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The West Wing: The Indians in the Lobby

by Bob Sassone, posted Nov 14th 2007 11:25AM

TV Squad's Standout Episodes"The Indians in the Lobby"
Originally aired on November 21, 2001

There are so many ridiculously great episodes of The West Wing, trying to pick one out is like trying to pick out the best note in a piece by Mozart. But since it's November, I figured I'd choose the best of the show's Thanksgiving Day episodes, "The Indians in the Lobby" (and yes, fans of "Shibboleth," I love that one too, but this one has just a little bit more.)

It's Thanksgiving, and President Bartlet is making the stuffing ...

It's a different type of episode, since there isn't one main story that the whole cast is involved in, even as they're involved with their own plots. In fact, I'm not even sure what the main plot is supposed to be in this episode, since they all seem like separate stories. Since the title refers to two Native Americans staging a sit-in in the lobby of the White House because they've been waiting over 15 years for an answer to a land dispute problem, I guess that's the "A" plot, but the other ones are great too: Josh trying to get Italy to send back a kid who shot his teacher in Georgia; Sam trying to figure out a way to make new poverty numbers sound good and not bad; and President Bartlet ticked off about a poll that political strategist Bruno commissioned asking voters where they want the President to have Thanksgiving.

This last plot is OK in and off itself (and involves a really bizarre story from Bruno about boat racing and kelp), but it's what starts during President Bartlet's talk with Bruno that really makes this episode standout. Because he's making stuffing for Thanksgiving, Bartlet calls the Butterball Hotline to ask how he should prepare the stuffing, safety-wise, and what temperature the stuffing and turkey should be when fully cooked. This scene is a masterpiece combo of script and acting (even Richard Schiff and Dule Hill in the Oval Office with Sheen, just reacting to the phone call and helping him conceal his real identity to the Butterball lady). It's quite simply one of the most entertaining five minutes of TV I've ever seen.

As for the subplots, Sam has to meet with Bernice from OMB and convince her to hold off on announcing the new poverty numbers. After all, changing the formula as to how people are designated as poor means you get more poor people, and a President doesn't want that. You learn a lot in this scene: how Molly Orshansky came up with the formula (Sam: "You mean our cost of living formula for the past 40 years has been based on life in Poland during the Cold War?" ), that Bernice doesn't like to be called Bernie, and you also hear this joke from Sam, trying to break the ice:

"So three statisticians go hunting. The first hunter shoots at the deer and misses to the left. The second one shoots and misses to the right. The third one jumps up and down and says 'I hit it!' "

Come to think of it, there are a couple of more mini-subplots in this episode, but the way they're presented is so natural they don't feel squeezed in (this is not only the writing but the rapport the cast members have with each other - this was the third season). Josh has to talk to the Italian embassy and the Georgia D.A. about the kid while still getting to his mom's house in Florida in time for Thanksgiving (Donna is helping with that), and Bartlet is boring C.J. and Toby and Charlie with his perfect recipe for brining a turkey (apparently it involves anise and coriander). The West Wing was a show about politics, sure, but it's basically a workplace drama with lots of comedy, and lots of plots and characters and words swirling about in the air. I still don't know how they accomplished this week after week.

The West Wing was always great at combining seriousness and humor flawlessly, in a way that wasn't jarring or out of place, and anyone who wants to see a textbook example of Aaron Sorkin and gang at their peak should watch this episode. Maybe while you're brining a turkey next week.

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Great stuff. We just watched both of those--of course, they are the Thanksgiving episodes we remember--and we're trying to find others. We have all the DVDs of course. Anyone know of any other Thanksgiving episodes of West Wing? Also, I'd love to know about other Christmas episodes, too. Thanks.

November 22 2007 at 8:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the opening of Shibboleth was one of the funniest scenes on television.

That’s ‘cause every time we come up on a holiday, you guys check out like seniors who are
done with finals.

We are writing a very important Thanksgiving proclamation.

And possibly a new action-adventure series.

Nobody here has checked out.

[walks up] Hey, I was just flipping a nickel in my office. Sixteen times in a row, it
came out tails.

Followed by telling them to put the turkey in CJ's office. For me, that is the perfect episode. Not taking anything away from Indians in the Lobby (the butterball hotline is, as stated, another fantastic scene).

Anyway, that's my two cents.

November 19 2007 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really have trouble picking a favorite show out of all of the Sorkin episodes.

This reminds of the moment I realized that the titles of the episodes are important too. Every word of a Sorkin script is an integral part of the story.

Knowing that this is titled "The Indians in the Lobby" to me points out the plot line not to forget.

November 19 2007 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So there are these two Indians in the lobby.
No, it's-it's not the beginning of a joke. I'm saying there's these two Indians in the lobby.

Excanges like this one alone make me realise how much I miss the West Wing. I saw "The Indians in the Lobby" on DVD a few years ago (TWW was never on TV here in Austria) and I immediately remembered several lines from this episode just after reading the title...

November 14 2007 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another vote here for Shibboleth.

I've been without TV for a few months now (cable is still too expensive--even with six roommates) so I've been looting through my expansive collection of DVDs but I still find myself going back to The West Wing. Politics without cynicism, television that never panders and a President who could speak in complete sentances (although Leo made it clear in 'Bartlet for America'--another great episode--that he needed a candidate to do much more) always made the show a must watch for me and anybody I could make watch it.

With that said, 'Shibboleth' had even much more than a typical episode (which is what, aside from the Butterball scene, 'Indians in the Lobby' is). Pilgrim crime solvers with Toby and Sam, CJ and the festive lute playing, Donna thinking the President can pardon a turkey, Leo's sister still not over returning stolen milk duds, Toby's grandstanding infront of the congressional aides regarding Leo's sister's appointment (and subsequently losing), Josh and Toby's reluctance to have the President know they're just watching football on thanksgiving (for fear of being invited to dine with him and thus being grilled on much festive trivia), Leo's insistance that the President could care less what they do on Thanksgiving and informing Josh on the Latin word for 'ham', CJs frustrations with Thanksgiving festivities and her dissatisfaction with the guys after they finally invite her over for Thanksgiving, and the two turkeys.

But beyond those pitch-perfect moments, 'Shibboleth' also had one of the most touching moments of the series when the President has Charlie searching for carving knives to replace his own which he got from his father, who got it from his father which he then gave to Charlie. The look on Charlie's face when the President tells him who made the carving knife swells me up with tears every time I've watched the scene.

What truely seperates 'Shibboleth' from other episodes of this, arguably, the greatest television program in history, is that it centers firmly on the cast and their relation with each other. It has few guest stars aside from regulars and it really showcases the love and respect each character has for each other, they may tease or put turkeys in each others' offices but they are a great family with the one center focus to change the world for the better. This episode encapsulates that feeling and it does it with all the charm and magic the series can offer.

November 14 2007 at 4:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Every West Wing was terrific. One of the Top 10 shows ever.

However, I did like the Butterball hotline, too. It was always fun to see the TV POTUS being impish instead of the real world POTUS being chimpish.

November 14 2007 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the butterball hotline. Richard Schiff is great in that scene, as well as every other scene he had some to think of it. What about best Christmas episodes? I would push for "Noel". I know a lot of people will probably push for "In Excelsis Deo", and I can see why, but I just love the Josh centric "Noel", maybe it is because the Bach piece, I don't know. I also like how when it is later in the series (season 3 maybe) and Leo is in trouble and asks Josh not to help him, Josh replies with the story of a friend being down in a hole. Great stuff. It is kind of funny, however, that probably the best two Christmas episodes concentrate on the two Jewish characters.

November 14 2007 at 3:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

God i miss the West Wing. Why can't we have intelligent AND entertaining shows like that? These days all we seem to get is retarted reality crap and the whorefest housewives.

November 14 2007 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think my favorite West Wing episode was the one where Josh, Donna, and Tobey got left behind during a debate (I think it was a flashack episode explaining how everything came to be) and they had to enlist a local kid to drive them back. They stop for lunch along the way and have dry rub.

Meanwhile, no one realized they were left behind, and I think CJ calls them on the cell as if they were just down the hall in the White House.

It was one of the most laugh out loud shows.

November 14 2007 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, Bob. I miss TWW! But I'm with Juliette. "Shibboleth" was one of the most touching episodes of TWW for me.

November 14 2007 at 1:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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