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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Smoking jackets are more fun than smoking guns

Season 1 | Episode 4 | “Five Votes Down” | Aired Oct 13, 1999

We open on President Bartlet giving a rousing speech on the pressing need for gun control. I’m sorry, was this filmed in 1999, or last month?

After the speech, we’re treated to an elegant walk-and-talk with the Bartlet Bunch in their tuxedos and evening gowns. As they leave the speech venue, a group of women screech Josh’s name. He’s got a fan club! I hear you, my sisters.

Bad news, though: Despite the President’s barnstorming gun control speech, they’re five votes short of the total they need to get a gun control bill through the House of Representatives. They’ve got 72 hours to deliver the votes without making it seem like they’re scrambling. However, the post-speech planning session seems to focus more on the Chinese food they’ve ordered. To be fair, the dumplings sound delicious.

Leo finally heads home at 2 a.m., disgusted that he may need to seek the Vice President’s help in getting the gun control bill passed, and he discovers he’s not the only disgusted person in his household. Today was his anniversary, and his wife, Jenny, isn’t pleased that not only did he forget, but he didn’t come straight home from the speech as he’d promised. Listen, lady, there was Chinese food!


The secondary storyline of the week is the release of the staff’s financial disclosure reports. Josh wins for the best gifts over $25: a silk smoking jacket and a scrimshaw cigarette holder. Mandy, whose behavior and vocal volume this episode are still mostly appropriate, isn’t pleased to discover the gifts came from a woman and were given before she and Josh had broken up. (“I really thought a nice byproduct of not going out with you anymore would be that you wouldn’t yell at me anymore,” Josh sighs. Us too, Josh. Us too.)

The financial reports are also problematic for Toby, who owns stock in only one company, a tech firm. Toby’s stock zoomed from $5,000 to $125,000 the day after his childhood friend testified before Congress. On the future of tech stocks. At Toby’s request. Not good, Toby.

Toby protests that even if he’d known in advance what his buddy’s testimony was going to be, he wouldn’t have understood it enough to manipulate the stock market. The White House counsel discussing this with him floats the words “federal crime.” Toby looks properly nauseous.

Josh is now strong-arming fellow Democrats into voting for the gun control bill, which everybody admits isn’t as strong as they’d like but is at least a start. Josh threatens to pick a Democrat to run against a Wisconsin representative in the primary if he doesn’t fall in line. He then meets another congressman, Chris Wick, who—wait, did Wick just greet Josh with “dude”? Josh verbally demolishes him, spitting out the types of guns banned in the bill to prove that Wick doesn’t understand what he’s opposing.

Wick seems taken aback by Josh’s aggression and eventually admits that he’s miffed that he hasn’t gotten any special attention from the President. Josh angrily agrees to set up a chess game over snifters of brandy, but warns, “He’s going to kick your ass.” I assume Josh means in chess, but if Wick calls the President “dude,” who knows what could happen?

NecklaceLeo is trying to make up for the anniversary snafu by arranging a fancy dinner in his home, and is debating the merits of hiring a violin player. The prevailing advice is that it’s cool at first, but eventually it gets weird to have some guy hanging around your dining room.

He’s also procured a pearl Harry Winston choker for lucky Jenny. C.J. and Mandy are beside themselves (“Can I try it on?” “Can I rub it against my teeth?”), while his assistant mutters about how lucky he is to earn $40,000 a pop on the lecture circuit.

But Leo is not just wowing women with jewelry; he’s now meeting with Rep. Mark Richardson, who’s actually educated about guns and says he won’t support the bill because it doesn’t go far enough. He chides Leo for giving up and approving a watered-down version that omits several weapons that should be banned.

Leo starts to argue to this black congressman that it’s black bodies being wheeled into emergency rooms, and Richardson cuts him off: “You write a law that can save some lives, I’ll sign it. In the meantime, please don’t tell me how to be a leader of black men. You look like an idiot.”

(Side note: I’m amused at the way Aaron Sorkin is recycling parts of his 1995 film “The American President” here. In it, lobbyist Annette Benning chides President Michael Douglas for supporting a toothless gun control law that doesn’t go far enough in saving lives. And The Newsroom has tackled the gun control issues too. I’ll give Sorkin this: He’s consistent and persistent with his favorite political issues.)

Anyway, Leo comes home to a beautifully set dinner table and bad news. Jenny tells Leo she can’t live like this anymore. When she learned that he was going to slip away from their belated anniversary dinner to meet briefly with the Veep, it was the last straw.

Poor Leo. His wife announces she’s leaving, and he still has to meet with the smarmy Vice President? That’s a bad night.

Actually, Vice President Hoynes isn’t smarmy at all in the meeting. He notices that Leo is upset and acts like a compassionate human being, immediately offering to go after the needed fifth vote. Then he asks Leo when he’d last been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Leo wants to know what meeting he could possibly go to that would remain anonymous.

Hoynes says he attends a meeting with eight other high-level political figures, all friendly to the administration. It looks like a card game to outsiders.

“I had no idea,” says a gobsmacked Leo.

When Leo meets with the Bartlet Bunch the next day, everybody so badly wants the belated anniversary dinner to have worked out for him that it hurts. He lies, of course, and says she loved the necklace and yes, having the violin player hanging around was awkward. Leo needs a hug.

And now, friends, let us gather to witness a marvelous phenomenon: President Bartlet, who’s been having back trouble, has mixed his pain pills, and he is high as a kite. He saunters into the Oval Office, tells his staff he loves them all, and then calls Sam “Toby.”

President 420 insists on troubleshooting Toby’s stock purchase problem for him: “Toby. Toby, Toby, Toby … Toby’s a nice name, don’t you think?”

Sam finally suggests that Toby voluntarily reduce his salary to $1 for one year. Everyone but Toby thinks this is a fine idea.


Having settled the Toby issue, the President heads back to bed. Before he leaves, he announces, “Please let me just say this: I’m seriously thinking about getting a dog.” More stoned Bartlet, please.

Veep Hoynes is having his promised meeting with Texas Rep. Tillinghouse, who’s Texan by way of Sorkin (“I want my wife to have a gun, I want my daughter to have a gun, and damn it, I want one too.”)

Tillinghouse warns Hoynes that some members of Congress are furious at the way Josh and the White House strong-armed them over this issue. Hoynes sympathizes and then does some maneuvering of his own, pushing Tillinghouse to vote for the bill and to remember that someday, Hoynes himself will be President.

And the next day, wouldn’t you know it? Vice President Hoynes gets the credit for pushing the gun control bill through the House. The Bartlet Bunch all look like they got punched in the mouth. And in the end, Josh acknowledges that it’s a useless law that won’t make an impact on the issue of guns in America anyway.

And on that futile note, we cut to Leo approaching a door guarded by a Secret Service agent. Leo tells him that he’s there for the card game, and he enters the room, resigned.

So there you have it. Fifteen years later, and real-life politicians are giving basically the same speech that Bartlet gave in the opening scene about the urgent need for gun control. This episode, which aired in 1999, could run today without changing a word of the political debates, and nobody would bat an eye.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
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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