Posted by: twobigyellowcranes | 15 February 08

3 US TV shows better than ‘The West Wing’

(Or ‘How to lose friends and alienate bloggers: part one’)

First things first – I like ‘The West Wing’. It is well made, entertaining TV. Most impressively, it assumes its viewers have a certain degree of intelligence and doesn’t feel the need to break things down into small pieces for them. Actors like Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and Alison Janney really inhabited their characters and made you care about them and felt the decisions they were making.

BUT… it isn’t all that. The cheese factor is high and, as so often is the case with long-running, successful shows, by the end it had run out of steam and had begun repeating itself. It was also more fantasy than many far less realistic shows – America would never have elected Jed Bartlett and that is why I still believe John McCain will be the 44th President.

So for all you West Wingers out there (and there are seemingly many of them (almost exclusively female???)), I’m inviting you all to broaden your horizons to what else American TV can offer you…


  1. ‘The Sopranos’ – If ‘The West Wing’ is great TV, ‘The Sopranos’ changed TV. Violence and bad language is only part (albeit an essential part) of the story. Great acting, great characters, great writing. Family life and mob life intertwined in an incredible way. “The greatest show in TV history”. Not my words friends, but the words of the good people of Vanity Fair magazine.
  2. ‘Seinfeld’ – I think it is fair to say that this is now universally regarded as the best and smartest sit-com of all time (even Ricky Gervais thinks so and he is not backwards about coming forwards himself). A superb cast fuelled by the sharpness of Jerry Seinfeld and the sheer madness of the great Larry David. Probably suffered like ‘The West Wing’ by runing 2 or so seasons too long.
  3. ‘The Simpsons’ – Has any other show ever run so long with such consistency? Has any other ‘cartoon’ worked so well at amusing kids at one level and amusing their parents on another? The first couple of seasons haven’t aged well, but I can happily watch anything after about the third season on at anytime (and with K) and enjoy more than.

So there you have it. Let the debate begin.



  1. No – you are wrong. Yes West Wing is cheesy at times, yes it’s unrealistic (though if that’s a criticism are you saying the Sopranos is completely realistic all the time), but for intelligent, thought provoking, well written, engaging drama I don’t think you can beat it.

    I’ll give you the Simpsons (though I’m not saying it’s BETTER, they’re too different to compare), but am not convinced by your other two choices.

  2. Oh TBYC – you’ll never convince smoothstones -she wanted to name both our sons after Jed Bartlett! (As you know I eventually conceeded to the 2nd name of our 2nd son) We have every series of the West Wing and she’s watched them all at least 4 times. I have to admit I was pretty slow to warm to it (mainly because I couldn’t understand it!) but I do think it’s very good drama and I was quite sad to see it end.

    What about Studio 60 (also by Aaron Sorkin)? I was really starting to get into it – unfortunately it was cancelled after 1 series (apparently it wasn’t patriotic enough for the American audience). I would have thought you would like it given what I’ve always thought of your potential as a comedy writer!

  3. Now you’ve opened a can of worms. My wife and I have wildly different tastes in movies/TV and we both regard The West Wing as definitively and without a rival the Greatest TV Show Ever Made.

    Great scripts, dialogue, characters, acting, comedy, political engagement… There’s so much packed in to every script that you can happily revisit earlier seasons and enjoy them more on repeated viewing. It’s one of the few TV shows around that makes you feel smarter after watching it.

    But even more than that, it makes you actually want to be a better person, and to play your part in making the world a better place. Which is no small thing. It’s faults come from an excess of good things – it is deeply sincere (so tips into being over-earnest occasionally) and deeply hopeful (so tips into sentimental optimism). But these faults are preferable to the too-cool-for-school posturing and irony of most other highly acclaimed dramas.

    Sopranos – for a couple of seasons I thought it might have been a contender. It’s genius lay in the contrast between the brutality of Tony’s mob life and the goofy awkwardness of his family life. But as his family life started to disintegrate I thought it lost it’s way. By seasons 3 and 4 it was becoming a show that was beautifully written and acted (probably the best written and acted ever, I’ll give you that)… but that’s all. It couldn’t move me as much as WW, or make me think as much, and it just wasn’t as enjoyable. I haven’t seen the last couple of seasons and I will watch them. Still very, very good TV. It may make no.2 on my list…

    Seinfeld – never understood the fuss about this one. I’d go for Arrested Development as having a better shout at the best American sitcom title…

    The Simpsons – absolute genius. I have no criticisms, but like smoothstones I just think of it as being in a special category all of its own.

    With a special mention for the criminally under-appreciated Firefly – another great show canned after just one series.

  4. Nothing has touched the west wing. Nothing else has moments like ‘the brothers in arms’ moment and the ‘massive attack’ kidnap moment.. the tension the impending dread – nothing else i can remember has made me actual feel absolute tension and involvement. Spooks comes very close. Too ernest? yes… so what? 🙂

    Simpsons is a differnt kettle of fish, and genius in a differnt way. Family Guy is on a par these days though.

    Sopranos…hmm… i looked, and saw that it was good.. but never really bothered enough with it.

    Curb your enthusiam is better than sienfeld in my opinion.

    Studio 60 – flawed.

  5. Some good observations – here are some responses:

    1. SS – I never expected to win you over! ‘The Sopranos’ is more realistic of the world it claims to represent than ‘The West Wing’ is of the world it claims to represent. All of those who know say that other than the grossly over-inflated body count, ‘The Sopranos’ is frighteningly realistic (to the extent a number of ‘families’ were convinced the writers had bugged them to research their storylines). It shows how if you sractch the tiniest surface of mob life, the glamour is gone. It is a hard, ugly, friendless life where the end potentially awaits around every corner. ‘The West Wing’ will inspire some people to get involved in politics for the greater good (whether they will stay inspired is another matter), but ‘The Sopranos’ will put most people off a life of crime. In terms of quality, as I said before, it wasn’t just great TV – it changed the way people made and in turn watched TV.

    2. KBE – I started to watch ‘Studio 60’ and was just bored. Sharp dialogue, but too clever for its own sake (which is I think ‘The West Wing’ flirted with at times towards the end). ‘The West Wing’ is great drama and I loved it early on (even towards the end, it was better than most things on TV).

    3. JC – I hear what you say about ‘The West Wing’ and who knows – would America be as near to ready for Obama as they seem to be without it? In my opinion, probably not. In that sense, yes – it has inspired more than any of the 3 TV shows that I have mentioned. However, for entertainment everytime, I choose ‘Seinfeld’ and the only reason more people on this side of the pond aren’t into it is rubbish scheduling.

    4. QM – ‘The Simpsons’ is still TV and we should be able to take all types all types of TV together when considering what is great (how else do you decide what comes in a list of all time great movies?) I’m a big ‘Family Guy’ fan too, but can appreciate that it is going for a smaller cross-section of the populace for its audience. ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is like an uncomfortable uncle of ‘Seinfeld’ – undeniably brilliant, but again less accessible. If you do nothing else in 2008, give ‘The Sopranos’ a proper go.

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