If you need a Christmas present for a fan of great TV series, allow me to make three suggestions: the three series created (and, for many episodes, written) by Aaron Sorkin.
First came Sports Night, a comedy-drama which was set behind the scenes at a daily sports TV show. With actors such as Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Joshua Malina, and Robert Guillaume, this show was hard to describe. It started as a sitcom – with 22-minute episodes, as the genre requires – then morphed into a drama. The laugh track used in the beginning disappeared, and while the humor remained, it became much more serious, reaching a very moving ending. The show lasted 3 seasons, and showed Aaron Sorkin as one of the finest writers working in television.
Then came the now classic political series, set in the White House, The West Wing. It’s hard to express just how good this series was, over seven seasons and 145 episodes. Led by Martin Sheen, as president Jed Bartlett, the White House staff, including Alison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff, present an astounding level of ensemble acting. Sorkin wrote most of the first four years of the series, before leaving and handing it over to others, but even the final three years are excellent, with the last year being memorable.
Finally, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in its brief, one-season life, again showed Sorkin’s qualities as a writer, and his ability to choose the right actors for his roles. Matthew Perry and Bradley are excellent together, and Amanda Peet is wonderful as the president of the TV network. With an excellent start, the season weakens as it turns into a bit of a soap opera, then finishes with a five-episode story arc that closes the season in typical Sorkin fashion.
I’ve watched all three of these series several times, and will continue watching them again and again. If you want top-quality dramatic television, with excellent writing and fine acting, any of these series is a must. The West Wing may be the best series on American TV in recent decades, and at the current price for the full box set, is certainly worth owning.