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October 6, 2015

Best 'West Wing' Episodes of All Time

by Allison Waldman, posted Nov 6th 2010 3:30PM
west_wing_nbc_cast_flagCounting down the top 10 greatest 'West Wing' episodes ...

There has never been a television show quite like 'The West Wing,' which delved into the inner workings of politics from the point of view of the people working for the President of the United States, as well as the man himself.

NBC greenlit the show when Aaron Sorkin, who'd written the successful romantic comedy 'The American President,' came to them with material he had left over from that project.

The show debuted on NBC on September 22, 1999, and ended its on May 14 2006, after 146 episodes. In that time, 'The West Wing' had won four Emmys as the Outstanding Drama Series and a slew of other awards for the acting, writing and direction.

'The West Wing' was originally going to focus on the Sam Seaborn character, and Rob Lowe thought he would be the star. However, the show became an ensemble and a cast of little known actors emerged, including Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg, the press secretary; Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, Communications Director; Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff; John Spencer as Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff; and Dule Hill as Charlie Young, Personal Aide to the President.

At first, Sorkin thought the show wouldn't need a President that was shown working with the staff, but it soon became clear they did. Martin Sheen was cast as President Josiah "Jed" Barlett, with Stockard Channing as First Lady, Abigail.

Over the years, new characters were added, especially in the last season when 'The West Wing' presented an election and Jimmy Smits, as Congressman Matt Santos, bested Alan Alda's Senator Arnold Vinick, ushering in a group to the White House.

While never a ratings powerhouse, 'The West Wing' was a success in the tradition of ensemble dramas, like 'ER' and 'L.A. Law,' but it was unique because of Aaron Sorkin's voice and Thomas Schlamme and John Wells' direction. The long master shots, in which the characters had to 'walk and talk,' became the show's trademark.

Here's what we deem the 10 best episodes of 'The West Wing.' You may agree or disagree, but please share your thoughts:

arlington_cemetery_nbc_the_west_wing10. In Excelsis Deo (Season 1, Episode 10) December 15, 1999

In a particularly poignant episode, Toby discovered that the man who died in a coat he'd donated to Goodwill was a Korean War veteran who'd been living on the streets. Using the power of the White House -- which got him in trouble -- Toby arranged for the vet to receive a military funeral in Arlington Cemetery. Joining Toby was Mrs. Landingham, whom we learned had lost her twin sons in Vietnam.

9. Twenty Five (Season 4, Episode 23) May 14, 2003

Could it get more dramatic than having to enact the 25th Amendment? As the trauma of Zoey Bartlet's abduction played out, the President realized he couldn't impartially perform the duties of his office. Bartlet resigned, temporarily, and turned over the reigns of government to the Republican Speaker of the House Glen Allen Walken (John Goodman).

smits_sheen_alda_the_west_wing_nbc8. Duck and Cover (Season 7, Episode 12) January 22, 2006

The presidential election between Santos and Vinick turned on one major event ... the nuclear accident at the San Andreo plant. Bartlet had to order two engineers in to fix the problem, resulting in their deaths, while Vinick had to do major damage control since he vigorously supported the building of the plant for his state. After the incident, Vinick lost ground and Santos drew even, setting up a nail-biter election night.

7. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1) September 22, 1999

This first episode of the series was dynamic and exciting, setting the pace for the show and establishing a bunch of characters, including C.J., Josh, Sam, Toby and Leo ... as well as featuring Lisa Edelstein as Sam's call-girl friend. We also learned that P.O.T.U.S. stands for President of the United States. If only Charlie had been included, and more Bartlet.

6. What Kind of Day Has It Been (Season 1, Episode 22) May 17, 2000

The way this episode was presented, the non-linear storytelling, was excellent. You were so involved with the President's town hall meeting, Toby's monitoring the troubled space shuttle (on which his brother was one of the crew), and the military racing to save a downed pilot in the Iraq, that you never suspected what would happen when the President left the hall. Shots rang out and people were hurt. As a season finale, this was a major cliffhanger.

5. Shutdown (Season 5, Episode 8) November 19, 2003

How ugly is the operation of government when the Congress is ruled by one party and the Presidency by another? Very ugly, as this show revealed. When the Speaker of the House changes the terms of the deal during budget negotiations, the President plays hard ball and the government gets shut down. Who would blink first? Great episode, showing how Bartlet used optics to gain an advantage, then held his ground when push came to shove.

jimmy_smits_teri_polo_the_west_wing_NBC4. Tomorrow (Season 7, Episode 22) May 14, 2006

Last episodes are always tricky, but 'The West Wing' finale was very satisfying. Santos celebrated his inauguration and was off and running as he staffed his West Wing. Vinick contemplated his future and received an unexpected opportunity from his opponent. And Bartlet's presidency ended with class and a lump in the throat. Abby asked him what he was thinking about as they flew home. Jed's answer, "Tomorrow."

3. Posse Comitatus (Season 3, Episode 22) May 22, 2002

Like 'What Kind of Day Has It Been,' this episode lulled us into a sense of security. C.J.'s stalker was captured, which meant that she and Simon, her Secret Service bodyguard (played by Mark Harmon), could act on their attraction. But in a random act of violence, Simon was killed in a convenience store robbery. In the same episode, Bartlet has a brief encounter with Governor Rob Ritchie (James Brolin), the Republican presidential candidate. Jed is unimpressed with Ritchie and resolves to "kick his ass" in the election.

2. 17 People (Season 2, Episode 18) April 4, 2001

From the time of the election, President Jed Bartlet had been keeping an enormous secret from the country, and most of his staff. He had multiple sclerosis. As his condition became more pronounced, Toby suspected something was wrong, and was told the truth ... becoming the 17th person in the world to know. In a heated argument, Ziegler contended that the President had to tell the American people. Was the president guilty of a criminal conspiracy?

two_cathedrals_the_west_wing_nbc1. Two Cathedrals (Season 2, Episode 22) May 16, 2001

A tour de force episode for Martin Sheen, which should have won him the Emmy. After the sudden death of Mrs. Landingham in a car crash, the President is reminded of meeting her when he was a student at prep school. She had challenged him then to step up, and those memories prompted Jed to decide whether to run for re-election in light of his revelation that he had MS and had lied about it. But before that decision, alone in the church, Bartlet let loose with an attack on G-d for taking the life of Dolores Landingham.

We're sure that have your favorites which may or may not have made the list, so share your feelings. Which episodes were unjustly omitted or which should have missed the cut? Leave your thoughts below!

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Season 4, Episode 4 "Red Mass"

Donna reports back to Josh about the philosophy seminar. (This is my favorite scene from the whole series)

Also in this episode, Leo contemplates what winning looks like. Is it flying an American flag over Mecca? If so, he asks, what are we waiting for?

May 03 2015 at 5:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love, love, LOVE the Stackhouse Filibuster from Season 2. Brings me to tears every time. "Grandfathers all!"

August 09 2012 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Gaillardetz

Celestial Navigation! I know that there is a pull towards rating the emotional season finales as the best, but I really think that Celestial Navigation has the best of everyone. I love the flashback/storytelling set up. Great episode! One of the best.

December 22 2011 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my favorite character in the entire show is charlie. but josh is a close second...or maybe it's president bartlett. i love charlie's loyalty, like when he refused to get legal immunity during the m.s. case against the president. i love him so much! and i really miss this show. i want to watch more

December 20 2011 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

feeling very nostalgic for the west wing... i wish they would show it again on tv

for some reason, i really want to watch the later episodes, where josh was helping santos with the presidential campaign. i remember watching santos' debate with arnold vinick and i was just so awed. that was a really good episode, i think

another episode i liked was when santos was talking about mortgaging his house to last a few more months in the campaign and josh told him that he's going to lose. then, at the end of the episode, they came out as one of the top two. that episode really sticks out in my mind

another great episode: when cj's secret service agent died... awww...i really loved cj's interaction with him. they would have made a really great couple...i wouldn't have minded if he stayed the entire season

one character that i loved loved LOVED was ainsley hayes. why in the world did they get rid of her? she was hilarious and funny and i loved laughing at/with her. like when she was nervous about meeting the president and then went into the closet, thinking it was a restroom, only to continue staying there. hahaha! i still remember that episode. if there was one thing i can change about the west wing, it would be to include more ainsley hayes

December 20 2011 at 12:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You picked some great ones. "Noel" would have to show up on my top 10. Adam Arkin's guest appearance was fabulous. This episode also shows once again, the vulnerability of the force of nature which is Josh Lyman. An outstanding series, all the way around!

September 19 2011 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Art Girl

The Episode "Noel" touched a chord with me having experienced my own PTS event. The flashbacks were particularly appropriate considering the flashback tendency in PTS patients. Also the episode in which Simon gets killed touches me on many different levels. Hearing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" always reminds me of this show.
And who among us has not had the conversation with God that Jed Bartlett has after the death of Mrs. Landingham?
And last, but not least, I loved the episode where Pres. Bartlett has Charlie chasing down a new carving knife for Thanksgiving. I loved Charlie's loyalty! And any reparte that involves Josh and Donna deserves kudos to Aaron Sorkin!

January 31 2011 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a republican and I just loved the West Wing. Sure I did not agree with all their policies but I would remind myself it was just a TV show and a very good one at that.I think my fav show was the one in which the president and Josh got shot and the episode after that. The only channel recently to show reruns is Bravo and that stopped. I wish someone would show it again as I missed the first year or two.

November 11 2010 at 3:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TK Kelley

My favorite episode was "NOEL." This is the one where Josh had to talk to "I know a man" because of his recent behavior during Christmas. "Josh - how did you cut your hand." The sound of music made him think of gunshots.... ALL TIME BEST...

November 10 2010 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about "Let Bartlet be Bartlet?" I want to get up and vote for Bartlet right then and there after that episode. Also, "Shibboleth" - the Thanksgiving episode is one of my top 10. "Gaza" as well.

West Wing was such a smart drama. The dialogue was so well crafted. We watch through our 7 seasons on DVD by watching one or two (at least) a week with dinner and friends. It's West Wing Night!

November 10 2010 at 10:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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