Thanks for bearing with me, folks…writing the novels is still the priority here, but I do need to get some new stuff up here once in a while, right? So anyway, let’s crank out a few more answers for Ask Me Anything! August ’12.
Charlie, who follows me on Twitter, asks: You do a nice job on your blog of listing your favorite Toby moments. What are your favorites for other WW mains?
Huh. Interesting question! I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am generally a lot less happy with the work of Aaron Sorkin nowadays, where I used to be a raving fanboy of his. A while back I re-watched the first three seasons of The West Wing (those are the only ones I have on DVD), and I found that the shows just don’t flow the way I remember them doing. I also find that the show isn’t nearly as liberal as many assume. Yes, it’s about a Democratic President and a Democratic White House, so there’s a generally liberal bent, but in large part, real honest-to-God liberalism just doesn’t carry the day very often on The West Wing. On the rare occasions that someone actually puts forth a strongly liberal idea, the conversation invariably tilts away from the liberal idea and instead to why it can’t happen, why it can’t work, how wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-we-lived-in-that-world, et cetera. And additionally, for such a liberal show, the conservative viewpoint carries the day awfully often.
But anyway, that’s not what’s asked. What we’re asked is, what are favorite episodes of mine from a standpoint of the actual characters?
President Bartlet’s finest episode, for me, is “Two Cathedrals”, the finale to Season Two. This episode finds Bartlet at his lowest point. He has just revealed his multiple sclerosis to the nation, and his beloved personal aide, Mrs. Dolores Landingham, has died in a car wreck. He comes terribly close to just chucking it all and refusing to run for a second term, after an amazing scene in which he takes the National Cathedral all to himself and scolds God in English and Latin. How Martin Sheen did not get an Emmy for this episode is beyond me.
Sam Seaborn’s best episode? I’ll pick “And It’s Surely To Their Credit”, in which Sam must come to terms with the fact that, on the President’s orders, Leo McGarry has hired conservative commentator Ainsley Hayes to work at the White House. Hayes (Emily Procter) had demolished Sam on a teevee show a few days prior, and he’s still angry with her on that level and on the principle that they’re Democrats, dammit, let the Republicans win the White House if they want to have Republicans in the White House. Sam is openly hostile to her, until someone else is even more hostile towards her — sending her a bouquet of dead flowers with a card simply reading “Bitch” — which acts like a glass of water thrown in his face. The best episodes are the ones where the heroes don’t always look their best.
Leo McGarry’s finest moment comes in the third season, “Bartlet For America”, when Leo is called before Congress to testify about Bartlet’s failure to disclose his MS during the first Presidential campaign. This episode mixes in flashbacks to the campaign, starting with the very moment when Leo came to see then-Governor Bartlet at the New Hampshire Statehouse and proposed that Bartlet run for President. John Spencer had to carry this episode, not just in the flashbacks, and in the Congress scenes, but at the end, when he had to describe what it’s like to be an alcoholic. It’s an amazing episode.
Donna Moss’s best moments, to me, came much later, during the last season, when she had a string of great moments, not any particularly great episodes in themselves. She eventually became a high-ranking member of the Vice President’s campaign, a campaign that lost (to Congressman Matthew Santos), and which drove a wedge between her and Josh Lyman. But they eventually reconciled, worked together again on the Santos campaign, and finally came together as a couple as Santos won and as Lyman became White House Chief of Staff and Donna became Chief of Staff to the new First Lady.
Actually, you know what? Donna did have a great episode, “Stirred”, which included a subplot in which Donna is trying to get Josh to have the President declare a National Proclamation or something like that for her retiring English teacher from High School. This scene is the result:
Josh Lyman? His standout moment comes in “Noel”, the Christmas episode for Season Two, which deals with Josh’s PTSD after he had been shot and very nearly killed during the assassination attempt on the President. This is an episode that really can’t work until we’ve been around these characters a while; it has to seem natural that Donna is the one who picks up on Josh’s erratic behavior and that the breaking moment comes when Josh raises his voice to the President while standing in the Oval Office. Bartlet doesn’t get angry, he doesn’t even say anything. He just glances at Leo, who takes Josh out of the room and orders him to sit with a counselor. And, at the end, this:
First Lady Abbey Bartlet’s moments come in “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen”, just after the President has been shot. Her first instincts are to react as a doctor, so she is asking all kinds of medical questions about what has happened. Then she realizes that she has to tell the anesthesiologist about the President’s MS, and she has to break the news to the rest of the team how bad Josh’s injury is. All this happens in and around flashbacks to the early campaign, when it wasn’t even clear that Bartlet even wanted to run for President and wasn’t really inspiring his team.
Here’s a great moment from a first season episode, in which Abbey and President Bartlet have their first Oval Office argument:
Charlie Young is an interesting character in that the spotlight usually isn’t directly on him, but he’s always there, as Personal Aide to the President. He’s one of my favorite characters, because he stands in pretty stark contrast to everyone else on the show: he is a lot younger than anyone else in the White House staff, and he is smart but not totally immersed in this world until he gets plucked out of a job pool (he wanted to be a messenger) for consideration as the President’s personal aide. Through the show’s run we get to see Charlie’s slow maturing and growth, during which he catches the eye of the President’s daughter Zoe, which causes the President all manner of fatherly annoyance.
In the episode “Celestial Navigation” (which happens to be the episode that made me a fan of the show, after I missed most of the first season to that point), this happens:
Did I miss anyone?
Charlie also asks: What’s your take on pros in the Olympics? Should celebs like LeBron or Federer leave the spotlight for others?
I have never been able to figure out my exact take on this. I really haven’t. While I can appreciate that basketball fans may have loved seeing the original Dream Team all together on one squad, it just looked ridiculous to me. Blowouts aren’t really all that interesting unless it’s your team doing the blowing out, and aside from a generic sense of rooting for American athletes, I really don’t care about basketball. But having pros in hockey at the last Winter Games really made for a magnificent tournament, didn’t it? So I just don’t know. I think that a case can be made for the Olympics to showcase the best in the world who choose to compete, which would include pros, and a lot of those sports don’t even have real pros anyway.
Ultimately…I just don’t know how I feel about this. I mean, sure, a Roger Federer is going to take away some spotlight from someone else, but if the Olympic Gold is therefore won by some amateur who couldn’t even hope to win a set against the likes of a Roger Federer, well, what’s the point of an Olympic Gold? So ultimately, I guess I can see some of the arguments against pros in the Olympics, but I’m just not really bothered by it. Wishy-washy? You bet!
More answers to come, and more quickly. I think. I’ve said that before, you know….