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'The West Wing' has a blue Christmas: The newbie recap

Season 1 | Episode 10 | “In Excelsis Deo” | Aired Dec 15, 1999

It’s Christmas at the White House, and I’m watching this West Wing episode on what’s easily the hottest day of the year where I live. Merry Christmas!

This festive episode opens with Sam and Toby bickering about when the new millennium actually begins, 2000 or 2001. Aww, you guys, remember 1999, when people got all snotty and superior about that?

Toby receives a call from the D.C. police and meets Lance Reddick, playing a police officer as only Lance Reddick can, who explains that a homeless man was found dead on a park bench with Toby’s business card in his pocket. Toby realizes he must’ve left it in a coat he donated to Goodwill. Reddick apologizes for bothering Toby. But you can tell that what really bothers Toby is Reddick’s dismissive attitude toward the man, whose arm tattoo on indicates he was a Marine who served in Korea.

Back at the White House, it’s a beautiful Technicolor Christmas fantasy, and Josh wishes a merry Christmas to Donna and her whole Protestant family. She’s prepared a gift list for him that’s entirely made composed of skiing equipment. As soon as she walks away, he bins it. Rude.

Josh and Leo are trying to figure out a way to neutralize Lillienfield’s crusade against Leo’s pill addiction. Josh, who obviously hates to even bring it up, suggests they use Sam’s fancy call-girl for leverage, but Leo forbids it. Then Leo tells Josh that a high school student in Minnesota is in critical condition after a gay-bashing carried out by 13-year-olds. So, you know, merry Christmas.

C.J. discovers that her new Secret Service code name is Flamingo, which is perfect.

President Bartlet is meeting with school kids in front of the White House Christmas tree. When he enters and they shout good morning, he responds with, “That’s sounded pretty weak. You can do better.” Don’t be that guy, Mr. President. Even little kids hate that guy.

Mid-kid meeting, the president gets the news that Lowell Lydell, the hate crime victim, has died. Merry, merry Christmas

Josh approaches Sam with his horrible idea to ask Laurie for dirt on any key Republicans to shut Lillienfield down. Sam refuses to consider it until Josh explains that Lillienfield knows Leo was in rehab for Valium during the time that he served as Secretary of Labor, then reminds Sam of how much they both owe Leo. Sam reluctantly agrees to Josh’s horrible, no good, very bad plan.


Hey, Mrs. Landingham has Joey’s penguin! Was this a weird crossover thing during the ‘90s on NBC? Did I miss seeing Hugsy in Carole Hathaway’s apartment on a very special episode of ER?

Anyway, Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie that she always feels down at the holidays because her twin sons were killed in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1970. “They had to be so scared. It’s hard not to think that right then, they needed their mother,” she says. Oh. Oh, Mrs. Landingham.

A happier scene: The president sneaks out of the White House to go shopping at a rare book store. Just him, a couple of agents, a few staff members, and a store that’s been cleared of customers. I cannot tell you how desperately I wish I’d been invited on this shopping trip. That is, until Leo asks Bartlet to consider accepting Leo’s resignation before the rehab thing gets out. Then it gets awkward.

Toby, meanwhile, has been beating the pavement trying to reach the VA, a family member or someone who would care about the dead vet, Walter Hufnagle. He finally visits an outdoor soup kitchen where he’s directed to Walter’s brother. As gently as he can, Toby tells George that his brother has died. He starts to leave, then turns back.

“I’m an influential person. I’m a very powerful person,” he bites out, then offers to arrange a military funeral for Walter. You can tell Toby hates to play this card, but he’s willing to do it if it gets Walter Hufnagle the funeral he deserves.

Flamingo’s still irked by her Secret Service name, and Danny distracts her by telling her that he has a list of why she should go out with him. Flamingo counters that she’ll come up with one for why she shouldn’t. They agree to reconvene. And here’s why I love C.J.: When they do meet again, she’s written an actual list of reasons she can’t date Danny while Danny’s is more of a mental one. I would’ve written an actual list, too, C.J. And finally, finally she asks Danny to dinner but warns him it’s strictly business, so he should bring his notebook. Flamingo FTW!

After Danny leaves, Leo approaches C.J. (“I’m rebuffing his advances—“ “Whatever.”) Leo asks her to dial down the rhetoric on the hate crimes bill because he’s not comfortable legislating what people think. This will basically be the rest of C.J.’s episode, with her advocating for additional penalties for hate crimes and pretty much everyone else arguing that a crime’s a crime. It’s an interesting and important debate, but it’s a heavy one, and this episode’s heavy enough, OK? Let’s keep going.

Speaking of heavy, Sam and Josh are at Laurie’s, and hooo boy, this is going to be uncomfortable. She’s furious at what they’re asking, as she should be. And Sam is embarrassed, as he should be. Josh, though, keeps pushing, even dropping the word “hooker.” It is terrible, and Josh finally backs down and apologizes, saying he’s trying to protect the man to whom they owe so much. Laurie urges them to start acting like the good guys they say they are. Then she urges them to leave her house.

I’ve gotta say, I hope Laurie decides to never see Sam again. He’s handsome, but he cannot possibly be worth all of the poor treatment she receives from him and his friends.

Hey, Josh got Donna her Christmas gift! It’s a really old book on skiing, which is both jerky and charming. He did inscribe it, though. She’s touched, and Josh peeks around the corner of her office to watch her read his inscription a second time.

We end with the funeral for Walter Hufnagle. President Bartlet is surprised to learn that Toby used his name to arrange a veteran’s funeral and wonders if this will bring legions of homeless vets of the woodwork when they hear about it. Toby says he hopes so, and Bartlet gives him a shoulder clasp.

Mrs. Landingham grabs her coat to come along to this funeral, which is attended by four people, three of whom didn’t know the dead man. This is intercut with the rest of the Bartlet Bunch listening to a children’s chorus sing “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Christmas staff

Mark it: This is the first time The West Wing made me tear up, although based on what many of you have led me to believe, it won’t be the last.

And to end on a slightly happier note, I’ll leave you with this: What would you want your Secret Service code name to be? I’d like to be Ocelot.

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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