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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Another blue Christmas in the White House

Season 3 | Episode 10 | “Bartlet for America” | Aired Dec 12, 2001

We open on sad Leo on this week’s West Wing. Sad Leo is my least favorite Leo, because when Leo’s bummed, you know things are bad. And this week, he’s first up to testify before Congress on the MS coverup.

So, yeah. Bad.

Josh is focused on getting one of the congressmen out of the room, so he can’t ask Leo his five minutes of allotted questions. The why of that is not yet clear, but Leo thinks he knows the reason Josh is trying to help him: “‘Cause you walk around with so much guilt about everybody you love dying that you’re a compulsive fixer?”


Josh retorts, “No, Leo, no. It’s ’cause a guy is walking down the street and he falls into a hole, see.”


Leo and his lawyer, Jordan, arrive at the hearing, and hey, there’s Cliff, the majority counsel, kicking off the questioning. This means one thing: flashback!

We see Gov. Bartlet sparring with Mrs. Landingham as she ushers Leo into his office. Everyone’s so informal at this point; it’s a subtle, clever little detail. Anyway, Leo tells Bartlet he’s thinking of getting back into politics.

“I think that’s great,” Bartlet says. “I think you should consider the Senate seat in Illinois in two years.”

No, Leo says, the White House. But Bartlet wonders if Leo’s addiction problems wouldn’t get in the way.

Again, no, Leo says. He explains that he’s been in a daze for two weeks, scribbling down the same thing in restaurants, on planes, in meetings. Then he pulls out a cocktail napkin upon which he’s written “Bartlet for America.” Chills!

Back at the hearing, Leo is toying with the snotty congressmen, making them wait as he pretends to confer with his lawyer. (In reality, he’s asking her out, the silver fox.)

Leo testifies before Congress on The West Wing

At the same time, everybody is still hoping Josh can get Rep. Gibson out of the room so he can’t question Leo. Josh even asks if Sam can call in a steel lobbyist to distract Gibson.

(BTW, I’m glossing right over Agent Coulson, returning as an FBI agent who’s charmingly nervous every time he addresses the president. Coulson catches a guy planning to bomb black churches on Christmas Eve. Happy ending! Except for the fact that churches were—and still are—getting burned in the South.)

Anyway, we come to another flashback, in which the candidate is asked to release a medical report. The staff thinks it’s no big deal, but this prompts Bartlet to ask Abbey what a physical would show. She says it would be clean at that point because he’s in remission.

“I’m not lying to anybody, Abbey,” he says. Plus, he assumes they’ll get whipped on Super Tuesday anyway.

Back at the hearing, one of the questioners wants to know if the staff’s VP pick would’ve been different if they’d known about the MS, implying that the president could easily die in office. This sends Leo on the offensive.

“MS isn’t fatal. And while on national television, it is criminal to imply otherwise in an effort to score some cheap points. You owe an apology to fathers of children who are suffering from this disease,” he snaps.

Heh. I love reminders of just how good these people are at their jobs.

And we immediately flash to the night of the Democratic National Convention, when Hoynes is shown into a room with Bartlet, who, in quick succession, asks him to be the VP and spills about the MS. Hoynes, who’s still salty about losing the nomination, spits that Bartlet trusting him with this is a great consolation prize.

Bartlet tells Hoynes he wants an answer right there. Hoynes tells Bartlet he’ll get the answer when Hoynes gives it, then walks out.

At this point, Bartlet had to feel a little like G.O.B.


And now even the president is asking Josh if he can get Gibson out of the room in order to spare Leo. SPARE HIM FROM WHAT? But Josh can’t pull it off, so here it comes:

Gibson surprises everyone by going beyond the scope of questioning to ask if the president ever collapsed while on the campaign trail. Leo pauses, then admits that he did, at which point Jordan demands a recess.

And now comes the final flashback. It’s the last debate, nine days before the election. Leo is meeting with heavy-hitter donors, one of whom is a pre-Congress Gibson. They keep pushing scotch on Leo, who keeps declining. But oh, Leo. When he secures the money, he accepts a drink. And after they leave, he keeps drinking. Because, as he explains to Jordan during the recess, “I’m an alcoholic. I don’t have one drink.”

So Leo is absolutely bombed when he gets a call from the debate stage, and he’s headed out when Gibson returns for his forgotten briefcase. A drunk Leo says he has to go because the president just collapsed, and after Gibson leaves, we see the horror cross Leo’s face as he realizes what he just spilled.

Leo drunk on the eve of the election

And now it’s come back to roost.

“My father was an alcoholic,” he tells Jordan. “His father was an alcohol. So, in my case …”

“Ain’t nothin’ but a family thing,” Jordan finishes for him.

Cliff, meanwhile, is ripping into Gibson for going lone wolf, telling him they’re not there to embarrass Leo. “This is bush league. This is why good people hate us. This right here,” hisses the good Republican (from back when Sorkin knew how to write sympathetic characters on both sides of the aisle). Furthermore, Cliff threatens to resign from the committee and take Gibson down if this unauthorized line of questioning continues.

Thankfully, the chair agrees and calls for a two-week recess when the committee reconvenes. And as Jordan and Leo part, she agrees to have dinner with him the following night, which is Christmas Eve. (This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about those two characters.)

Finally, the president finds Leo in his office to deliver a gift: the now-battered “Bartlet for America” cocktail napkin, framed.

Bartlet quietly leaves as Leo crumples into his chair and allows himself to weep.

Yep, that’s another merry Christmas on The West Wing.

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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