‘West Wing’ cast reunites to benefit voter turnout



“The West Wing” aired from 1999 to 2006, and the special (part of a recent trend of show reunions) can be viewed on HBO Max.

Daniel Bethke, Perspectives Editor

To benefit Michelle Obama’s nonpartisan organization When We All Vote, the “West Wing” cast reunited in a one hour play-formatted reenactment of the season three episode “Hartsfield’s Landing.”

The special, airing on HBO Max on Oct. 15, was designed to strive for maximum voter awareness, registration and turnout as part of the partnership with When We All Vote. “The West Wing” aired its final episode 14 years ago, but the plot of the episode is quite relevant today. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) plays chess with Sam (Rob Lowe) and Toby (Richard Schiff), which symbolizes his Cuban-missile-crisis-esque diplomatic dispute with China. Simultaneously, Charlie (Dulé Hill) and C.J. (Allison Janney) are engaged in a trick-filled ‘war,’ and Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Moloney) stress about voter turnout in an ostensibly predictive New Hampshire town. 

The entire above cast was present in the special, excluding Chief of Staff Leo McGary (John Spencer), who passed away during the production of the seventh season; he was played by Sterling K. Brown in the special. During the breaks in the special, the actors addressed the audience on current events. Michelle Obama, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Clinton and others spoke as well.

Under ‘strict COVID-19 protocols,’ the event (shot on an empty stage in Los Angeles) featured a significantly older, softer-in-delivery cast. Sheen, for instance, is 80, Schiff 65 and Janney 60. For all but a few scenes, the cast did not use any scripts.

“The West Wing” was not a show about American politics as much as it was a show about people working together trying to make the world a better place. In the view of writer Aaron Sorkin and the cast, such a reunion is a powerful tool that harkens to the past to make the current world more enjoyable. 

In spite of its genuinely nonpartisan voter turnout effort, the show has always attracted a more liberal audience, just as the special did. To some, this special was reified for the sole purpose of injecting into the American consciousness a formidable dose of ‘good old days’ nostalgia for decorum. This kind of audience seeks more of a retreat from the busy current American public sphere than an active, voter-based engagement in it. But with its cerebral anecdotes and humorous allusions, the “West Wing” delivered on this front too, highlighting a world far less divided and far more benevolent than the show’s viewers believe ours to be (and, by Sorkin’s will, challenging President Trump in the process).

“The West Wing” aired from 1999 to 2006, and the special (part of a recent trend of show reunions) can be viewed on HBO Max.