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‘The West Wing’ newbie recap: Proportional responses and uncomfortable interviews

 Season 1 | Episode 3 | “A Proportional Response” | Aired Oct 6, 1999

Welcome back to West Wing Wednesdays! We open this week on Donna dishing some Danish-cart gossip: C.J. is not happy that she wasn’t informed about Sam’s new prostitute girlfriend. Hearing this, Josh immediately heads to his office to hide from C.J., but guess who’s already there waiting for him.

C.J. and Josh exchange uncomfortable insults over the Sam affair: paranoid Berkley shiksa feminist, elitist Harvard fascist. It’s ugly. I don’t like when the Bartlet Bunch fight.

The yelling doesn’t stop with them; President Bartlet himself is in a foul mood, yelling that he’s lost his reading glasses and that it’s been 72 hours since the plane full of Marines was destroyed. He wants to strike back against Syria today.

Leo, speaking in a voice you’d use to calm a wounded wild animal, suggests that the President is taking this personally because his own physician was one of the Marines killed. The President bristles at this. Bartlet and Leo have a wonderfully drawn relationship so far, with their two men allowing their vast history and immense mutual respect to drive communication between them.

C.J.And now it’s time for C.J. to yell at Sam about Laurie the call girl. Sam argues that he’s a grown man who’s entitled to his own friends; C.J. counters that he works 50 feet from the Oval Office. Her use of the word “consorting” does not win Sam over to her side. C.J. reminds Sam that it’s her job to protect him and the President both. Sam retorts that C.J. is bowing to the character cops and that she lacks strength, guts and courage. This is rightly greeted with an icy silence, and Sam slinks away.

OK, am I an enemy of love for being irked that Sam won’t listen to the advice of every single one of his coworkers to find a different woman to harass in restaurants? There are so many fish in the sea, Sam! Fish that don’t charge other fish to have dinner with them!

We shift to the war room (no fighting!), where Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Fitzwallace is briefing a clearly agitated President Bartlet, who asks for a cigarette and demands to know why they have to keep their military response proportional. Kill an American, he suggests, and “we come back with total disaster.” It’s interesting that this is all happening pre-9/11. I wonder if the (OK, fictional) response to Bartlet demanding to rain fire from the sky would’ve been different in the aftermath. Anyway, Bartlet yells, and Leo apologizes to the room with his eyes.

Well, hello, extremely young Dulé Hill! He plays Charlie Young, and Josh is vetting him. Charlie spends the whole scene stammering that he only applied for a messenger job (“I’ve got a driver’s license and my own bike, so …” ), but Josh is actually interviewing him to be the personal aide to the President.  Josh wonders, though, why Charlie isn’t in college.

Charlie explains that he’s taking care of his sister after their police office mother was killed in the line of duty five months ago. Um, you should give him the job, Josh.

And we’re back to the war room. Fitzwallace is presenting the disproportionate plan: Hit an airport, killing civilians and crippling shipments of medical supplies and bottled water. But, he warns, it would be seen as “a staggering overreaction of a first-time Commander in Chief,” without the support of Congress or allied countries. Fitzwallace recommends instead a proportional strike that cripples Syria’s intelligence network and surface-to-air capability. The President takes a drag from his cigarette and orders the proportionate response.

Back at the world’s most awkward job interview, Sam has wandered in and becomes annoyed when Josh asks about Charlie’s personal life. Poor Charlie is stuck in the middle as these two strangers fight, and finally Sam blurts, “He’s asking if you’re gay, Charlie.”

Wow. That … was not the context that I picked up in Josh’s line of questioning. I suppose these things mattered more in 1999, but can you imagine this being on anyone’s list of questions for White House staffers today?

After the interview, Josh brings his main concerns about Charlie to Leo: How will it look to have a young black man holding the president’s overnight bag? Leo brushes this off, telling Josh to hire the best person for the job. But in the following scene, Leo asks the same question of Fitzwallace, who is also black. He responds similarly: Pay Charlie fairly and treat him with respect, and no one will have a problem. Oh, The West Wing. You bring up and immediately dismiss race and sexuality issues with confusing pre-millennial ease.

WritingNow comes one of my favorite scenes in the episode: Toby and Sam are writing the speech for the President about the attack on Syria, debating over what additional word to pair with “unprovoked” and “cold-blooded.” Yes, the “omni trium perfectum” is strong with this show. I love watching Sorkin write about writing.

A goofily handsome reporter (Timothy Busfield) is waiting outside C.J.’s office. She’s not thrilled to see him, especially when he announces that he knows Sam is spending time with a $3,000-a-night call girl. C.J., despite the earlier ugliness, defends him, and Danny promises he won’t do anything about it, although he warns that other reporters are going to figure it out too.

And I knew it was too good to last: Toe Pick has arrived at the West Wing. She and Josh bicker, and then she accurately predicts the details of the attack on Syria. She also presents Josh with a framed photograph of the two of them. Of course, she scribbled out his face after they broke up.

You guys, she’s … she’s not terrible in this scene. Her voice is well modulated and she didn’t threaten anyone with a shoe. Well done, Mandy. You’ve earned the right to be called by your given name. (This is the appropriate amount of Mandy per episode, by the way.)

Unfortunately, President Bartlet has taken over all of Mandy’s shoutiness in this episode. He’s still looking for his glasses—“We could’ve brought in an optometrist by now!”—and blustering at everyone.

Poor Charlie was already nervous about this meeting, and he’s clearly intimidated by a bellowing Commander in Chief. He does, however, pick up that the President probably had his glasses with him in the study last night when he read over his reports. Josh encourages him to speak up and tell the President so. While the minions scramble to the study for the missing glasses, the President barks at poor Charlie, “I don’t have time for new people!”

This would be a terrible first day of work.

Leo has had enough at this point, and pulls the President aside to tell him to check himself before he wrecks himself.

Mercifully, the President listens, although he’s still grieving the loss of Morris Tolliver, father to a 10-day-old baby. He reminds Leo that in ancient days, a Roman could walk the earth without fear, because Rome would exact furious retribution on anyone who harmed a Roman. Bartlet wishes Americans could enjoy the same security.

Leo shuts him down: “You can conquer the world like Charlemagne, but you’d better be prepared to kill everyone. And you’d better start with me, because I will raise up an army against you, and I will beat you.”

Josh CharlieGradually, Leo coaxes him out of his mood, and by the time they returns to the Oval Office, Bartlet is back to his charming self. And thank goodness; that was rough.

The President immediately makes amends by introducing himself to Charlie and telling him that he looked into his mother’s death. He says the bullet that killed her hasn’t been banned yet, but he’d like Charlie to be part of the team when they attempt it after the Congressional break.

Charlie’s joy is incandescent. “I’ve never felt like this before,” he murmurs to Josh.

“It doesn’t go away,” Josh replies.

TV Families | EW.com
February 23, 1990 at 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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