Though it premiered over two decades ago, Aaron Sorkin’s critically acclaimed series The West Wing still remains a political drama for the ages, and one that is ever timely even to this day. The series follows the everyday workings of the White House during the Bartlet Administration, one filled with incredible individuals and minds at all levels.
Over the seven-year run of the series, the administration undergoes countless changes in personnel and crises on both social and political fronts. But all throughout the show, The West Wing delivers high quality entertainment filled with stellar main and supporting characters — though some of them are undeniably better and more beloved than others.
10 Will Bailey
It’s never easy for a new cast member to join a series that is running like a well-oiled machine. It’s even harder when that character immediately finds themselves suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Unfortunately, Will Bailey is a character who never quite keeps up with the tide of the action going on around him in the Bartlet White House.
As a new member on the team following Sam Seaborn’s departure, Will feels like the new kid in school and is treated as such. But even years after his arrival, his personality — academic, nerdy, and unconventional — never quite meshes with the main team members’.
9 Donna Moss
Donna Moss is a character whose importance only grows as the show continues. As Josh Lyman’s faithful assistant and eventual lover, Donna is one of the most loyal characters in the entire series.
But at the same time, she’s also one of its most unpredictable. No matter how loyal she may be to the Bartlet White House, Donna is almost always looking out for herself above anyone else. Her opinions are regularly contrary to everything the administration stands for, and as a result, she begins to feel like a one-note character. But she’s also regularly funny and snarky, and often provides tense moments with levity.
8 Abbey Bartlet
It’s not easy to be married to someone as important and publicly available as President Josiah Bartlet. It takes someone incredibly compassionate, caring, and fiercely protective to be able to keep up with him, his schedule, and his many peculiarities. Abbey Bartlet is all of those things and more.
Though only briefly glimpsed in the series’ early seasons, Abbey becomes a major player in the turmoil surrounding the President’s health. Buoyed by a vibrant performance by Stockard Channing, Abbey is a political genius in her own right, all while being a fanastic doctor, mother, and wife.
7 Toby Ziegler
Toby might be one of the more hot-tempered and even prickly members of the White House team. But he’s also without question one of its most important contributors and one of its sharpest minds. Though Toby is always depicted as the more paranoid and quick-to-worry members of the senior staff, his judgments are almost always good.
His relationships with major players like C.J. and Sam are some of the series’ warmest, most beloved friendships, and his often contentious dynamic with President Bartlet provides the POTUS with a much-needed sounding board. It’s just best to totally disregard the out-of-character leak storyline Toby is given in the series’ final seasons. Years later, it still makes no sense.
6 Sam Seaborn
With a codename of Princeton, it would be easy to write Sam Seaborn off as one of the preppier, more entitled members of the White House senior staff. But with a heart of gold, top-notch writing talent, and a phenomenally self-deprecating sense of humor, “Sam, Sam, the Sunshine Man” is in fact one of the most lovable members of the Bartlet team.
From the moment his best friend Josh assured him that Jed Bartlet was the real deal with nothing more than a smile, Sam Seaborn is all in on the Bartlet campaign, even in its most difficult moments. Jed even believes that Sam could run for President one day, and with his still-disappointing departure to run for Congress in the fourth season, it’s not hard to believe Jed could be right.
5 Josh Lyman
It takes particularly high-quality writing and acting talent to make a character as neurotic, as troubled, as self-loathing as Josh Lyman one of the series’ most adored. But thanks to the caliber of The West Wing‘s writing and the talent of actor Bradley Whitford, Josh Lyman is still widely regarded as one of the very best.
With his manic behavior, his many neuroses, his tragic past, and his deep belief in the greater good, Josh is a character who is perfectly tailored for the world of The West Wing. He embodies the idealized political world while also complicating it through his navigation of complex relationships and his own personal traumas.
4 Leo McGarry
If there’s any character more driven by his demons than Josh Lyman, it’s Josh’s own mentor and superior, Leo McGarry. Though he may be a recovering alcoholic and pill addict, Leo McGarry is so much more than that. As Jed Bartlet’s dearest and most trustworthy friend, Leo serves as an ever-reliable Chief of Staff during the Bartlet administration.
He even goes on to run as Matt Santos’ Vice President in the 2006 election. Tragically, John Spencer’s passing in real life prohibited Leo’s political rise from ever coming to fruition. Leo is a character who leaves the series with big shoes to fill — one it never really could, given his role as the veritable heart of the administration.
3 Charlie Young
Though the Bartlet administration is filled with loyal members who serve at the pleasure of the president, it would be quite hard to find anyone more loyal, more loving, more committed than the Personal Aide, Charlie Young. It’s a joy to watch the development of Charlie’s character considering he only came to the White House to apply for a courier job.
But soon enough, Charlie is willing to risk everything for the president. He runs headfirst into crises to protect President Bartlet, and even risks facing criminal charges to stand by him. Through a masterful, nuanced performance by Dulé Hill, Charlie easily becomes one of the series’ biggest fan favorites.
2 C.J. Cregg
It’s not an easy job to be the White House Press Secretary. But looking at C.J. Cregg, one could get the impression that it might be. Claudia Jean is a natural in the world of press relations, keeping the press both satisfied and at bay with expert finesse and wit. She navigates the Bartlet administration through crises foreign and domestic, all while concealing her own anxieties and struggles.
She also builds remarkable interpersonal relationships among her team, including a deeply personal friendship with Toby and a winning brother-sister rapport with Charlie. C.J. might scoff at the codename Flamingo, but she’s just as striking and remarkable to behold.
1 Jed Bartlet
Is there any other character in the universe of The West Wing more deserving of this title? The perfect fictional, idealized President for any era, Josiah Edward Bartlet is a man driven by passion and kindness, integrity and protectiveness, love of country and love of family. He is a man of many words, and a man of educated letters.
Even in times of crisis, whether political or his own, Jed is a man who keeps a level head and surrounds himself with only the best and brightest. He is constantly steps ahead of the rest of the team, always asking “What’s next?” And if The West Wing teaches its viewers anything, it’s this: let Bartlet be Bartlet. Anything else would be unacceptable.
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