Favorite Fictional Characters, #370: Dr. Abigail Bartlet
Updated: Feb 20
Part of what made The West Wing such great storytelling was the great characters that populated television's best show. And it wasn't limited to the main cast, either - the roster of recurring characters was littered with fully-realized men and women, often portrayed by top-tier talent. There is perhaps no greater example of this than the President's wife, the long-suffering, take-no-prisoners Abigail Bartlet, inhabited with sultry charisma by the legendary Stockard Channing. Abby brings a cocky toughness real-world awareness to the Bartlet marriage, as though Rizzo married a good boy but never entirely left the Pink Ladies behind.
But make no mistake - this woman is Jed Bartlet's complete equal. A gifted and accomplished physician, she supports and tolerates her husband's political hobby, knowing he is the kind of person who should be in public office. She runs the family and raises three daughters on top of her medical career, she dutifully plays the role of politician's wife, and yet all the while we get the sense that she would have gladly taken a pass on it all. Some of that comes from her knowledge that the man she loves suffers from a degenerative disease, and his political life comes at a cost. It's a tempestuous partnership, clearly suffused with passion and mutual regard, and also blessed with unvarnished candor between these two fiery creatures. We see the passion when Abby girlishly cuts off Jed's tie moments before a televised presidential debate, and we see the candor in the wake of Jed's re-election announcement. There's an independence to Abby, an old-school feminism that adores her husband and yet resents the system that slots her into a supporting role. She's flawed, too, afflicted with hubris and stubbornness (she is a Yankee too, after all). Whether she's drinking wine with CJ Cregg and Amy Gardner or sacrificing her medical license to protect the president from scandal or visiting that little verminous Elmo on Sesame Street, Abby Bartlet is every inch the First Lady of the small screen. Fierce, brilliant, and feminine, she's a woman for all seasons.
There's also just something ineffably sexy about guy politicos and their doctor wives. Just sayin'.