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'The West Wing' newbie recap: The one with C.J. and the turkeys

Season 2 | Episode 1 | “Shibboleth” | Aired Nov. 22, 2000

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’ve reached the West Wing Thanksgiving episode that everyone said I’d love, and hoo boy, were they right. Why do you make me experience every one of my emotions like this, West Wing?

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Printed words don’t do this episode justice, so brace yourself for a raft of YouTube videos and GIFs.

It’s the last week of November, and C.J., like Chandler, apparently hates Thanksgiving. She accuses Sam, Toby, and Josh of checking out during the holidays like seniors after final exams, and as a result announces that she’s going home early. This is when Donna brings in a turkey farm employee who asks where he should leave the turkeys for the presidential pardon. Naturally, this happens:

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Toby further advises the turkey handler to let the turkeys roam free in her office since she’s gone for the night.

When C.J. arrives the next day, she is not pleased to find Troy and Eric (for those are the turkeys’ names) waiting for her. Donna explains that C.J. is to choose the most photogenic turkey to be pardoned. “I have actually a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley,” C.J. futilely shouts to the heavens. The heavens are not moved.

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The serious business plot of the week is the arrival of 83 Chinese immigrants who stowed away on a cargo ship to escape what they claim is persecution by the government for practicing their Christian faith. Thirteen others died on the trip. The men, women, and children are detained by the INS in California while the White House figures out what to do.

Key Christian leaders—one of whom is depicted as a deeply unpleasant hypocrite—demand that they be granted asylum. China and the INS demand their deportation. Meanwhile, there are questions about whether they were actually persecuted in China and whether they’re only claiming to be Christian for the sake of staying in America.

President Bartlet says it’s like a shibboleth, which in the Bible was an Israelite password that nonbelievers pronounced as “si-bolleth.” In other words, he wants to talk to one of the immigrants himself to determine the authenticity of their faith.

Back in birdland, C.J. doesn’t take her job lightly, going so far as flashing Eric and Troy with photography equipment to make sure they don’t startle. She chooses Eric over Troy because Troy doesn’t like to be touched, talking out loud to them the whole time. She does not, however, support them under their hindquarters when transporting them, per the handler’s instructions, because that’s a step too far.

In other Thanksgiving storylines, Josh, Sam, and Toby are planning to watch football and avoid being invited to join the First Family because, as Josh puts it, they don’t want to listen to the history of the yam in Latin. Leo scoffs at the idea that the president will drop everything to invite those sad sacks.

Oh, and because Thanksgiving often involves fighting with your family, we’ve got a subplot involving Leo’s sister being floated as a recess appointment within the Department of Education. Toby pushes it because she firmly upholds the laws banning prayer in school. Unfortunately, Republicans have a photo of her presiding over the arrest and handcuffing of praying high schoolers. The optics aren’t good, and Leo calls her to the White House to ask her to remove herself from consideration, particularly after she admits the she tipped off the photographer in the first place. She drops out, grudgingly.

This crushes Toby, who pushed hard for her appointment. He says he was doing it for the fourth-grader who gets his ass kicked at recess for sitting out the school prayer.

“What did they do to you?” Leo asks sadly, and now we’re all bummed and picturing a hyper-articulate, bullied 9-year-old Toby.

In the Oval, President Bartlet sits down with one of the immigrants, a chemistry professor, to gently quiz him on his Christian bonafides. And man, does Jhin-Wei nail it:

Dude. All hail Aaron Sorkin for writing about the different ways that people express and demonstrate their faith. Out in the world, there’s diversity in how people practice religion, and it’s unusual for Hollywood to handle that as sensitively as it is here.

So now the White House has a decision to make. You don’t want to anger China, yet you don’t want to send the Christian immigrants back. So, President Bartlet says, you’ve got to ask yourself: Exactly how secure is the INS detention facility?

Charlie, meanwhile, has faced the daunting task of finding the president the perfect carving knife. Mrs. Landingham warns him that this will be a long, tedious process, and she ain’t kidding. President Bartlet considers and rejects the first knife, an American one, and then the second, a German one. The third knife, made in Japan, turns out to be the baby bear of carving knives.

The president speaks at length about the importance of tradition in a carving knife that’s passed from father to son over generations. Confused, Charlie asks why the president needs a new knife if he already has one.

Then The West Wing makes me feel feelings for the second time when President Bartlet gives his family’s carving knife to Charlie, telling Charlie he’s proud of him.

And good lord, the knife was made for the Bartlets by Paul Revere. WHAT IS HAPPENING, SHOW, MY HEART IS ABOUT TO BURST.

Oh dear. C.J. has bonded with the turkeys, and when the turkey-farm employee comes to take Troy back, she objects. But Troy has already been sold, and not for companionship purposes, if you know what I mean. So she appeals to the president for a second pardon. Her argument can be summed up thusly:

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There’s a brief, spirited debate about the constitutionality of presidential turkey pardoning. Long story short, Troy gets drafted to live out his life at a nice petting zoo, and C.J.’s heart grows three sizes that day.

She also gets a last-minute invitation to join the Bartlet boys in their Thanksgiving football-watching, hilariously exploding at how long it took them to ask her before Toby can even get all the words out. She turned down lots of invitations from people she likes much more, she says. Oh, but she still wants to go, she assures Toby when he tries to retract the offer.

Finally, the White House gets word that somehow 83 Chinese men, women, and children who hadn’t eaten in two months escaped from their temporary detention center, which is the happiest of possible endings. This, of course, happened after Bartlet asked the National Guard to stand down. He reads over his Thanksgiving address—about the Pilgrims coming to the new world to worship as they wanted to worship—and he tells Josh that of course he would’ve found a way to let the immigrants stay, even if they hadn’t said “shibboleth.”

“They made it to the New World,” Bartlet says as children sing “We Gather Together” in the background.

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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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