There's Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), a recovering alcoholic whose efforts to be the cornerstone of the administration contribute to the break-up of his marriage. CJ (Alison Janney) is the formidable Press Spokeswoman embroiled in a tentative on-off relationship with Timothy (Thirtysomething) Busfield's reporter. Brilliant but grumpy communications deputy Toby Ziegler, Rob Lowe's brilliant but faintly nerdy Sam Seaborn and brilliant but smart-alecky Josh Lyman makes up the rest of the inner circle. Initially, the series' creators had intended to keep the President off-screen. Wisely, however, they went with Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet, whose eccentric volatility, caution, humour and strength in a crisis make for such an impressively plausible fictional President that polls once expressed a preference for Bartlet over the genuine incumbent.
The second series of The West Wing takes up where the first one left off and, a few moments of slightly toe-curling patriotic sentimentalism apart, maintains the series' astonishingly high standards in depicting the everyday life of the White House staff of a Democratic administration. With Aaron Sorkin's dialogue ranging as ever from dry, staccato mirth to almost biblical gravitas, an ensemble of overworked (and curiously undersexed) characters and an overall depiction of the workings of government that's both gratifyingly idealised yet chasteningly realistic, The West Wing is one of the all-time great American TV dramas. --David Stubbs