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'The West Wing' newbie recap: We'll speak as men do

Season 1 | Episode 6 | “Mr. Willis of Ohio” | Aired Nov 3, 1999

We open this week on West Wing Poker. I would not want to play against this hyper-intelligent group, especially  C.J., who is obviously a card sharp.

As the game breaks up, a flock of Secret Service agents storms in and locks the place down. Everyone grouses about how often these security flaps are happening. But it turns out the lockdown wasn’t a drill; an unstable woman with a gun tried to jump the fence and go after Zoey. The President is not pleased.

The following day, Toby is browbeating his staff for not owning a copy of the Constitution. He needs it to convince three Congressmen who are swing votes that the upcoming 2000 Census should be conducted through sampling, which is cheaper and more accurate, particularly when it comes to minority, immigrant and homeless populations. Nobody on his staff has a copy of the Constitution, so Toby suggests they order one from “Amazon DOT com.” (This show is so of-the-moment in so many ways that it’s jarring to remember that this was a time when we barely even used Amazon to buy books. In contrast, last week, I ordered a pair of shoes, some Kleenex and a huge bag of cereal marshmallows from Amazon. You’ve come a long way, baby.)

In order to teach the viewing public about the Census, by the way, Aaron Sorkin is writing C.J. as if she’d sustained a head injury, forcing her to ask Sam to help her understand the Census. He starts with “Every ten years …” and she listens raptly. The less said about this subplot, the better.

One of Toby’s swing votes is a Congressman Willis, whose wife was the elected representative. She died last month, so he’s taken over her seat for the remainder of her term, but doesn’t plan to run himself after that. The other two swing votes are Congressional lifers who won’t budge on the issue of statistical sampling in the Census, pointing out that the Constitution forbids it.

Ah, but wait, Toby says. The Constitution indicates that a free person counts as one person, while a non-free person counts as three-fifths of a person. Willis, who is black, says he’s going to support the idea of sampling, which infuriates his fellow swing voters, who huff out.

Toby, moved by this display of courage and independent thinking, admits that he was taking advantage of Willis by playing on his race and omitting arguments against sampling. Willis says he supported Toby because Toby convinced him that it was the right thing to do, politics be damned. Toby (and the audience) is left wishing he’d actually run for election. (BTW, we’re still not using sampling in the Census. Ten years later, the ongoing debate is almost identical to this episode’s.)

Now for some after-hours fun. President Bartlet has asked Josh to take Charlie out for a beer. Initially Josh promises Charlie that they’ll go and “speak as men do,” but the ranks quickly swell to include Sam, Zoey, C.J. and Leo’s daughter, Mallory.


Did I say “fun”? I meant “after-hours cringefest,” because when Zoey zips to the bar to fetch C.J.’s grasshopper (ha!), three of the frattiest frat brahs ever to frat brah corner her. King Brah is Eric Balfour, which means we’re lucky this show wasn’t immediately canceled. The brahs menace Zoey, and as soon as Charlie notices, he’s by her side, trying to pull her away.

I don’t know if the insults that ensue are intentionally written to be tone-deaf and embarrassing, or if Sorkin just didn’t have an ear for this kind of dialogue, but the brahs throw comically awkward racial insults at Charlie (“Doctor Huffy Puffy Dread Man”), then refer to Sam and Josh as “fairy boys” and, well, the less-savory f-insult. Seriously, help me out. Did this feel as ridiculously over-the-top in 1999 as it does today? Was Sorkin trying to make these guys the most racist, homophobic idiots ever, or has our language and culture evolved that much in 15 years?

Anyway, it’s the Secret Service to the rescue, and the brahs are taken away in cuffs, which is hugely satisfying. Afterward, Sam and Josh posture over how many of the frat brahs they could’ve taken. Charlie rightfully points out that the correct answer is none.

Back at the White House and—oh, no. No no no. President Bartlet is accusing Zoey of provoking the bar incident by flirting with the frat brahs. SAY WHAT, PRESIDENT VICTIM-BLAME? We’re barely on speaking terms after the “these women” scene last week. Now this? Get it together, sir. #NotAllPresidents

Thankfully, Zoey shoots back that even if she were flirting, which she wasn’t, that wouldn’t justify their behavior. Somewhere, Peggy Olsen is applauding.

The President then fractionally justifies his behavior by spinning out his nightmare scenario: Secret Service agents shot in the head, Zoey whisked away to Uganda and tied to a chair with a gun to her temple, terrorist demands that the President negotiate with an unwilling Israel, etc. It’s … pretty dark.lucille

Zoey sees his distress and promises to allow increased security to come to college with her. They hug and make up, although I’m still giving Bartlet some side-eye.

And we close as we open: around the poker table. This time, Charlie is invited to join. Apparently, standing up to comically evil frat guys earns you a seat at the table.

Yet again, we have a strong episode marred by some gender, race and sexuality weirdness. I know that the President was driven by terror at what could’ve happened to his child, but it’s still tough to watch.

So let’s instead close this episode with the wistful moment when Toby watches on C-SPAN as Congressman Willis casts his first and likely only vote on the House floor, and let’s dream of political leaders who are thoughtful, humble and wise.

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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