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On privacy and goldfish: ‘The West Wing’ newbie recap

 Season 1 | Episode 9 | “The Short List” | Aired Nov 24, 1999

Forget about this week’s weighty constitutional debate and even C.J.’s new pet. After watching “The Short List,” I kind of want Aaron Sorkin to write sci-fi.

We open this West Wing Wednesday to great excitement; in fact, Josh, Toby and Sam are so excited that they decide they collectively are “da men.” All of this elation stems from the finalization of President Bartlet’s first Supreme Court nominee: Payton Cabot Harrison III.

The only non-excited person is Donna, who’s concerned Josh will get his hopes up because when that happens and things don’t work out, he ends up drunk in her apartment in the middle of the night, yelling at her roommate’s cats. You can come yell at my cats any time you want, Josh. One of them will probably have done something to deserve it.

OK, there is one other non-excited person: retiring Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crouch, who, and forgive me if I don’t mince words here, seems like a deeply unpleasant person. Crouch tells President Bartlet that he delayed his retirement for five years, waiting for a Democrat to be in office. “Instead I got you,” he spits.

He rails at the President for sticking to the middle of the road and tells him that the Republicans are going to regain the White House because they’ve got guts.

President Bartlet calmly points out that he’s up against an opposition Congress, powerful special interest groups, and a bitchy media—similar to Harry Truman, although Bartlet acknowledges that he’s no Truman.

“Mr. Bartlet, you needn’t point out that fact,” Crouch says.

“It’s Dr. Bartlet, your honor,” he retorts.

SNAP. Lemme tell ya, I’ve got a Ph.D., and I haven’t felt the need to bust that line out terribly often. But it’s so, so satisfying on those few necessary occasions.

Anyway, the unpleasant Crouch does have a valid complaint: Why did the Bartlet administration not consider Roberto Mendoza more seriously? Did they just want to say they had a Hispanic on their list before choosing the guy named Payton?

This sets Bartlet’s wheels turning, and he flags down Toby to ask why they passed on Mendoza. Toby says it’s simple: because Harrison said yes.

Another unpleasant political opponent is also acting up this week. Congressman Peter Lillienfield, while grandstanding at a press conference, announces that one in three of the Ivy League liberal White House staffers uses drugs on a regular basis.

BB

The Bartlet Bunch’s reactions to this obviously false statement range from irritation to incredulity to amusement. Toby, pointing out that a 48 percent approval rating ain’t great, appoints Josh the internal affairs cop and asks him to ask around in order to soothe public perception. Josh is not pleased at narc duty and embarks on a halfhearted investigation.

Mandy takes the strongest stance and encourages a staff-wide drug test, which would allow those who fail to quietly resign. (Blerg. I’ll bet she’s one of those pious “I only need a natural high” people.) But Josh argues that Americans shouldn’t be forced to turn over evidence against themselves. As usual, Toe Pick is the worst.

Back in SCOTUS-land, we finally meet nominee Harrison. Sam has found a legal article that Harrison wrote during his law school days, in which he argued that there is no constitutional right to privacy. Sam (and the President and Toby and, presumably, a broad swath of the viewing public) is concerned about this. This leads to a lengthy and fascinating (no, really!) argument about Constitutional rights that ends with Harrison gloating that the Bartlet administration needs the 10-point bump he’ll bring and calling Sam “some kid.”

After Harrison leaves, Sam argues that abortion, civil rights and the role of government were the concerns of decades past. “The next two decades, it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on a will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?”

So, a side note here: One of the reasons I like science fiction so much is the way the best authors predict future tech and future troubles. Consider Farenheit 451’s earbuds, 1984’s all-seeing government or Neuromancer’s concept of a “worldwide web.” While this episode was written a mere 15 years ago, it’s impressive that Aaron Sorkin saw where we were headed, even before Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and the NSA and Facebook Messenger’s terms of use. I’d read an Aaron Sorkin speculative future novel, is what I’m saying, should he choose to write one.

Anyway, Sam’s warning spurs President Bartlet to invite Mendoza to the White House.

After a day of reluctant sleuthing, Josh is reporting his findings to Leo, who’s impressed with the varieties of vegetables that can be bong-ified.

But when Josh says he doesn’t think Lillienfield is really after a bunch of White House interns, Leo admits that he used to have a pill addiction, and is aghast when Josh tells him that Lillienfield knows that Leo spent time in a rehab facility. Josh promises Leo that he’s not going to be taken down by this “small fraction of a man.”

Finally, the President, Sam and Toby sit down with Mendoza, the former cop who went to law school at night. Hey, it’s Eddie Jimmie Olmos!

Under questioning, Mendoza says that he opposes firing people who refuse to take a drug-screening test, which is all the Bartlet Bunch needs to hear.

The President offers him the nomination. Mendoza accepts. Let the good fight begin.

Oh, and it would be wrong of me not to mention that Danny and C.J. are still circling each other and giving good banter. Even Josh has noticed, and he tips off Danny that C.J. likes goldfish. So wouldn’t you know, Danny shows up in C.J.’s office with a goldfish in a bowl. Her name is Gail. As it turns out, C.J. actually likes Goldfish crackers. “I’m not 100 percent sure I was supposed to know that,” Danny mutters. Anyway, here’s how it all went down:

Fish 1

Fish 4

Fish 3

Fish 2

C.J. insists on keeping Gail. That is one lucky fish.

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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