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I thought, for a bit of a change, it might be fun to rank TV dramas from the past decade or so that portray politics.

I’ve watched these shows, some more than once — some more than thrice — and think of them as a different type of political-science class, more realpolitik and real world than rereading Machiavelli. I’ve sat in pubs with staffers quoting these shows to one another.

Let’s rank them:

1. The West Wing: Known for its idealistic portrayal of American politics, focusing on the inner workings of the White House under President Jed Bartlet, the show is a romantic view of politics. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote almost all of the first four seasons, penned an homage to what well-intended, liberal, late-1990s/early 2000s politics might be. This was the time of the “end of history” and then of the aftermath to 9/11. Today, the show is a bit of a punchline amongst real politicos, given its overly idealized plots and bipartisan compromises, with Republicans and Democrats alike being good, patriotic people. But, to me, watching the show in my youth, it was an inspiration. The West Wing is to political TV dramas what The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy literature: epic, romantic, idealized and foundational.

2. Veep: Where The West Wingends, Veep begins. This show is probably the most real, with every staffer alive relating to something on the show: the sycophancy, the slightly neurotic, approval-hungry politicians, the utter foolishness of some of the decisions, and, of course, the cussing. Veep is a satirical comedy that provides a cynical and really funny take on American politics, particularly focusing on the office of the vice-president and later the presidency, portraying it as chaotic, self-serving and filled with ineptitude. Julia-Louise Dreyfus absolutely crushes it as the titular character: she’s in politics for all of the wrong reasons — needing approval, wanting to be loved but resenting the people she serves — and yet, we can’t help but root for her.

3. The Thick of It: Like The Office, Veep itself is based on this absolute banger of a British show, loosely based on Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s larger-than-life spindoctor, portrayed here by a menacing and hilarious Peter Capaldi. The show, and the film In The Loopit inspired, are acerbically funny, cutting and eminently quotable. It exposes the absurdity and dysfunction of the British government and bureaucracy, highlighting the incompetence and cynicism prevalent in politics. More than Veep, it also focuses on the mundane, with most of the drama taking place in the Whitehall backwater Department of Social Affairs (and latterly of Citizenship), where the low-ranking ministers and political aides get into all sorts of trouble as they attempt to do something useful, from regulating zoos to exposing welfare cheats, with Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker character having to come in and cuss them all out for their incompetence.

4. The Good Wife: While primarily a legal drama, it delves into political intrigue and corruption within Chicago’s political systems, showcasing the interplay between law, power and ambition. Juliana Marguile’s titular character’s husband is an ambitious, scandal-plagued Chicago politician, played by Mr Big of Sex and the City fame. Her law firm gets roped into his political machinations, and his advisor, played by Alan Cumming, is a thing of beauty. Based loosely on Rahm Emanuel, Cumming’s Eli Gold is elegant, elan and menacing, declaring in one of my all-time favourite lines: “If there’s one thing I hate…it’s amateurs.”

5. House of Cards: Listen, it goes downhill — fast — and is forever tainted by its leading actor’s personal scandals, but when it first premiered on Netflix, it was the talk of all political circles for its gritty, twisted and even evil portrayal of Washington backstabbing.

6. Succession: The single best drama of recent years is about family dynamics, but also touches on politics, as the Roy family wields their fictionalized version of Fox News to pick presidents. More than that, it explores power dynamics within the family itself. As the characters maneuver their way around corporate and political debates, we see some of the best dramatization of how everything is political, and what that means for people.

7. Game of Thrones: It’s primarily a fantasy drama, but it incorporates elements of political intrigue, power struggles and manipulation within various noble houses vying for control of the Iron Throne, drawing parallels to real-world political maneuvering and historical events, such as the War of the Roses. If politics is ultimately a primal instinct, this show demonstrates what it could have been like in medieval times as dynasties were forged through marriage and secured through violence — but with dragons and witchcraft.

8. Borgen: The Danish political drama offers a nuanced and realistic portrayal of European politics, focusing on the life of a female prime minister and her challenges in navigating coalition politics, media scrutiny and personal dilemmas. It’s mostly in Danish, and my attention span now struggles with subtitles, but it remains one of the clearest views of what political life actually looks like.

So there you have it. Proof that I watch too much TV, but at least I take something away from it.

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