A Tale of Two Rob Lowes: His Political Do-Gooder Characters on Parks and Rec and West Wing


Happy Birthday Rob Lowe, you turned 50 on Monday.  You seemed to have been birthed in a wellspring of youth.  I was quite obsessed with Rob during his West Wing years playing Sam Seaborn; a mere decade after my mother had a crush on him during the Brat Pack days.  Now he’s captured the college co-ed audience with the easily watchable Parks and Recreation.  Even my younger sister told me over Thanksgiving a few years ago “wow, Rob Lowe looks great for his age.”  She was 9 at the time.   Co-Star Adam Scott has described Lowe’s character on Parks and Recreation as “like Sam Seaborn, just on speed and less smart.” Let’s see how Rob’s portrayal of two ridiculously handsome political do-gooders stacks up:


Humble beginnings

Sam Seaborn – Sam had a privileged upbringing in Southern California and later graduated from Princeton and Duke Law.  He does, however, take a massive pay cut when he leaves Dewey Ballantine to accept a position on Jed Barlett’s campaign staff claiming that anybody with a decent paper route makes more money than him.

Chris Traeger – Chris was born with a rare blood disorder and was only supposed to live for 3 weeks.  Because he survived the ordeal he has an unusually optimistic view on life.

Political Accomplishments

Sam Seaborn – Co-wrote the state of the union address and plays a critical role on domestic and foreign policy. He’s seen by President Bartlett as a viable presidential candidate.

Chris Traeger – Successfully leads Pawnee out of a crippling budget crises … yeah, not the same thing.


Health freak quotient

Sam Seaborn – Sam’s boss Toby astutely points out that Sam lives in the 1% of health and wellness, “Sam, look at yourself. How much healthier do you want to be?”

Chris Traeger – Chris has a resting heart rate of 23 beats per minute.


Sam Seaborn – In my opinion, Sam Seaborn is the very best of Rob Lowe.

Chris Traeger – Looks great in a suit but most of his wardrobe consists of athletic gear.  Minus points for thinking a grill should be used for anything but cooking steaks.


Achilles Heel

Sam Seaborn – If Sam had a weakness, it would be his choice in women.  First, he broke off his engagement with Vanity Fair writer Lisa Sherborne.    He then had a brief and potentially career limiting relationship with a call girl in the first season of The West Wing.  And perhaps because of how awkward it made his life, he moved onto Leo’s daughter, Mallory, after confessing he accidentally slept with a prostitute.

Chris Traeger – Chris has gotten himself into a number of romantic entanglements (Jerry’s daughter, Millicent Gergich) but the one thing that brought him down was the common flu.  “My body is finely tuned, like a microchip, and the flu is like a grain of sand. It could literally shut down the entire system.”

the west wing

Greatest line

Sam Seaborn – Arguably one of my favorite lines on television “Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes; we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”

Chris Traeger –Traeger is the master and commander of the humble brag, “I take care of my body above all else. Diet, exercise, supplements, positive thinking. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. I believe I am that human being.”

Unnerving skill

Sam Seaborn – Sam can recite all of the members of Congress in alphabetical order.

Chris Traeger – Refers to everyone by their first and last name “Ann Perkins!”

(Rob Lowe – Never ages.  Literally.)


Jenni Wright lives in Los Angeles and considers Sam Seaborn to be one of her professional role models, second only to C.J. Cregg. 


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One Comment

  1. Great article, Jennifer. Really hit the nail on the head with Lowe’s eternal youth. And his near-universal aesthetic appeal across generations. One of MY favorite lines from The West Wing:

    CJ : “I will say this for you, you can wear a tuxedo.”

    Sam : “I know.”

    Sam’s “I know” line is delivered perfectly; a bit resigned, a bit humble, but not too much. Totally fits the character.

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