Much as I love movies, going to the cinema or having a good old DVD watching session, I’m also a big fan of the TV box-set. Just before Christmas I named my top TV boxsets and of the ten shows on the list my favourite is undoubtedly The West Wing. Created by Aaron Sorkin this show ran for seven seasons and followed the presidency of Josiah Barlet, a liberal Democrat from New Hampshire. I’m attempting the impossible and trying to list my ten favourite moments from The West Wing. Let me know if you agree or if I have missed something so obvious I can no longer call myself a real fan of the show.
Normally my top tens are listed in alphabetical order, however here I’m counting down in order of preference, ending with a scene I could watch over and over again.
10. UN Parking Tickets
All day Chief of Staff Leo and the President’s bodyman Charlie have been trying to stop the President having a phone conversation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations who is complaining about diplomats’ cars being issued with parking tickets. They fail and President Bartlet lets rip.
9. Cartographers for Social Justice
Every so often Leo opens the doors of the White House to organisations who would not normally have the ear of senior presidential advisors. Known as “Big Block of Cheese Day” in the spirit of President Andrew Jackson, the day always throws up something interesting. Cartographers for Social Justice want the world map changed to be less Northern Hemisphere centric and blow CJ’s mind.
8. The Butterball Hotline
The President muses to Charlie that around Thanksgiving there should be a telephone hotline, manned by experts who can offer advice on how to cook a turkey. Charlie breaks the news that Butterball already offer such a service leading to a very funny call where Barlet pretends to be an ordinary citizen from Fargo, North Dakota.
7. He died, Josh
The death of the brilliant John Spencer hit the storyline of the final season of The West Wing hard. Leo was the vice-presidential candidate and couldn’t just disappear from the story in the same way that other characters like Mandy and Ainsley had. Annabeth’s discovery of the body on election night was moving but Josh and Donna’s arrival at the hospital and Annabeth’s sob of “he died Josh” is heart-breaking.
6. I am the Lord Your God
The very first episode of The West Wing took us straight into the story. Deputy Chief of Staff Josh has been mouthy with a Conservative Christian on a TV show and is facing the sack. In an attempt to smooth things out representatives of a number of Christian groups are invited to the White House for talks. Our first introduction to President Bartlet comes when he enters the room in the middle of an argument and states the words “I am the Lord your God”. Best introduction to a TV character ever.
5. The Walk To The Hill
Feuds between the White House and Congress over the budget have led to shutdown. Support for Bartlet is low and a potential PR disaster is looming until Josh suggests going to the Hill to discuss the issue with the Speaker of the House and leading Republicans. The trump hand is dealt when Bartlet exits the car and at Josh’s urging walks to the 5 minutes to the Speaker’s office, where an over-confident Haffley leaves the President waiting and loses the moral high ground.
4. The Big Hammer
News of the President’s Multiple Sclerosis is about to break and the fact he hasn’t been honest with the American public about his health raises questions about the future of the Bartlet presidency. The President and Leo meet with Oliver Babish, the new White House Chief Counsel to discuss the legal position. After hearing that the President wishes to discuss whether or not he has engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the public in order to win an election, Babish nonchalantly picks up a gavel and smashes a malfunctioning tape recorder on his desk.
3. Trauma One, Blue
Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger, the President and his staff are leaving an event in Roslyn when shots ring out. Season 2 starts with confusion, the President is bundled into his limo seemingly unhurt. On closer examination it transpires that Bartlet has been shot, the limo is spun round and heads to the hospital. The ER staff at George Washington hospital are called into action with a spine-tingling announcement “Trauma One, Blue, Blue. Trauma One, Blue”. A goosebumps moment which still excites me every time I watch the episode.
2. Dr Jenna Jacobs
A seemingly innocuous event for talk radio hosts is being held at the White House. From CJ’s conversations with over the top characters to a light-hearted chat about the relative merits of Alaskan Crab vs New England crab everything points to this being a comedy moment. Until Bartlet notices Dr Jenna Jacobs who has previously called homosexuality a sin and takes her down beautifully by asking her which other extreme statements from the Bible she supports.
1. Brothers in Arms
The news is out about Bartlet’s MS and all that remains in his day is a press conference where he will announce that he will not be seeking re-election. But a mental conversation with his recently buried secretary Dolores Landingham looks to have changed his mind. Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms strikes up and we follow the President and his team to the press conference where the series ends without Bartlet answering the question of whether or not he will seek re-election. I defy anyone to find a more perfect six minutes of television.