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The West Wing Weekly ensures President Bartlet remains POTUS of our hearts

Once a hopeful vision of the future, political drama The West Wing now looks like escapist fantasy. Little wonder it’s found new life as a cult podcast.

Puzzled, baffled, bemused. Trying to explain what “I’m going to see a podcast live!!!” means, and why you are so excited about it, elicits a panoply of confused expressions on the face of the person you’re enthusing at.

My experience of The West Wing Weekly Podcast (Live) taught me a few things. It turns out many people have never listened to a podcast; some have never heard of podcasts. I explain it’s like an amateur radio show, on the internet. It’s brilliant for listening to in the bath. “So what does ‘going to see it live’ mean?” They record it in front of an audience. Like a gig for geeks! This is not an easy sell.

The podcast causing my excitement was The West Wing Weekly, which dissects, episode-by-episode in fan-pleasingly tiny detail, Aaron Sorkin’s seminal political drama The West Wing, which aired from 1999 to 2006 with magnificent Martin Sheen as Democratic President Josiah Bartlet.

Live episodes recorded in the US have had special guests including Alison ‘CJ’ Janney, Bradley ‘Josh’ Whitford, Dulé ‘Charlie’ Hill, Melissa ‘Carol’ Fitzgerald, Janel ‘Donna’ Moloney – most of the main cast. When tickets for the first European recordings went on sale they sold out in hours, and I got one!

I’ve watched The West Wing repeatedly through thick and thin. It’s there if you’ve had a bad day or when you’re happy and want to do the bossa nova with Ainsley Hayes. Fans rejoice in characters’ triumphs, lament their losses. It brings solace in sadness. It’s smart, enriching, comfort-blanket TV. And that’s the key to its recent renaissance.

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In 2016, horrified by rabid deterioration of politics fuelled by Trump and the Brexit vote, people on both sides of the Atlantic were bingeing on old West Wings for escapist fantasy. A redemptive antidote to the festering twitterification of government.

The West Wing WeeklyPodcast caught this zeitgeist just as the Trumxit rollercoaster sent us screaming into a blind future. Hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, an über-fan like us, and acerbic West Wing actor Joshua Malina (who played Will Bailey, replacing Rob Lowe’s super-dishy Sam Seaborn), through its messageboard and social media we found like-minded souls. Week by week, episode by episode, Bartlet’s Army quietly grew.

In this packed-out venue where we love them to the holy rafters Josh and Hrishi are our Springsteen and our Dylan, our Mick and Keef, our Sonny and Cher

And now it’s not just on TV or the internet. I’m queueing outside London’s Union Chapel in a line of ‘Wing-nuts’, doing “the signal” (Season 1, Ep 22, What Kind of Day Has It Been), ebullient about seeing Josh, Hrishi and special guest Richard Schiff (Toby! Love grumpy Toby!) plus West Wing scriptwriter and former aide to President Clinton, Eli Attie.

It’s showtime, fantasy-podcast-TV made flesh: The Swingle Singers (Season 3, Ep 21, Posse Comitatus) harmonise The West Wing theme and we all rise in a raucous storm of cheers. Under discussion is Life On Mars, the third-last episode ofSeason 4, just before Sorkin’s tenure abruptly ended. Attie has the best behind-the-scenes insider gossip (Schiff doesn’t remember much, Malina was too busy pranking co-stars). We laugh, gasp, exchange knowing glances.

This is rock’n’roll podcasting. In this packed-out venue where we love them to the holy rafters Josh and Hrishi are our Springsteen and our Dylan, our Mick and Keef, our Sonny and Cher. Heck, they’re our Josh and Donna. Rejoice!

Then it’s over, the guys leave the stage to whoops, hollers, a standing ovation. The Swingles do Bowie’s Life on Mars?. I might have shed a tear.

Catch up on all West Wing Weekly episodes including this one at thewestwingweekly.com

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