 3.
Let me be clear – the performances from the leading cast are superb and nuanced. Characters who are hard to like to begin with (Toby Ziegler, that would be you) become favourites as time goes by. But the thing that makes the show so watchable is the supporting cast, especially the army of PAs, assistants and secretaries in The West Wing.
I don’t want to use the words “minor characters” because they are so important. I love Mrs Landingham, the Presidents secretary who is clearly the matriarch of the administrative staff, alternately arranging and admonishing everyone who comes into her orbit, regardless of rank. “No, Mr President, you cannot have a cookie, because you were snippy.”
Margaret, assistant to Leo McGarry seems a little bit too ditzy for my liking. But my real hook into this was the interplay between Josh and his assistant Donna. This can be the highlight so far, as they back and forth at incredible pace. Part of me wants the relationship to develop further (and there seem to be a couple of hints that it might) but on the other hand, I quite like it the way it is. There is a wonderful exchange between the pair in S1E6 where they are discussing the excess funding from taxes, and after it seems Josh has the upper hand, Donna later extracts the most beautiful revenge.
To be honest, these characters feel the least “real”. They turn up, do something amusing or give a little moment and then disappear. I think this is what makes them so entertaining – a little pause in the fast pace, a little grounding and normality. Whenever one of them has a line longer than “X on the phone for you” then I already have a little smile in place at a forthcoming joke.