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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Midterm blues

Season 2 | Episode 3 | “The Midterms” | Aired Oct. 18, 2000

Who’s ready to dive back into West Wing nostalgia recaps after a long winter’s nap? The third episode of The West Wing in season 2 is downright somber, so let’s shake off the frivolity of the holidays and get right to it.

Following the shooting, President Bartlet’s approval ratings have soared to 81 percent, and everyone is starting to think the midterm elections won’t be so bad after all. C.J.’s also getting requests for “how are they coping” stories, which the Bartlet Bunch agrees is a terrible idea. However, they’re all still suffering the aftereffects of the shooting in their own ways. Things are chilly between Charlie and Zoey, which isn’t a surprise but is still hard to watch, and no one can agree on how to use their newfound public support. Toby, in particular, wants to aggressively go after hate groups and guns; the rest of the staff are concerned by his single-minded zeal.

This episode is so grim that even the plot point that comes closest to being funny is a bummer: The president is keenly interested in a board of education race in Manchester because one of the candidates is the man he beat in his first congressional election. At first, I assumed that this was because Bartlet always respected the man and wanted to see him succeed, even at the local level. Turns out, it’s because Bartlet hates the guy and everything he stands for. This amuses me greatly, but it’s still quite bleak.

Speaking of bleak, Sam’s stuck convincing a former law-school classmate to run for office with the support of the White House. His buddy is the future Mike Delfino from Desperate Housewives, which is actually an 11-year-old reference, and man does recapping this show mess with my conception of time. By the end of the episode, information about Mike Delfino joining an all-white fraternity in college and stacking white juries for black defendants results in the White House doing an octopus walk in the opposite direction.


Mike Delfino eventually loses in the midterm election, and his wife vows revenge on the White House. Sam and his puffy early-aughts dress shirt are sad. Seriously, the lack of slim-fit clothing for men at the start of our bold new century is almost as much of a travesty as Sam’s depressing storyline.

Anyway, it’s now three weeks before midterms, and the president gets testy when Charlie questions why he makes his fundraising calls from the residence rather than the Oval. Is it a sign of how toxic our political climate has gotten in the last 15 years that I absolutely understand why this is a necessity? Imagine the gleeful savagery on the opposing cable news network were information to leak about a politician using taxpayer resources for fundraising.

Toby’s still doggedly pursuing the idea of spending Bartlet’s new political clout to go after hate groups and guns. C.J. real-talks that his PTSD is driving this, but Toby brushes off her concerns.

On midterm election day, Toby approaches the president to request a leave of absence, saying he doesn’t understand why this particular shooting is so much worse than others he’s seen. The president bluntly tells him it’s because they watched an attempted lynching of Charlie. Bartlet is bothered too, but he says that feeling fades a little every day, and until it’s gone, he thinks everyone should keep coming into work.

The president then swings by a White House reception for the nation’s talk-radio hosts, where he makes a joke about falsifying election results (so that’s where Scandal came up with it!) and starts to laud them for furthering the national debate. But he interrupts himself when he spots Dr. Laura Schlesin—er, Dr. Jenna Jacobs. He goads her into admitting that she’s not a medical doctor or even a theologian but instead holds a doctorate in English literature. This doesn’t keep her from using the airwaves to declare that being gay is an abomination. The president then verbally demolishes her, and it simply must be watched, not summarized:

Seriously, how are we still fighting over this basic human rights issue a decade and a half later?

Speaking of basic human rights, Andrew, the man fixing the White House computers, recognizes Charlie as the person who almost got the president killed, which is not how Charlie prefers to be identified. Charlie shares the story of his mother’s death, and we learn a heartbreaking detail: The day she was killed, she’d switched shifts at Charlie’s request. Poor guy must carry around enough guilt to require a pack mule.

Charlie talks to Andrew

Andrew, who’s brought his son to work with him, tells Charlie what his mom would say if she were here: “If they’re shooting at you, you know you’re doing something right.”

A thoughtful Charlie absorbs this as portentous lightning crashes outside. Then he tracks Zoey down, there’s enthusiastic kissing, and they make plans to go out. Leo asks Charlie if he’s taking extra protection and merciful heavens, the specter of condoms has been raised in the presence of Mr. McGarry. I don’t think Charlie or I will ever recover.

The episode ends on the stoop in front of Josh’s place, where he’s enjoying some outdoor time following his long recuperation. As he models the enormous pajamas C.J. got for him, Sam announces the results of the midterms: Not a single incumbent won, and control of the House didn’t change.

Josh Lymon in big pajamas

“After four months and $400 million, everything stayed the same? Tell me democracy doesn’t have a sense of humor,” Josh laments. They then toast a government that protects even those who go out of their way to destroy it.

“God bless America,” Toby says, and they all repeat his mantra as the theme song plays softly.

Somber? Yes, but with an ending that arcs upward toward the sunlight. I’m hoping for good things in The West Wing season 2.

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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