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Photo courtesy of @longreads The cast and creators of “The West Wing” won a collective 26 Emmys during its seven-year run on NBC.

Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” ran from 1999 to 2006 on NBC, but the political drama is experiencing a resurgence on Netflix since President Donald J. Trump’s election.

 

According to Google Trends, the show — which garnered 95 collective Emmy nominations — is being watched and researched now more than ever. The jump in numbers coincides with crucial points in Trump’s young presidency, reaching its peak the week directly after the November election, according to British news outlet “The Independent.”

 

“I am not surprised that people are taking an interest in ‘The West Wing,’” said retired Lewis political science professor Dr. Joseph Gaziano. “It portrayed a president who was a kind of ideal that we would all like to see.  Since Donald Trump scares so many people, ‘[The] West Wing’ can be a kind of escape from the real world.”

 

The series follows the administration and senior staff of the fictional President Barlet, played by Martin Sheen, who with the help of Sorkin’s writing creates a tough, funny, knowledgeable leader who is plagued by not only physical ailments, but crippling frustration that comes with holding such a high office. Also featuring actors Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Dule Hill, Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford and the final work of the impeccable John Spencer, the show’s seven seasons are essentially a crash course in the daily duties of the executive branch.

 

The administration at the heart of “The West Wing” is Democratic, but most of its storylines are refreshingly bipartisan — struggles on both sides of the aisle are featured prominently, and Republicans are never made to look foolish, as in more agenda-driven shows.

 

From the pressroom to the Oval Office, these characters walk-and-talked their way into Americans’ hearts almost 20 years ago, but are now inspiring a new generation. The cast continues to make an impact off-screen, reuniting last summer in Austin for the ATX Festival, and gathering to campaign for Hillary Clinton later in the year. The series’ subject matter is thought-provoking enough to inspire the immensely popular podcast, “The West Wing Weekly,” which helps listeners analyze the show’s intricacies.

 

What relevance does a series that ended a decade ago have in today’s political climate? Longtime director and the show’s executive producer Thomas Schlamme believes now is the right time for people to look to television for hope.

 

“The pain for me in our world today is the lack of belief in an institution I so strongly believe in — the American government. Does it have its faults? Yeah, sure. But we’ve so demonized anyone who says they’re in politics. That’s what I think, as much as anything, that Trump exploited,” said Schlamme in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I wish somebody did emerge, a young Aaron Sorkin, with a way to tell stories, out of this mud, that celebrate public service.”

 

Bartlett is, in many ways, the anti-Trump. His intelligence is outweighed only by his compassion and stubbornness, which might not exist outside of a fictional context. Viewers who don’t agree with Trump’s more extreme rhetoric and action might look to the fictional, level-headed Bartlet for comfort or some semblance of normalcy behind the nation’s most powerful desk.

 

“Due to the fact that people don’t read like they use to and there is so much more visual media available, even fictional accounts of politics can make people believe that what they are watching is true. Believing that fiction is true is an old phenomenon,” Gaziano said.

 

With an unpredictable and seemingly misleading administration at the helm in our real lives, it might be considered useless to open Netflix and press play. But if the building popularity of “The West Wing” this many years later is any indication, it sure is nice to pretend.

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