Just in time for the 4th of July, here are my favorite episodes of The West Wing. I have recently started re-watching the series from the beginning, while listening to Joshua Malina and Hrishi Hirway’s new podcast, The West Wing Weekly. Also, this year’s ATX Television Festival reunion was everything I hoped it would be, so if you have not seen the panel, you should watch it here: http://www.atelevisionexperience.com/
1. The Crackpots and These Women: The first Big Block of Cheese Day! There are only two of these episodes in the whole series, but they are both fantastic. In this one, C.J. meets with a group that wants to construct a wolves-only highway for a mere $900 million, Sam talks to a guy who thinks the government is hiding information on UFOs, and the President decides to make chili for everyone. We also meet Zoey Bartlet, the President’s youngest daughter, for the first time. Here is Leo explaining the meaning of Big Block of Cheese Day:
2. Noël: After having been shot at the end of the first season, Josh is forced to see a therapist for PTSD. He talks about what has happened over the last three weeks to trigger his episode. The combination of musicians in the foyer, an Air Force pilot disobeying orders, a performance by Yo-Yo Ma, and ambulance sirens cause Josh to cut his hand badly. It is a powerful episode that ends with one of my favorite scenes from the show:
3. The Leadership Breakfast: This episode begins with Josh and Sam attempting to build a fire in the mural room, while CJ is figuring out the seating arrangements for the bi-partisan leadership breakfast. The reason this episode is on my list is because of Karen Cahill. Leo had gone to an event and accidentally made a joke about Karen’s shoes. So, he asks Josh to go to a dinner where Karen will be in order to apologize, and Josh sends Sam. Sam then inadvertently mixes up Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan when talking to her about nuclear weapons. Sam asks Donna to talk to Karen while at an art exhibit that they’re both attending, and explain his mistake. The next day, Donna think their interaction had gone very well, until she gets a package containing her underwear. Apparently, Donna had worn the same pair of pants two days in a row, and her previous day’s underwear was in the leg and fell out at the art exhibit. Donna then asks Charlie to ask the President if he will call Karen and apologize. In this episode, there’s also a fight between the Majority Leader’s office and the White House, which causes Toby and Leo to form the Committee to Re-elect the President.
4. Dead Irish Writers: Lord John Marbury! This is not his first appearance, but it is my favorite appearance. It is Abbey’s birthday, and there is a party going on at the White House to celebrate. Donna cannot get into the party because of an INS error determining that the town where she was born is actually in Canada. She ends up joining Abbey, C.J. and Amy in the residence, where they are getting drunk. It is also the night before the medical board decides whether or not to suspend Abbey’s license after she lied about the President’s multiple sclerosis.
5. Posse Comitatus: I actually try to avoid watching this full episode as much as possible, because it always makes me cry, but it just a really great hour of television. The President is campaigning in New York City and attends a Catholic fundraiser at a Broadway show. His opponent, Rob Ritchie, makes a point of going to the Yankees game before the event, and he and President Bartlet have a face-to-face showdown when he arrives at the theater. President Bartlet and Leo also make the decision to assassinate the Qumari Defense Minister. The sad part comes at the end when the Secret Service agent who has been protecting C.J. gets shot and killed while trying to prevent a robbery at a convenience store. The final scene also caused my love affair with the Jeff Buckley cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
6. 20 Hours in America: A two-part episode that begins with Toby, Josh and Donna being left behind by the motorcade in Indiana. They must make their way back to D.C. using rides from campaign volunteers and public transportation, while dealing with Ritchie supporters constantly telling them that they didn’t vote for Bartlet the first time and don’t plan to vote for him the second time. In the second part of the episode, Sam must fill Josh’s role and staff the President for the day, which forces him to realize how difficult Josh’s job really is. Also, a pipe bomb kills forty-four students at a Midwest university swim meet, and the President gives this fantastic speech:
7. The Supremes: A Supreme Court Justice dies and, instead of simply replacing him, Josh convinces President Bartlet to get another Justice on the other side of the aisle to retire so that they can appoint two new Justices, one Republican and one Democrat. In the process, they are also nominating the first female Chief Justice. The two new judges are played by fabulous guest stars Glenn Close and William Fichtner.
8. The Cold: After seven seasons, Josh and Donna finally kiss. It is also the last episode that John Spencer appeared in before he died. Vinick’s campaign is dealing with the fallout from the nuclear plant accident in California, as well as his impending cold. The RNC steps in to help figure out how to help him bounce back. Meanwhile, President Bartlet is considering sending troops to Kazakhstan in order to keep peace in Central Asia. He meets with Vinick and Santos to let them know what is going on, since it will affect their Presidency.