• Kiefer: Toby, you’re smiling.
  • Toby: I just figured out who you were.
  • Kiefer: He’s gonna say Satan.
  • Toby: No. You’re the guy who runs into the 7-11 to get Satan a pack of cigarettes.
  • Welp, now I’m older than Gina Toscano, so, yikes to that.  (When I watched this the first time I was five years younger than Zoey.)

  • Ed and Larry!  I’m still not totally sure which is which, but I think every show should have an Ed and Larry.

  • Boy, ethanol sure is scintillating, huh gang?

  • Josh, I will grant you that keycards used to be more fidgety, but get it together, man.

  • Oh, Donna.  I love your strategy for getting Josh to notice you, which is to bug him to ask out every woman he meets in the apparent hope that he will date and break up with all of them and finally end up with you.  Thanks for that, by the way, that really helped me in high school.

  • Wow, Josh is SO squirmy and dismissive of this major fundraiser who wants to discuss a bill banning gays in the military.  Obviously we’re not perfect on gay rights yet but WOW, Josh can’t even make eye contact with this guy.

  • Josh’s hair is super-big in this episode.  It is definitely full of secrets.

  • “They make guacamole right in front of you.”  This is one of those things that is both adorably late-90s and probably really awesome.  

  • Zoey is maybe not the most likable.  Between the whole thing on the plane with Charlie about all the “hints” she’s given him about how to be a better boyfriend, and how pissy she is when Gina tries to, you know, put herself physically between Zoey and danger.

  • I feel like today this “development” gag would be “consulting” but maybe it’s a specific Hollywood thing.  

  • Ok, but if Matt Perry is right there, who’s that one guy that comes to work with you in a few years?

  • This whole exchange between President Bartlet and Ted Marcus is kind of…bizarre.  Like, President Bartlet is probably right that if he forced the gay rights debate front-and-center in early 2000, it would not go well.  But also he really gets in the guy’s face and for a minute there is literally wagging a finger at him.  

  • I do not for a minute buy Joey Lucas and Al Kiefer together.  She clearly holds him in contempt.  Gross.

Watchability: 7/10.  Fine?  But nothing, like, amazing.  I do enjoy Gina.

Plausibility: 8/10.  Probably fine?  Everything was the dumbest in the late ’90s/early 2000s.

Yikes Factors:
CJ and Donna’s rundown of the entire skincare section of a department store, everything about gay rights (but that’s a yikes factor of the whole decade.)


Bonus Factors: Introduction of Gina, weird cameos from the Hoff and Jay Leno

Overall: 7.5

  • "You’re not there anymore, are you?  I’m talking to no one at all right now."  Because who hasn’t done that before?
  • I like the consistent thing of Josh being crazy-popular with college kids and twenty-somethings. 
  • Poor Toby.  Of course this is happening to you.  I mean, it’s largely happening to Mendoza.  But it’s also happening to Toby.
  • Ok, right off the bat, there’s a lot that’s implausible.  The whole “Roberto Mendoza doesn’t drink” setup, for one, and then—if Toby and Josh are being flown by jet to Westchester, isn’t there a helicopter or something that can take them the rest of the way?  But I’ll allow it.  Because this is a pretty fantastic episode.
  • "For the record I’d like to say that I don’t think it was as much my fault as other people do."  This is a good episode for Josh being a lovable doofus.
  • Bartlet is very good on education.  Also if he was president my student loans would have been forgiven by now.  Sigh.
  • Oh my god, Chris Traeger just took over Sam’s body.  “Your teeth are the best friends you got?”  “I’m nuts for dental hygiene?”  Excellent.

  •   How big a deal do we think the HUD Secretary calling all Republicans racist would be now?  Just idly wondering.
  • "Of her many transgressions, Mr. President, let’s not worry about she resorted to cliche."  Another weird Sorkin syntax thing that I love, and something I love about President Bartlet all rolled into one.
  • Danny, you’re such a rabble-rouser.  A cute one.  Heart.  I wish he was the star of The Newsroom.  Like, actually Danny Concannon.
  • The camera angle on Bartlet during this briefing as it spirals out of control is fantastic.  Well done.
  • Aww, getting lost in a car!  How turn-of-the-century!  (But also: are there not signs on roads in Connecticut?)

  • Ok, seriously, though, wouldn’t the Congressman be the one who had to apologize in this situation? 

  • You know what?  I want Allison Janney to headline dumb slapstick comedies.  Like, if she woke up tomorrow and had Will Ferrell’s career?  I’d watch.  This root canal business is so beautiful.
     
  • I’d also watch a buddy comedy starring Schiff and Lowe.  Oh sweet lord would I watch the hell out of that.

  • "Secret Plan To Fight Inflation" is totally going to be the name of my bracket next year.  (This year’s name is "Low-Cal Calzone Zone", FYI.)  Or my band, if I start a band between now and next March. 

  • This scene in Josh’s office—“Have you fallen down and hit your head on something hard?”—is a shining example of how great this ensemble is when Mandy is not in the room.  The four of them gel so incredibly well and all four have genius, brilliant timing.

  • Jesus, is the Wesley, CT jail in the bowels of a ship or something?  Did they run out of money for normal lightbulbs and get a deal on swamp-thing green bulbs?  It is straight-up MURKY in that cell.

  • "Sir.  I need you to dig in now.  It wasn’t a nightmare.  You really are the president." 

  • Um, is Justice Mendoza’s wife named Laura?  Is that what Toby says?  So they’re Rob[erto] and Laura?  As in, Rob and Laura Petrie, from The Dick Van Dyke Show?  That’s some kind of meta-commentary on what it means to be American or something.


Watchability: 9.5/10. The Sam/Toby/Josh/CJ plots—which are most of the episode—are pretty near flawless.

Plausibility: 7/10.  Like I said, the business where Sam keeps saying that Mendoza “doesn’t drink” but doesn’t explain why until the end is pretty blatantly a plot device.  Like, really, I feel like this would all happen on the phone.  But whatever.  I’ll allow it.

Yikes Factors:
I feel like all the race stuff could be handled with a little more finesse.

Bonus Factors: Root canal, Josh’s press conference, Charlie’s wake-up call.

Overall: 8.5

Questionyo, whats up with that last post? There's like a mile and a half of white space at the bottom of it when it came up in my dash. Answer

Sorry about that, everyone—should be fixed now.  Thanks for alerting me!

And we’re back!

  • Hah, Donna gets another chance to dig at Josh instead of the other way around!  Just can’t hold his liquor. 
  • This is such a great classic setup.  You have one weekend to get a death sentence commuted.  The president is on a plane.  Go!
  • This scene with Drunk!Josh: some of Whitford’s finest comedic work.  The pause before he says, “What?”—long enough that we realize he’s not sure what she’s even waiting for.  Donna’s “You have a meeting,” like, “What’s wrong with you, I’m telling.” 
  • I really enjoy listening to CJ say “fjords.” 
  • That spit-take…or sort-of spit-take…where Josh just opens his mouth and lets the coffee fall out.  I could watch that all day. 
  • There are a lot of pretty sublime moments of physical comedy in this episode.  Toby knocking over the chairs during services is pretty excellent, if a little extraneous.
  • I kind of wonder whether Marlee Matlin or Aaron Sorkin decided which lines got signed and which got spoken.  Either way: well done.
  • There is no point in this episode when I don’t want to hug President Bartlet.
  • I really love Kenny and Joey, and I extra-love Joey’s face as Kenny signs

  • CJ, as usual, gets the small moment of humanity in the midst of a political morass.  His mother’s name is Sophia.

  • I love love love the scene in the restaurant bar between Josh and Joey.  Now that Josh and Donna are not standing in for my fourteen-year-old-self’s hopes and dreams of someday finding love, I think Josh and Joey are super cute together.  Partly because she can give as good as she gets and then some, which Donna is still working on at this point.

  • This scene with President Bartlet and his pastor—I mean, man, Aaron Sorkin knows how to deploy an old chestnut like nobody’s business.  

  • And one of the most gorgeous ending scenes of all time is brutally shredded by that end title music.  Sigh.  Welcome back.

  • Watchability:  9/10.  It’s a little talky in places, but that’s forgivable in the context of a death penalty discussion, I think.  And this is a good example of what I wish Sorkin would do with The Newsroom—let his characters maybe get it wrong once in a while.  I mean, Bartlet offers a convincing explanation of why he did not commute the sentence, but the episode seems to come down on the other side with that last scene of his confession.  It’s fantastic television.  Let your characters be wrong again, Aaron Sorkin!  Don’t give us any more news producers whose sisters worked at Halliburton and best friends grew up with Casey Anthony.  Let them blow a story.  We’ll still love them.

  • Plausibility:  9/10.  The whole thing with Toby’s rabbi seemed a little iffy.

  • Yikes factors: I think this handled the issue pretty well, although I feel like CJ would have a stronger position on the death penalty.  Josh gets an in-world yikes for not listening to Donna: he really can’t hold his liquor.  (The trope that fueled a thousand fanfics.)

  • Bonus factors: Joey Lucas!  Foul weather gear!

  • Overall: 9/10

Hey y’all, thanks so much for following!  I hope you’re enjoying the episode notes and extras.  I’ll be out of commission for about a week, but never fear: we should start back up again by the end of next week.  In the meantime, a question:

What’s your favorite episode of The West Wing?  What moment from that episode makes it your favorite?

"More than 50% engage in ‘petting behavior’.  That’s what I think it is, right?"

—“Take Out The Trash Day”, 1/26/00

Notes:

  • I love Danny’s face as he immediately starts doing the pen math.
  • Oh man, the Lydells.  Oh man.
  • "And so the sticky wicket joke was…" "A regrettable pun."  The NYCLU just published a report on sex ed in New York State.  It is at best a bummer, and at worst outrageous.
  • Oh, Exposition!Girl has taken over Donna’s body again.  Grrrr.
  • Sam gets a good rhythm going about the 10 Commandments town.  Well played.
  • I don’t remember the Inspector Javert reference!  This show loves the theater.
  • Josh really says it best: “Well: here’s a group of federal employees.”
  • Man, you know you are important when you have a couch in your office.  
  • Toby: I would totally make out with you after that rousing PBS defense.  Totally.  If you wouldn’t, you’re either lying, or no friend of mine.  (Yeah, even if dudes aren’t your cup of tea.  Come ON, people.)
  • CJ’s “It eludes me.” One of my favorite non-joke deliveries of all time.
  • Headmaster Charleston, you are up to no good!  Go back to Chilton and harass Rory Gilmore.  (You tell him, Leo!)
  • Toby!  You’re my hero.  You hang in there on PBS, man.
  • HA!  This is what Mandy should have to do all the time until she hates it so much that she just DISAPPEARS into thin air and everyone spontaneously forgets her existence!  (Oops, spoilers.)
  • Mrs. Landingham, on the other hand, could totally handle that report.  She’s made of sterner stuff than Mandy, by far.
  • Well…that’s something.  In addition to being this episode’s second crossover from Gilmore Girls(she played Richard’s ex Pennilyn Lott), Mrs. Lydell also played Janet Reno on Ally McBeal.  That was one helluva makeup job.
  • Mr. Lydell is pretty much the awesomest.  And he makes me a little teary.  Amazing.  (And at least there’s an issue on which we’ve made some progress!)
  • Was Nielsen really still using diaries?  It sounds like they were transitioning to the boxes, but man.  Technology.
  • Erm, Fozzie Bear is not a Sesame Street character.  Does that bug the heck out of anyone else?
  • AAAANNNDDDD we have a trifecta:  It’s Paris Gellar, White House rat.  
  • I heart heart heart Sam’s righteous anger in defense of Leo.  Heart.
  • Poor CJ.  Poor schoolkids.  Poor Bartlet.  The choice between sparing Leo or acting on the sex ed report is a doozy.  I wish the president would have just told her upfront why they had to sit on it, though.
  • This is the greatest, least sensationalized discussion of alcoholism.  It’s quietly gut-wrenching.  But it’s so honest.  Liza Weil and John Spencer are both really talented. 
  • Watchability:   9/10  These scores are getting higher overall as Mandy is pulled back.  This one lacks the “third heat” to take it over 9.  But it’s pretty damn good.

  • Plausibility:  8/10  As much as I totally love that scene between Leo and Karen…I’m really not sure she should still be working at the White House.  And Danny turned down a lead?  I know he likes CJ, but come on.

  • Yikes factors: The brief return of Exposition!Girl, the tabling of the sex ed report.

  • Bonus factors: Everyone who’s every been on Gilmore Girls, especially Liza Weil.

  • Overall: 8.5/10
  • President Bartlet: You got a best friend?
  • Roger Tribbey: Yes, sir.
  • President Bartlet: Is he smarter than you?
  • Roger Tribbey: Yes, sir.
  • President Bartlet: Would you trust him with your life?
  • Roger Tribbey: Yes, sir.
  • President Bartlet: That’s your chief of staff.

Notes:

  • This cold open was what made me start paying attention when my mother was watching this show.  I can still recite most of it.  All the jokes are really dumb, and mostly hinge on typos and mixing up words, which makes it RIGHT up my alley.
  • Allison Janney’s delivery on the gland joke: she is my hero.
  • Ditto the beat Rob Lowe takes before coming up with “echinacea”.  That beat, right there?  That was the moment I decided I was going to watch this show.  That beat is when we should have all figured out that twelve years later we’d be talking about Rob Lowe as one of the comedic geniuses of our time.
  • This is like the mother of all walk-and-talks: it takes the President and the entire senior staff through the entire set and nearly into the Oval Office.  And then the ending—the goofy thing from Sam, everyone laughing, and the crash from inside.  I still think this is what I’d show people if I wanted them to start watching this series.
  • Ewwwww, Danny, don’t flirt with Mandy.  EWWWW.
  • Ha!  Back in the days when something being on the internet meant it would break the next day.  This is suddenly a total period piece.
  • I really, really love Jed and Abbey together.  They’re these two brilliant, energetic people, but when they’re alone together, the whole tone changes.  They don’t lose their public selves, but something else entirely enters in.
  • Hey, I don’t hate this conversation between Josh and Donna!  This is legit banter, like, friendly and goofy and a little bit cute.  Progress!
  • My god, I just want to hug Sam AND Leo in this scene. 
  • Ok, this isdefinitelyin Leo’s top five bad days.  Between that press conference and finding out his best friend has MS?  (P.S.  Do you remember how often they played that clip of Abbey saying, “Leo, it could be life-threatening,” over the summer after Season One?  Total fake-out attempt.  I did not buy it for a moment.)
  • MORE AUSTIN TICHENOR!!!
  • Who is this tool who is so badly misinformed about classic American art?  Take him to school, Toby.
  • "Toby?"  "Yeah?"  "You stopped talking in the middle of a…"  AUSTIN TICHENOR, Y’ALL.  That line gets quoted a lot in our house.
  • I continue to love the open hostility between Leo and Lord John Marbury which Leo never, ever wins.
  • Ohhhh, Sam.  “Taking the bull by the horns” made this episode very exciting.  It also led me to make some terrible decisions when I was in high school. Take it from me, friends: it’s not always the right choice!
  • That said, I mean, this scene with CJ and Danny is priceless. 
  • Oh, uh-oh, here comes crying.  I forgot about this scene between President Bartlet and Roger Tribbey. 
  • Well, actually, laughing first: the look President Bartlet gives Tribbey when Tribbey asks if he can translate the section of the Latin Constitution.  Like, are you serious?  (Hmm…maybe Martin Sheen would make a good 12th Doctor!  He really sells the president’s abundant nerdiness.)
  • Ok, crying now.  I mean, just a little.  But watching Leo overhear the president?  Come on.
  • Edited to add:  WHAT?  The dweeby-but-sweet Secretary of Agriculture is also the creepy-and-totally-evil mayor from Buffy?  WHOAH.  Whoah. 
  • Watchability:   9.95/10  Hardly any Mandy at all!  Plus kissing!  And that scene at the end!  (But -.05 because who wants to watch Danny flirt with Mandy?  NOT ME.)

  • Plausibility:  9/10   Because it seems pretty weird that the president would not get his invitation to make the SotU, but it wasn’t really a thing, it was just a weird runner.

  • Yikes factors: Danny flirting with Mandy.

  • Bonus factors: Abbey!  LJM!  AUSTIN TICHENOR!  And kissing!  Plus probably my favorite cold open of all time.

  • Overall: 9.5/10