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Charlie, get me the Pope: 'The West Wing' newbie recap

Season 1 | Episode 14 | “Take This Sabbath Day” | Aired Feb 9, 2000

Happy birthday to The West Wing! The show premiered 15 years ago this Monday and, as I’ve learned over the last three months, is often as fresh as if it were new this fall.

OK, for an episode that’s 60 percent serious-minded discussions of capital punishment, this one contains a shocking amount of physical comedy. Seriously, people are either somberly pensive or pratfalling, yet somehow it works.

The capital case involves Simon Cruz, who killed two drug cartel kingpins and was sentenced to death by a federal court. At 8 p.m. Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last legal gambit, and the execution is set for 12:01 a.m. Monday. (Why then? “We don’t execute people on the Sabbath,” Leo says.)

Cruz’s last chance now is clemency from the president, and his lawyer realizes he knows someone in the White House he can call for help: Sam Seaborn, whom he used to bully in high school.

But everyone at the White House is blissfully unaware that their weekend plans are about to be destroyed. Josh is going to a bachelor party (despite Donna’s concerns about booze and strippers and his delicate system), Donna plans to go shopping (because women be shoppin’!), and Sam is going sailing (leaving his beeper and cell phone behind, grudgingly). But as Sam tries to leave his dark office, the phone starts ringing. It looks like he’s made a clean getaway … until he lunges back in to answer it.

So Sam meets Cruz’s lawyer, who bullies him into admitting that it’ll actually be Toby who talks to the president on Saturday after he attends services at a temple in Delaware. The lawyer, armed with this information, strides away purposefully.

It’s now 9 a.m. Saturday, and Donna is back at the White House to be there when Josh meets with an angry campaign manager for a Democratic candidate in California.

Donna opens up Josh’s office, only to find him passed out on the floor. Josh blearily explains that people were pouring champagne over each other at the bachelor party, so he stayed the night in his office. His suit is a wreck, he begs Donna to keep her voice down, and … you know what? I’m going to let these do the talking.




Josh’s little disgusted noise is the best thing I’ve ever heard.

At temple, the rabbi is giving a message on violence begetting violence when Toby’s beeper goes off. After learning that the stay of execution was denied, he knocks over a stack of folding chairs in his haste to leave. Pratfalls! At the White House, Sam and Toby realize that the lawyer has asked Toby’s rabbi to deliver a message specifically for Toby’s ears. That’s … that’s actually really impressive.

Donna has found Josh the only clean clothes in the building—Sam’s foul-weather sailing gear—while she rushes his suit to the cleaners. So Josh is dressed like the Gorton’s fisherman when two people burst into his office. Poor, hungover Josh is expecting the candidate’s campaign manager, Joey Lucas, and is slow to catch on that a) the woman is Joey, b) Joey is deaf, and c) the man with her is her interpreter.

Josh’s confusion looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 6.46.54 PM

Joey, played by the fantastic Marlee Matlin, demands to know why her candidate’s DNC funding has been cut. She doesn’t like Josh’s answer and asks to see the president. Josh tells this “lunatic lady” that she’ll never get to see the president.

Naturally, at this point the president wanders into Josh’s office and offers to give Joey a tour of the West Wing. Josh looks like he may pop an aneurysm. The president chats her up, determining that her surname is Dutch, and she’s a Quaker. He then invites her into the Oval Office and asks what she would do about the pending execution. Stay it, she says. The state shouldn’t kill people. Then she returns to her message: Why has the DNC funding been cut? Bartlet’s demeanor changes, and he tells her brusquely that her candidate is an empty shirt, but if she ever has someone good, then he’ll talk.

As Josh hustles them out of the West Wing, Joey uses a few universal signs that don’t take a translator to interpret.

Back to the death-penalty debate: Bartlet requests a visit from his childhood priest. Oh, and he’d like Charlie to get the Pope on the line.

He also asks Charlie a personal question: If they ever find the person who killed his mother, would Charlie want to see him executed? Charlie says no: “I’d want to do it myself.”

Toby, meanwhile, is visiting his rabbi, who asks him to take the Sabbath day to consider his position on the death penalty, pointing out that while the Torah says an eye for an eye, it also says that slavery and polygamy are OK because it was based on the best thinking at the time.

Josh also briefly escapes the White House to track down Joey and her translator; the president asked him to apologize for his abruptness. Both Josh and Joey agree that her candidate is a schmuck who gives liberalism a bad name. So why is she working for him? Joey says it’s not a seller’s market for deaf campaign managers. Then Josh tells her that President Bartlet suggested that she’d be an excellent candidate for office. I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of Joey Lucas.

Finally, it’s four minutes until the execution, and President Bartlet is holding a rosary and watching the snow fall outside the Oval Office. Father Cavanaugh, from his home parish, enters to provide counsel.

The decision is all but made at this point, but Bartlet is still debating. He laments that he prayed for wisdom and none ever came. Father Cavanaugh gently reminds him that God sent him a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker, who all told him the same thing. What more did he want?


12:01 a.m. arrives. The president has considered the personal, the political, and the religious, and while he made his decision, he’s clearly still ill at ease. A silent C.J. enters with a note confirming Cruz’s death.

As Father Cavanaugh turns to hear the president’s confession, I turn to give kudos to Aaron Sorkin for writing an episode that treats religion in a respectful, non-snickery way. It’s rarely done as well as it was here.

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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