1) This is a show about a US presidential administration. Lesser shows would have opened with Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) winning the election. Creator and writer Aaron Sorkin drops us in on average day in the West Wing. Not just mid-term, but mid-today’s-issue (the president has ridden his bike into a tree and his deputy chief of staff (Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford) has been provoked into an ill-advised quip about God on TV). In just the first few minutes the distinctive tone is set – the mix of manoeuvering, intelligence, gravitas, humour, dedication to duty, smart-assery and snark that West Wing aficionados love with a passion.
2) The dialogue. Really this should be at number one, but common sense dictates that I explain what the hell the show is about first. Sorkin’s dialogue is perfection. I could fill page upon page with writing so good I want to frame it and hang it on my walls (I won’t, but pop over to the West Wing page of Wikiquotes when you’re finished here to get the general idea). The West Wing is a wordy show, but each and every word has earned its place, and in just three short lines in that first episode you can get the entire atmosphere of the show. (Chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) walks into the West Wing and is greeted by a member of security: “Nice morning Mr McGarry.” Leo: “We’ll take care of that in a hurry, won’t we Mike?” Mike: “Yes sir.”)