This is a follow-up to The 10 Best Scenes from The West Wing
Taste is subjective. Rankings are subjective. And personal preferences are subjective. So, when you combine those three, people will appreciate the attempt and applaud the effort, but also wonder how you could forget that one thing that is clearly as good as – if not better than – everything else that was included.
Such is the case with my rundown down the other day of the best scenes in the history of The West Wing. In addition to the top ten, I also included thirteen honorable mentions, but I had to stop at some point. In doing so, I was bound to miss a few and you wonderful readers were bound to tell me so.
I’ve received many suggestions over the past few days – many coming from three siblings that may love the show even more than I and a few even coming from my wife. Some were considered and discarded, I felt others weren’t as strong the ones I had included, a few (as you’ll see) aren’t on YouTube, and, I’m ashamed to say, I had simply forgotten the best one.
So, here now, are the remaining ten greatest scenes in the history of The West Wing (and a few more honorable mentions):
Honorable Mention: Bartlet catches Charlie
[“Things Fall Apart” – Season 6, Episode 21]
Not a very long or involved scene, but one that brings more complexity and humanity to the father-son relationship between Jed and Charlie.
Honorable Mention: “Margaret!”
[multiple seasons, multiple episodes]
This is a cheat, but for being a supporting role player, Margaret was one of the most intriguing characters on the show, a perfect vessel for humor while also making you believe that she ran Leo’s (and CJ’s) office efficiently. Instead of choosing one scene between the two, I found this compilation.
Honorable Mention: “I can’t move”
[“In the Room” – Season 6, Episode 8]
For much of the series, Bartlet’s MS was more of a talking point than an actual condition. Even when he did have an episode, he would come back strong like it never happened. So when he couldn’t move while on the way to China, it felt real, even more so later on when he falls in the bathroom and announces that he can’t do the job.
Honorable Mention: The Jackal
[“Six Meetings Before Lunch” – Season 1, Episode 18]
I love CJ Cregg and I love Allison Janney. I think the character is smart and wonderful and I think even more of the actress. With that said, this does nothing for me. I appreciate the backstory that Janney was doing this on set to entertain people while they were waiting to shoot and Aaron Sorkin liked it so much he wrote it into the show, but other than that, I don’t get the appeal.
10. Toby vs. Jed in the Oval Office
[“17 People” – Season 2, Episode 18]
In the first ranking, I had the opening of this episode at number four and I even referred to this. It’s a great scene and shows us the depth of Toby’s character, making what he (supposedly) does in season 7 seem even more implausible
9. S. Seaborn
[“And It’s Surely to Their Credit” – Season 2, Episode 15]
Sam defends Ainsley’s honor, exercises his power, shows off his lovely handwriting, and reveals how big of a nerd he is in the span of just two minutes.
8. Debbie gets the job
[“20 Hours in America” – Season 4, Episode 1]
The backstory of why Debbie was fired and how Charlie came to work for the President are finally revealed in a great back-and-forth between she and Jed, after which she proves her ability to remember things while also being funny.
That scene is not online, but her first interview is:
7. Sam meets Mallory
[“Pilot” – Season 1, Episode 1]
While trying to impress Leo’s daughter’s fourth grade class, a nervous Sam gives a history of the building, including “The White House, as you know, was built several years ago, mostly, if I’m not mistaken, out of cement,” and “the chairs that you are sitting on today are fashioned from the lumber of a pirate ship,” before admitting that he had just slept with a prostitute.
6. Abbey, Amy, Donna & CJ get drunk
[“Dead Irish Writers” – Season 3, Episode 15]
Sorkin has often (and fairly) been criticized for his flat portrayal of women while making men into intelligent heroes, so it’s interesting to see him bring an unusual combination of female characters together in a room and let them talk. It’s the type of scene that happened often with Sam, Josh, and Toby, so this was a nice balance, including Donna, following a few glasses of wine, forgetting her place and speaking candidly to the First Lady. There is no video of the scene in the residence online, but there is this one leading up to it:
5. “Because it’s next”
[“Galileo” – Season 2, Episode 9]
Sam Seaborn’s best moments were his small soliloquies, often to women he had been romantically tied, and his “Because it’s next” speech is inspiring and heartfelt.
Bonus: the opening scene is nearly as good.
4. “The Streets of Heaven are too crowded with angels tonight”
[“20 Hours in America” – Season 4, Episode 1]
A classic Sorkin speech with a nice coda about Sam’s freakishly good writing. “The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. this is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.”
3. Babies come with hats
[“Twenty Five” – Season 4, Episode 23]
In the midst of an incredibly tense episode comes a wonderfully touching scene that hits me even harder now that I’m a father. I always associated with Toby – when his ex-wife calls him sad, it resonated – and to see him so enamored and in awe of his newborn twins was one of the character’s best moments.
2. Ainsley goes to the closet to pee
[“The War at Home” – Season 2, Episode 14]
Ainsley Hayes is a great character, played wonderfully by Emily Procter, who can go from talking about the finer points of jurisprudence to being obsessed with a muffin without missing a beat. In fact, I love the name Ainsley so much that it’s what I named my daughter (different spelling). The character was funny without ever becoming a caricature and this is her funniest scene for a number of reasons, like Bartlet’s line, “They won’t let me smoke inside but you can pee in Leo’s closet,” but mostly because it’s relatable – if I were meeting the president I may also mistake a closet for a bathroom and be too embarrassed to come out.
1. “Toby, I’d like to come along”
[“In Excelsis Dio” – Season 1, Episode 10]
I can’t believe I forgot this one. I’m a West Wing fanatic, a person that cries often, someone that has seen Richard Schiff on Broadway, and the son of a Vietnam War veteran. This episode – and this scene, in particular – was so powerful and yet it completely slipped my mind. This episode garnered Emmys for acting for Schiff and writing for Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland (which then led to the two engaging in a spat over it). It is, in short, a perfect piece of television.
I hope you people are happy. (Feel free to remind me of the ones I still haven’t included.)
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.