'West Wing' Watch 2002-2003 Season, Part One

A couple of readers have pointed out that the answer to the Bartlet team's obsessive question, "Has a Democrat ever won in Orange County?" is yes: . The Marines have weighed in early and often: The Marine Band is not "The Commandant's Own," as C.J. suggested, but in fact has a much more impressive moniker: "The President's Own." And more than one Marine also cringed at the sloppy salute by the Marine guard early in the show. A former OMB staffer tells us that contrary to what we think, fights often erupt at the highest level of an administration over budget items of $100,000 or even smaller. "In fact," he says, "it makes all too much sense that a West Winger would be interested in such a piffling amount of money." The pace of the dialogue isn't the only problem that became glaringly apparent this week. At the risk of walking into a minefield, we can no longer resist saying that the increasingly strident liberalism of the Bartlet crowd is becoming more than a little tiresome--and unrealistic. (Before you go crazy on us, remember, we're the people who just a few weeks back.) We don't care how lefty a president is, he's simply not going to say "America's going to lead the world and not just bully it." Given the depth of our sincere gratitude for these and many other blessings, we'll try not to be too hurt by Josh's mocking of people who obsess over TV shows. "You can't bring your hobbies into work"? Uh-oh, we're in trouble. Finally, our favorite sequence of the episode. Amy: "Shut up." Josh: "No, you shut up." Leo: "Oh, God help me, some days." We hear ya, Leo. Graham Lanz, a program analyst at Coast Guard headquarters, has come through with a couple of choice nitpicks: Finally, we can't help ourselves. We have to say it: Two consecutive Amy-free weeks. Yay! Finally, allow us to get the Gaffe Squad started: The White House may be able to call up information on Leo's lawyer friend, Jordan Kendall, at the push of a button, but we wouldn't be too sure it's accurate. Her name appeared as "Jordon" on the huge display screen over her shoulder. Finally, we realize that Rob Lowe is going to have to expect some payback for having the temerity to announce he'd later this year, but really, did they have to refer to his character as "Mr. Schmutzy-Pants"?
March 26

So the Bartlet gang is back, finally, with an episode that raises a provocative question: Whatever happened to the war in Kundu? We guess there aren't any embedded journalists along for that ride, because if there were, we don't think the White House would be obsessed with global warming in Alaska, the Daughters of the American Revolution and a Groundhog Day-like debate on an abortion gag rule in the foreign aid bill.

Speaking of which, why does the White House staff keep acting like this legislation-which is taken up routinely on Capitol Hill every year-is some pet presidential bill that Bartlet can't possibly consider at least threatening to veto? And while we're on the subject, any White House staff that can't craft a statement of administration policy on a bill in such a way as to allow the president to sign it even if it includes unpalatable elements has deeper problems than Josh seems to realize.

But enough of this nitpickery. Let's get on with the character assassination. Because by now we're sure you're wondering, "What's up? Two paragraphs down and they haven't ripped Amy yet?" Well, the truth is, we've been told we're being too hard on her. (OK, it was only two people, but we take these things to heart.) So how about if we switch from disdain to pity? Because little did we know that this cutthroat, insult-hurling, cell-phone-boiling, jargon-spouting infighter extraordinaire's real problem is that she just doesn't know how to stand up for herself. Umm, sure.

Since Amy failed to get herself fired on her first day-despite her best efforts-maybe she should just be demoted to Donna's pathetic job, Adjunct Secret Service Agent. It's certainly news to us that White House aides can be deputized to shadow people who are suspected security risks-during a time of war abroad and terrorism at home, no less.

Of course, it looked like the Secret Service could use the help, what with would-be whistleblowers, stoned Frenchmen and random party guests wandering the West Wing at will. Speaking of which, while Zoe's absurd French boy-toy is an idiot, Charlie's pledge to "respectfully" keep stalking her against her express wishes strikes us as less romantic than creepy.

Reader feedback: An amateur hydroclimatologist who chooses to remain nameless notes this episode had a glaring factual gaffe: the assertion that the temperature in Alaska has risen by 7 degrees over the past three decades. The New York Times reported this in July, but was forced to issue a correction-which also seemed to be incorrect. The Alaska Climate Research Center has the real numbers, and a response to the Times report, on its Web site: http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/change and http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/nytimes.html.

March 5

This week's episode was a repeat of the season opener. Click here for the full recap.

February 26

Honestly, we didn't see it coming. Call us thick-headed, but we were just enjoying watching Josh banter with Abby and seeing Aggravating Amy make a flaming idiot-literally-of herself. So imagine our dread as the horror slowly sunk in about 40 minutes into the show: Oh good God, they're going to make her the First Lady's chief of staff!

We tried not to let our disgust and revulsion at this prospect taint our viewing of the rest of the episode (we take our responsibilities here very seriously), but it sure seems to us that in general, a lot of water was treaded this week. As always, there were some great moments-particularly Toby and Sam's Nixonesque walk on the beach in full street clothes-but there just wasn't a lot of oomph.

The parade of plausibility problems continued, too. Sam just drops by the precinct to guarantee that he gets on the evening news with the two White House guys charged with attacking a guy in a bar? The First Lady actually makes a public joking reference to the president's "skanky ex-girlfriends"? The White House herds the families of the Marines taken hostage into the White House and won't even tell them whether or not anything is being done to rescue their loved ones? And as for Will's oh-so-pedantic exposition of the progressive tax code: Oh, please, put a cork in it.

On the "details, details" front, President Bartlet continues to have a problem with the outmoded term "THREATCON" (for "threat condition") to indicate heightened degrees of awareness of danger at U.S. military facilities. Since June 2001, it's been "FPCON," (for "force protection condition"). Perhaps only the Pentagon could see the true importance of these kinds of semantic changes, but somebody ought to make the president aware of them.

Speaking of which, a quick question for the Military Wing of the Gaffe Squad: Shouldn't "Task Force Storm Sky" to rescue the hostages have been called "Operation Storm Sky"? (We'll leave aside the issue of its grammatical incorrectness.)

Reader feedback: An alert military reader notes that the references to the use of the Army's RAH-66 Comanche helicopter in the rescue mission were a little odd, since the Comanche is still under development, and won't enter production until 2005.

Several readers who are far better economists than we are have pointed out that not only was Will's ode to the progressive tax system condescending and dull, it was wrong. We won't go into too much detail here (because we'll just get ourselves in trouble if we do), but to use Will's example, a relatively well-off doctor wouldn't pay 36 percent tax on all of his income; parts of it would be taxed at lower rates.

A number of current and former Kentuckians report that the state is emphatically not, as Will suggested, a right-to-work state.

February 19

Apparently it's Irony Week: While Martin Sheen voices his unalterable opposition to war in Iraq in a series of new commercials launched by a Hollywood anti-war group, his alter ego just can't kick enough Kundunese butt. And President Bartlet doesn't stop there. He wants to "shove a loaf of bread up" the same anatomical area of the "poncy hairdressers" who run France, too.

That little outburst was just one of many incidents that lent an off-the-charts level of unreality to an otherwise very entertaining episode this week. To wit:

  • The president wants to take "Patanga" (the "Kundu" capital) and "run up our flag"? That's just a wee bit imperialist, isn't it? Even the real president, who's no shrinking violet when it comes to the use of force, doesn't talk about raising the American flag over Baghdad.
  • How many times can Donna completely screw up without being fired? Frankly, putting her through the wringer like this, week in and week out, is starting to annoy us. It's not only not amusing, clever, or entertaining, it's stale. And we're not saying this just because we have a semi-creepy fascination with Donnatella.
  • It was nice to see Sam back, but his problems are bigger than an incompetent campaign manager and a bungling bunch of ex-colleagues at the White House. Two unsolicited pieces of advice: a) Get a haircut. b) Stop playing Stray Cats tunes at your campaign events. Both of these faux pas make it seem like you're stuck in 1981.
  • And the capper: Toby and Charlie got into a bar fight? A bar fight? These are people who spend their whole lives micromanaging tiny events that might affect the president, and trying to gain the slightest of edges in every news cycle. To completely take leave of their senses and get into a scuffle with a drunk-and then feign nonchalance about the whole thing-was about 18 different kinds of weird.
Reader feedback:Loretta Sanchez

February 12

The recovery is complete. And not a moment too soon.

With last week's episode and this one, WW is officially back in our good graces. There was absolutely nothing not to like here.

The president finally got himself a Doctrine (because newbie Will got all idealistic and stuff, and because Bartlet was moved by Laurel and Hardy's March of the Wooden Soldiers, of all things). Donna took the fall for that sap Jack, which just endeared her all the more to Joshie (and the rest of us, too-admit it). Will officially joined the gang, and Sam was promoted in absentia (although wethinks he'll never actually get to hold his "senior counselor" job). Even the weather references were right-maybe because they were just filming in Washington a few weeks ago.

Almost all the little details were in place, too. For example, Iota Club and Café in Arlington is just the kind of place the, ahem, less youthful members of the inner circle (Josh, Toby, C.J.) would hang out, trying to convince themselves that they're hipper than they really are. (Not that we know anything about such things.) In short, everybody connected with this episode did their job well, leaving us with slim pickings:

  • The bit about the George Washington bible having to be transported from New York by three Freemasons was largely accurate. Both President George W. Bush and his father had the Bible at their inaugurations (although it wasn't actually used by W because of inclement weather). But if the Masons really wanted to get the Bible to Washington quickly while traveling by rail instead of air, they should've taken the Acela, not the Metroliner. And if they didn't arrive in time, are we really to believe that Charlie wouldn't have had a backup Bible at the ready? Come now.
  • We can't be sure, but somehow we doubt that second-tier White House appointees get official proclamations on the spur of the moment certifying them as members of the president's staff. But we stand ready to be corrected.
Reader feedback:

Robert Fauver, a former Clinton White House official, contributes this choice tidbit: The president always rides in the right-hand back seat of his limo, not the left, like Bartlet did. That way he doesn't have to walk around the car when he gets out.

A couple of folks have pointed out that when the president strides into the inaugural ball at the end of the episode, it's very unlikely the guests would simply go on dancing and not pay any attention to him.

February 5

The West Wing redeemed itself this week after a sappy Jan. 15 episode devoted solely to C.J. and her disease-ridden father. The show is back in familiar territory: foreign policy cat fights, a guilt-ridden White House and a Supreme Court chief justice who can't stop writing his opinions in verse.

The first episode in a two-parter about President Bartlet's second inaugural opens on the big day itself, with the administration's last-minute scramble to find a Bible for the swearing-in ceremony. Dutiful aide Charlie Young discovers one placed by the Gideons in the "House library." (Charlie, surely you meant the Library of Congress, or maybe you were referring to the White House library-in that case, our apologies). But just as the inaugural ceremony is about to begin, we flashback six days and find the president plagued by news of ethnic cleansing in the war-ravaged Equatorial Republic of Kundu.

New speechwriter Will Bailey, starring here as the president's conscience, decides to rewrite American foreign policy in the inaugural address. He retrieves a 16-year-old speech that former Congressman Bartlet had stricken from the record advocating use of military force to stop genocide. Should Bartlet send U.S. troops to stop the war in Kundu? Can writer-for-hire Bailey fashion a new world order? Are there really 13 buttons on the trousers of Jack Reese's formal Navy uniform?

Bartlet, who seems so wracked with guilt for not stopping the killing in Kundu, orders Donna's new boyfriend Jack-of the 13 buttons fame-to compile a force depletion report on how many U.S. troops would be killed in an invasion. Reese, an aide to the National Security adviser, is instructed to circumvent the Defense secretary, who is prone to foot-dragging and tongue-wagging. Such a move is entirely within the president's authority-see U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2-but lands Jack in trouble.

Meanwhile, Leo fears the chief justice is drifting off the deep end. Fancying himself a poet, the Supreme Court chief has been writing opinions in both trochaic tetrameter and cinquains. Never mind how unsettling it is that the chief justice counts the syllables in his opinions and makes them rhyme, there are rumors about powdered wigs being worn at the inauguration.

One minor inconsistency disrupts our enjoyment of the disquiet in the house of Bartlet. Josh sits in his office contemplating a $100,000 line item in the budget of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a morale improvement program. While we appreciate the West Wing's interest in the morale of federal employees, we're quite sure this task wouldn't be undertaken by anyone higher up than an Office of Management and Budget analyst. And why would Josh bother when Toby is screaming at Bailey for turning the U.S. into "Mother Teresa with first strike capability?" Put down the budget, Josh, and while you're at it, stop picking on Donna. When Donna learns Jack has been reassigned to Aviano Air Base in Italy, she asks Josh what prompted the transfer. Josh, in an apparent snit over Donna's latest beau, snipes, "Maybe he requested the transfer." Jealous, much?

But back to the crisis in Kundu. The best intelligence on the rising body count comes from Catholic priests doing missionary work? This could bolster the argument for a massive U.S. intelligence overhaul.

We could really wax on for pages about the poetic brilliance of this episode, and we feel quite certain that a close examination would reveal the entire script was written in iambic pentameter. But the show ends with a cliffhanger, and given the abundance of drama promised by previews of the next episode, we feel it's best to sit tight till Wednesday. If the chief justice really appears at the inauguration in a powdered wig, it will have been well worth the wait. Reader feedback: Sorry, we've been a little slow on the uptake with reader response this week. But now we're here to report that literally dozens of military-related readers out there have weighed in on three errors:

  • Donna mentions a "Bronze Cross" at one point. Sorry, no such thing. There are, however, a Navy Cross and a Bronze Star.
  • Donna also mentions at one point that Jack will be wearing a "saber." Nope. It would be a sword, unless he suddenly decided to join the Army.
  • We are informed that 13-button Navy uniform trousers are worn by enlisted folks, not officers. So Jack's uniform would have a regular old zipper. And that's about all on that issue we care to discuss, frankly.

January 15

There will be another episode next week. There will be another episode next week. There will be another episode next week. Let's just keep telling ourselves that while try to forget this one. OK?

We got into this whole business because West Wing was different. It was substantive, witty, sharp and real. If we wanted run-of-the-mill, mediocre, disease-of-the-week TV drama ("I think the best day's got to be the next day. Life is all that's next.") there are plenty of other choices on basic cable.

We love Claudia Jean, but we want to see her sparring with the White House press corps, not hip deep in a creek fishing for an Emmy, or between the sheets with that schlub Matthew Modine. We could belabor this point, but to what purpose? Just keep repeating: There will be another episode next week.

Reader feedback: Several native Daytonians have pointed out that the city and its airport are nothing like they were portrayed in the show. We're sure they're right. We all know where C.J.-and all of us-really were Wednesday night: Hell.

A reader who wishes to be identified only as a "Thursday-morning quarterbacker who works at a telecommunications company" notes that at least the characters didn't speak at their usual breakneck speed in this episode. True. Every trite, cliche-ridden piece of dialogue was painfully clear.

In the cruelest twist of all, more than one WW Watcher has pointed out that while there indeed will be an episode next week, it will be a repeat.

January 8

"Is it me, or is this getting harder?"
-Donna Moss

It's not just you. Honestly, we're doing our best to be the eyes and ears of loyal WW Watchers in rooting out irregularities in the operations of the Bartlet administration. And our eyes are doing fine, thank you very much, but our ears are taking a beating as thedialoguekeepswhippingbyatincreasinglyridiculousratesofspeed. (We're not imagining this, either. Aaron Sorkin admits that even his parents complain about the absurd amount of yackety-yak he crams into every episode.)

So while we can't be sure, a couple of items sounded a little odd as they flew by this week:

  • Did they really say more than once that the president would "introduce" a continuing resolution? As the people who work in those federal agencies still awaiting word on their fiscal 2003 appropriations are painfully aware by now, continuing resolutions originate on Capitol Hill. Which is as it should be, because it's not the president's fault Congress can't get its fiscal work done on time. The president just decides whether or not to sign individual continuing resolutions or let the government shut down.
  • When Charlie tried to call his buddy at the Defense Department, did someone really answer the phone, "Good afternoon, the Pentagon"? As if there's one receptionist for the whole place?
extolled the virtues of Paul Wellstone

Likewise, why did the whole squad act like Josh had completely taken leave of his senses for temporarily suggesting it might not be the end of the world to let the National Institutes of Health fund a study of the effects of intercessory prayer on hospital patients? The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH issued a grant for just such a study at the University of New Mexico during the sturdily liberal Clinton administration. We don't remember that being perceived in any corner as an all-out assault on the First Amendment.

Well, now we feel like we've gone and focused entirely on the negative again. So we won't leave without noting that Donna shone again this week, and Bill Bailey/Bill Daley/Bill Haley/Will Bailey is getting better and better. And we promise we'll try to be good next week. Really, we will. (But honestly, a "must-see episode" with C.J., her dear old Dad and "an old friend...who becomes much more"? Face it, that looks like a big old jar of corn syrup.)

Reader feedback: Thomas Bowen of The Hotline, followed by a couple of other readers, points out that Donna's quest to have a cell phone delivered to a senator so she can receive a call from the president before voting was a bit quixotic, because Senate rules prohibit electronic devices on the floor.

Jack Martin, communications director for Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., also argues that Donna's belief that the survey on foreign aid that caused such a furor was a "push poll" was probably mistaken. "Push polls are short," he notes-"only a few 'questions' usually-and are designed to reach a large number of people to influence them, rather than to survey their opinion. It's hard to call it a push poll if it resulted in usable data, regardless of how skewed the questions were."

December 18

A repeat from last year, and a not-very-compelling, Amy-centric one at that. If you insist on subjecting yourself to the recap, click here.

December 11

Tobias Zachary Ziegler reconciling with his mobbed-up old man over the holidays, in a reunion engineered by a fatherless Josh who just can't bring himself to acknowledge his love for Donna? We're getting perilously close to "very special episode" territory here. In fact, if we lean way over this precipice here, we think we can just barely see it….Aaaarrgghhh! We've fallen into the black hole of sappiness!

And frankly, we don't like what we see. Our Donna already sharing a room at the inn with Jack-and not going to visit her family in Wisconsin over the holidays? For shame. (Besides, in her haste to get out of the White House, we're pretty sure Donnatella was about to violate high-occupancy vehicle restrictions on Interstate 66 in Virginia.)

And what about C.J. getting a big wet one from Santa Danny when just moments earlier she was lusting after the Whiffenpoofs? That's simply creepy.

But give Aaron Sorkin and Co. credit. If you would've asked us, we'd have said that after the election episodes, there was just no way to make President Snob seem even more arrogant and elitist. But having him brag about his SAT scores 40 years after the fact does the trick nicely.

Given that Bartlet is back on the couch with Dr. Stan, we'll cut him some slack for loading up his staff with work to exorcise his demons over the whole Qumar thing. Besides, we really don't understand what the big deal is-asking for changes in an agency's budget for the next fiscal year in late December isn't exactly unprecedented.

Finally, congrats on making the opening credits, Will Bailey. But enough with the pacing, pen-chewing and poring over paper copies of the Big Speech. Will someone please get this kid a computer already?

Reader feedback: Andy Boots of the Education Department in Washington notes that the president wouldn't be able to get U.S. marshals to guard Zoe's bedroom to protect her propriety. Marshals are officers of the U.S. Courts. Bartlet would have to settle for the good ol' Secret Service. But a 16-year federal law enforcement veteran says the President has a lot more leeway than you might think in issuing orders to law enforcement personnel.

An anonymous OMB'er backs up our contention that adding a new budgetary initiative on Dec. 23 is hardly unusual-and wouldn't require staffers to change their holiday plans.

Several of our colleagues here at WW Watch World Headquarters have reminded us that HOV restrictions on I-66 would likely have been lifted during a snowstorm, so Donna wouldn't have been a scofflaw even if Josh hadn't tried to keep her in Washington.

November 27

Things we're thankful for:

  1. Episodes like this.
  2. Adm. Fitzwallace, the King of Cool.
  3. Lincoln's second inaugural address. Toby's right: It rocks. (But he slipped up on Roosevelt: the "nothing to fear but fear itself" line was in his first inaugural.)
  4. Will Bailey. C'mon, admit it. They're not going to miss a beat when Congressman Sam hits the road.
  5. Donnatella Moss.

Oddities of the night:

  • Bartlet brags that his Cabinet got rid of 16,000 pages of federal regulations in his first term. Isn't it interesting that that's exactly the same number of pages the Clinton administration boasted about eliminating? Of course, it took them eight years.
  • Having the most stable Cabinet since the Hoover administration is quite an accomplishment, but Bartlet can't touch Franklin Pierce's record. Pierce was the only president to have no turnover in his Cabinet. Besides, Bartlet's crowd is probably just hanging around in the hopes they'll actually get to talk to the president some day. Even when he calls a Cabinet meeting, he can't be bothered to spend more than 30 seconds with these people.
  • We agree that Toby is more in need of a night in Atlantic City than any man on the planet, but on his worst day he would never confuse FEMA with FHA as the insurer of home loans. No way.

November 20


Huh? Oh, sorry, our head must have hit the desk as we nodded off. This is the thanks we get for sticking with the Bartlet gang and not channel-surfing over to "The Bachelor" or the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show"? An episode called "Swiss Diplomacy" that was about, uh, Swiss diplomacy?

At least we got to see the long-lost vice president, although he wasn't very nice to poor Josh. No wonder they never let this whiner out on the campaign trail-or even allowed him to appear with the president for his victory speech.

The rest of the episode was packed with a mind-numbing amount of detail-most of it accurate, as always. But not all.

The job of National Park Service director (not "national parks chairman," C.J.) already is a Senate-confirmed position, so wouldn't have to be changed into one by Congress. You'd think if Toby could find out in about five minutes that the commissioner of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation is also Senate-confirmed, he would have known about the parks situation. And by the way, what was he doing flirting with the would-be Park Service director, when he's supposed to be on a mission to win back his ex-wife and mother of their developing twins?

While we like Josh's suggestion about playing games in the halls of the Capitol when the Senate's not in session, you wouldn't be able to do so "between cloture votes," as he suggested, because there wouldn't be any cloture votes if the Senate wasn't in session.

President Bartlet was technically correct in saying that Samuel Mudd was convicted of aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but Mudd was pardoned in 1869. His descendants have been fighting for decades to fully clear his name, but suffered a setback just this month, when a federal appeals court ruled they lacked standing to challenge his conviction.

Reader feedback: In a record for earliest Gaffe Squad catch ever, Pat Flynn noted in mid-episode that Swissair went bankrupt, so wouldn't have been of much help in the effort to fly the ailing Iranian boy to the United States. And the airline's successor, known simply as Swiss, is having financial problems of its own.

Teresa M. LaHaie, director of administration and budget at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, points out that Toby got the name of her organization wrong (he left out the "and Library" part) when he was running through his list of agencies with Senate-confirmed appointees.

Thomas Bowen, a staff writer at our sister publication, The Hotline, comes through with this tidbit: The president has his own lectern for public appearances, nicknamed the "Blue Goose." But when Bartlet goes in to the briefing room at the beginning of the episode, the regular wood lectern is in the room.

November 13

OK, we admit it, we weren't as sharp-eyed this week as we might have been, but trust us, we have a great excuse: We had to catch the show on tape in the wee hours of the morning, because while it was being broadcast we were PARTYING WITH LEO!

We'll pause for a moment to let that sink in.

Yeah, that's right. While you were watching the show, we were hanging out with the great John Spencer, who was gracious enough to attend our first-ever Service to America Medals awards dinner in Washington. (And was even more gracious to tell us afterwards-while we were shamelessly sucking up-that he thought WW Watch was "great." We swear we are not making this up.)

So, of course, we were thrilled to see that in the episode, Leo got to live out every political junkie's dream-using election results as an aphrodisiac. (But we're sorry to point out there's no way he could've tuned his radio to "WNKW The Music of Your Life" to set the mood with Jordan, because there is no such station in Washington, thank goodness.)

Other observations:

  • Would they really do all that election-night partying in the West Wing, and not at a hotel? It's odd enough that they're in Washington at all, and not up in New Hampshire, on election night.
  • Great to see Christian Slater blow Bartlet out of the water on Pentagon procurement practices-especially since we noted a few weeks ago that many of the tales about ridiculous purchases are a crock. We've decided Christian's OK for our little Donna-at least until they write him off the show on some flimsy pretext in a few weeks to keep the Josh/Donna sexual tension alive.
  • How fitting that Aimless Amy (does she have a job? Or is she just a freelance troublemaker?) turns out to be responsible for driving Sam out of the White House.
Reader feedback:
  • Last season President Bartlet went to great lengths to explain to Charlie that James Bond was a bit unmanly to order his martinis "shaken, not stirred." According to the president, Lanz notes, "shaking the martini causes the ice to melt faster, thus diluting it. And yet, last night, while seducing the First Lady, he was shaking the martinis."
  • "Christian Slater, on his way to the situation room for the first time, says 'I'm just going downstairs' as he simultaneously grabs his combo cover (the white hat), which naval officers do NOT wear indoors." Several other readers have noted that Slater's character failed to wear his cover when he was outdoors last week, so now he's two for two on getting the hat thing wrong.
November 6

In the words of Toby, we don't want to "tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing," so we're going to play nice this week. Which is easy to do, because this episode was so great. The president and the staff were back in their element, Lily Tomlin's Debbie got to go toe-to-toe with Josh in a Battle of the Deadpans and Donna got a little Christian Slater action. However, we're not doing our job if we fail to bring up just a few itsy-bitsy little issues:

  • We know Wisconsin has pretty liberal absentee ballot rules, but how can Donna be voting there when she's been living and working in Washington for four years? And why is she voting at all, since according to one of last year's episodes, she's not a citizen?
  • Contrary to what Sam said, there are only eight people ahead of the Agriculture Secretary in the line of succession to the presidency, not 18.
  • No matter where Charlie lives in the Washington metro area, if he went to vote at 8:30 p.m., he'd be out of luck. The polls in the District of Columbia and Maryland close at 8:00, and in Virginia they're only open until 7:00. It was cool to see him use our favorite voting machine, though-the "Shouptronic."

Reader feedback: Behold the power of the Gaffe Squad. Sharp-eyed viewers found lots of problems this week. Mike Gibson of Portland, Ore., wonders why Josh and Sam were so worried about rain depressing voter turnout in Oregon. "Oregon is a vote-by-mail state," he notes. "We don't care if it's raining on election day. We've already sent our ballots off by mail--most of us, anyway." Don Kettl says there's no way the Secret Service would let Charlie's protege and his buddy through the gates into the West Wing without first clearing them at an outside gate, which would require that they show photo IDs.

Kettl's fellow Badger, R. Alta Charo, an associate dean at the University of Wisconsin Law School, points out our shameful lack of specific knowledge of Wisconsin's liberal voting laws. Wisconsin Statute 6.10(5) says: "A person shall not lose residence when the person leaves home and goes into another state ... for temporary purposes with an intent to return," and 6.10(6) says "As prescribed by article III of the constitution, no person loses residence in this state while absent from this state on business for the United States or this state." Not only that, but Karen Wilson Roman of Washington reminds us that Donna's citizenship snafu was resolved by the end of that episode last year. We sincerely apologize for our effort to disenfranchise our favorite character on the show.

A longtime patron of the West End branch library at 24th and L Streets NW in Washington notes that it is "a small, very dated building in a residential neighborhood," not the palace where Josh was said to be voting in the opening sequence. She's right. We used to vote there, too.

Suzanne Garwood correctly deduces that the WW Watcher-In-Chief is a man, because we missed some obvious gaffes involving Andi's sonogram. First off, Toby's ex is in the early part of her first trimester, and sonograms are rarely done at this time. A sonogram this early, she says, would "probably would be more....invasive. You can't really see anything through her stomach-the baby is too small." The Toby/Andi twinlets shown would've been about seven months along. Finally, Garwood says, you can't tell the sex of a fetus until around the 20th week, so Toby couldn't know there was going to be a boy and a girl. We plead guilty to maleness--and nevertheless are embarrassed, because we have two little WWW progeny who were pictured on sonograms not that many years ago.

October 30

OK, let's make sure we have this straight: You're Jed Bartlet, you're running for reelection, and your internal polls show everybody in the country thinks you're arrogant. (No. Really? We're shocked.) So your solution to this problem is to go out and be really, really arrogant in your only debate with your opponent? Sure, that'll work-if you're running for president of Bizarro World.

The fleeting moment in the first episode this season when Josh pointed out that people don't like the smartest guy in the class-especially when he keeps reminding them he's the smartest-has vanished into the wind. Pity. It would've been a lot more interesting to see Bartlet take on a worthy opponent, not beat up on some silly punching-bag caricature.

Outside the debate, though, this episode had some of the best non-sequitur toss-off lines in WW history. C.J. to Toby: "I'm crazy about the roundness of your head." Donna to Charlie: "I'm going to throw this notion out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up." (On the other hand, the First Lady's "Game on, boyfriend!" line was positively cringe-inducing.)

It was great to see Hal Holbrook back as a crotchety assistant secretary of State. But while it's probably OK under the Hatch Act for a 30-year career State Department official to spin for a political candidate, it's a little unseemly, isn't it?

Finally, on a rare serious note for this column, we feel compelled to pause and mourn the passing of Sen. Paul Wellstone last week. We had the opportunity to briefly study under Wellstone at highly regarded Carleton College and then to admire his conviction as a senator. He was passionate, quirky, staunchly liberal, academic, occasionally long-winded and driven by a deep and abiding conviction that the American political system should be used to give people a fighting shot at the American dream. (Sounds like a certain TV president, doesn't it?) Let's hope we don't have to wait too long before we see his like again.

Reader feedback: Melanie C. Butler, a former Navy surface warfare officer notes that "when Leo was talking about stopping the Qumari ship hauling weapons, he said that the Austin, an LPD, did the stopping. While the Austin is an LPD-it is LPD 4-it is not in the San Antonio class. The San Antonio class starts with LPD 17, the newest of the amphibious ships, which is currently under construction. It is planned to hit the fleet in 2005. Besides, the Austin doesn't really have a gun that could fire across the bow of a ship. It has .50 caliber guns as well as 25mm guns, neither of which would be very effective to stop a large cargo ship. Most amphibs don't do interdiction operations because of this."

Several readers have pointed out a couple of problems with the "Sam for Congress" story line: 1. He grew up in the district where he now says he'll agree to run, yet still needs a map to find the freeway? 2. Everybody's supposed to be impressed that a mid-level White House aide has decided he will condescend to run for a congressional seat--even though he hasn't lived in the district for going on two decades? (He was away for college and law school, has worked on the Hill, spent seven years at a New York law firm and has been with Bartlet for four years--you do the math.) Maybe all of this just means that Sam will lose and keep his job at the White House. And if he wins, at least it seems like that guy from Sports Night and Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years will end up on Bartlet's staff.

October 16

Amy rides a bike and talks to Josh. Amy talks to Josh instead of paying attention to her date. Amy hears Josh say "you'll never lose me." Amy and Josh, Amy and Josh, Amy and Josh.

Meanwhile, The West Wing's ratings are in the tank. Coincidence? We think not.

We jest. In fact, this episode should go a long way toward bringing the old WW viewers back into the fold. The flashback technique, overused last year, proves a great way to showcase how the team has changed-and how they've stayed the same. Donna turning the tables on Josh was delicious, the "Team Toby" bit was hilarious and it was great to see Mrs. Landingham again.

But why was poor C.J. the only one stuck with a train wreck of a hairdo to make sure we knew when we were stepping into the Wayback Machine? OK, Josh had kind of a big hair thing going on, but still.

And we have to say that the whole Debate Camp thing was just a bit off. Two weeks ago, it seemed that the Bartlet folks were finally getting some sense knocked into them about the absurdity of running for president as the World's Most Smug and Condescending Dork. Now the team bursts into sycophantic cheers when President Wiseass mocks Gov. Ritchie's "unsurprisingly dumb interpretation" of his position on work and families. This ludicrous fantasy has gone on too long. Unless this is one big long setup for Bartlet to get walloped in the debate (and wouldn't that make a great episode!), it's completely ridiculous.

It was also disappointing to hear Toby demand "concrete examples of waste in Pentagon procurement" for Bartlet to use in the debate. Wouldn't the president be held responsible for fixing these kinds of problems during his four years in office, instead of perpetuating tall tales about $600 hammers?

Nothing to report on the gaffe front at first glance-and there were some nice insider references to Israel's F-15 Thunder fighters and the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense System.

Reader feedback: Oscar Soler from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., says the Josh/Donna bit about a "Hercules missile" in the White House complex had a couple of problems: "First, a Hercules missile was an air defense missile that did not carry a nuclear warhead and it has been retired for many, many years. Josh should have known that. Second, a man in Josh's position should know that the National Security Agency conducts signal intelligence and does not do personnel investigations, so he should not have been trapped by Donna's friend pretending he was from the NSA."

October 9

Apparently, the West Wing brain trust has opted to launch a full-blown "let's try to keep Rob Lowe from bolting" campaign. Just two weeks ago, Sam was "Mr. Schmutzy-Pants." Now Leo tells him with a straight face that he's "one of the big minds of your generation."

Sam proves his erudition by declaring that he follows Agence France-Presse closely (and pronounces it in a faux French accent to drive home the point). But then he has to go and say he also relies heavily on the International Herald Tribune for foreign news. This is at least the second time that the West Wingers have name-dropped the IHT, apparently not understanding that it's mostly just an amalgam of stuff that also appears in The New York Times and The Washington Post, two papers that someone as informed as Sam would surely already read.

Nice use of the Red Mass as a backdrop for this week's political intrigue. At this annual event at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, the Holy Spirit's guidance is requested for the legal profession. (Feel free to insert your own joke here. We'll pass.) But its depiction in this week's episode raised a couple of issues. First, while the president occasionally attends the mass, he would never presume to make a speech there. Second, C.J. and Toby were standing outside what looked like a nice church after the mass, but it wasn't St. Matthew's. We know whereof we speak. The cathedral is just a couple of blocks west of WW Watch World Headquarters.

Speaking of C.J. and Toby, since when can he order her to adjust the president's schedule? And since when is she in charge of it?

While we're asking questions, what does Aaron Sorkin have against football? Last week, it was Donna ranting about the number of scholarships awarded to college players. This week, C.J. appears mystified by Bartlet's interest in a game on TV, asking, "Is it OK that after every play someone requires medical attention?"

Finally, we're trying not to get fixated on Amy the Annoying, so let's just say this: She revealed her true colors late in the show, declaring of the president, "I'll keep poking him with a stick. It's how I show my love." On the plus side, she can almost make a balloon animal.

Reader feedback: The Gaffe Squad is on a roll this week. An anonymous source argues we failed to mention the main mistake in the Red Mass scenario: C.J. saying it would take place at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. But other sources point out that while the mass is ordinarily held at St. Matthew's, this year it was indeed held at the National Shrine, due to ongoing renovations at the Cathedral. (We deny that we missed this part of the episode entirely because we were checking to see how badly our beloved Minnesota Twins were being drubbed by the Anaheim Angels.)

Speaking of sports, Todd Prodanuk of Vancouver, B.C., astutely observed that Bartlet, oddly, appears to be a fan of Canadian football. That was the Calgary Stampeders he was watching.

Several readers have made the case that Sam's newfound brain power--and sudden interest in the lack of bench strength among Democratic congressional candidates--is less a sign that the show's producers want to keep him around and more an indication that they're setting him up for a run at a House seat.

Finally, the esteemed Donald F. Kettl of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who knows his way around the Washington area, points out that there is no "Capital Sheraton" in the region.

October 2

This week's quiz: Who looks more ridiculous in a "Rock the Vote" t-shirt, the Dreaded Amy or C.J.?

Much as we'd like to give this award to Amy, it's C.J. in a landslide. Not only would the White House press secretary never, ever, be seen in public dressed like a teenage girl, it's simply absurd that she'd campaign for the president in such a partisan fashion at a time when she's also supposed to be publicly representing the administration on pressing issues of national concern.

(This just in from the Fair Warning Department: Newsweek says Amy's back for 10-that's right, 10-episodes. Will she and Josh ever be able to overcome the work obsessions that keep driving a wedge between them? Will we ever care?)

Our immediate descent into pettiness is by no means meant to suggest that this wasn't a lively, well-paced and thoroughly enjoyable episode. But it sure had its quirky moments. To wit:

  • Good thing the voters can't see the bizarre and erratic performance of the president in the Situation Room. Non sequitur "West Side Story" references and rambling asides to Leo about missing staffers? Lay off the 'shrooms, Mr. President. (You too, Mr. Sorkin.)
  • Would a president-even one as über-cool as Bartlet-really walk into a campaign rally and just wing it, without a prepared speech? And by the way, while they were debating what the president should say about a bombing that had occurred the previous night, could they have spared five minutes to consider canceling the event, instead of using it to brazenly capitalize on a tragedy for political purposes?
  • The freakish Josh/Toby mind-meld on all things policy became complete when they simultaneously came up with the same idea for soaking corporations to pay for a college tuition tax break. And to think all of this insight came courtesy of The Common Man, Matt Kelly, Indianapolis barfly and world-class whiner about the travails of the upper middle class.
  • Good call on featuring the terrifically talented Aimee Mann at the "Rock the Vote" rally. But we're not sure she's the best person to inspire the youth of America to get out and vote. The Washington Post called her concert in D.C. last week "a mope-rock show that seemed both stoic and overwrought at the same time."

Reader feedback: A couple of readers have noted that one of Jordan Kendall's alleged alma maters, the "Maxwell School of Diplomacy and International Relations," doesn't exist. She might however, have received a degree in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, one of the finest public administration institutions in the country.

A Capitol Hill lawyer who requested anonymity takes issue the Bartlet team's effort to bypass a federal appeals court and go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a judge's ruling that minor-party candidates had to be allowed into presidential debates. "That would be a highly unusual way to proceed and the Supreme Court would almost certainly not look favorably on it," the source says. "And it's probably faster to seek a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals anyway. A stay could ultimately be sought from the Supreme Court, but only if the court of appeals had refused to issue it. Incidentally, the reason Bush v. Gore and the Torricelli/Lautenberg cases, to mention two recent political cases, went directly to the Supreme Court was because they were appeals of state Supreme Court decisions. The intermediate federal courts of appeals do not hear such cases."

September 25

Welcome back, WWWers! It was a long hot summer, wasn't it? But what better way to usher in the fall than with a two-hour West Wing?

How about with one that wasn't quite so scattershot? Or maybe a little less condescending? It was fun watching Toby and Josh do their planes, trains and automobiles schtick across the state of Indiana, but ending it with a ham-handed lesson in listening to the good ol' heartland common folk courtesy of Donna and some guy in a bar was a bit much.

There was enough material here for a terrific one-hour episode. Too bad they had to push it. But really, we only nitpick because we love. So let's get on with it:

  • The "Naval Warfare Center Crane" is actually the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division. But kudos to political advisor Bruno for telling the president that if he wanted to win over the crowd there, he needed to talk about a military pay raise and housing upgrades. And bigger kudos to President Bartlet for saying such pandering was beneath him.
  • Using the fact that most of Indiana refuses to accept Daylight Saving Time as a plot device was clever, but it's hard to imagine how it would come into play when all of Toby, Josh and Donna's travels should have taken place in central Indiana, which is always on Eastern Standard Time. And by the way, how could the president go from a farm near Unionville to the Crane facility and not make a stop in nearby Bartlettsville?
  • If, as Toby asserts, the state of Indiana is not even in play for Bartlet six weeks before the election, what is he doing campaigning there? Our handy Almanac of American Politics, the bible of electoral info, notes that Indiana hasn't gone Democratic since 1964.
  • With all due respect to Leo, the Treasurer of the United States does a lot more than determine the color of money. She (Yes, today it's a she-Rosario Marin, the highest-ranking Latina in the Bush administration) oversees the operations of the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and printing, for one thing.
  • The closing shot was cool, but there's no time of the day or night that one could walk across the Memorial Bridge with absolutely no traffic at all.
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Reader feedback: Government Executive defense writer George Cahlink, who has spent some time at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, notes that another reason why Bartlet may have opted not to mention military pay and housing at the base is that most of the employees there are civilians and there is little military housing in the region. And a Columbus, Ohio, reader who we're only allowed to identify as "David," points out that it's extremely unlikely that a general would serve as a pilot on Air Force One.

A source in a position to know tells us that "Leo was right; the Treasurer is fundamentally a figurehead. [She] does little more than have her signature on the currency, cut ribbons and make personal appearances."

Gail Perry, an Indianapolis financial writer, notes that not only does central Indiana refuse to recognize Daylight Saving Time, but "the central Indiana television stations tape-delay all of their broadcasts so we can pretend we're on Eastern time in the summer. This means that we watched 'The West Wing' tonight one hour later than the rest of the country." And Steven Yates, a South Bend, Ind., native who's attending school in Washington, asks, "Why would a father and daughter be at the Indianapolis airport waiting for a flight to St. Louis after seeing Notre Dame? South Bend has its own airport, and it even has several direct flights to St. Louis."