A Definitive Ranking of West Wing Episodes

Watching seven seasons of a television show in three months doesn’t seem like the pinnacle of productivity. However, I have convinced myself that if I make a blog post about my experience watching the tv show, that somehow justifies how much time I devoted to the pursuits. Does the Internet really need to know my definitive ranking of West Wing episodes? No. But that’s never stopped me from talking about something before. Thus, I present a ranked list of my top ten favorite West Wing episodes. Please don’t judge me too much. 

Game On (4.6)

The debate is one of my favorite scenes from this entire show. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it unashamedly demonstrates that the presidency is a position for smart people. The tie, the eskimo poetry, the ten word answers…it’s all brilliant. If this weren’t the beginning of the end of Rob Lowe’s time on the show, this episode would be ranked most higher. The upside is that we get the debut of Joshua Malina – he’s not Rob Lowe, but he’s a decent replacement.

The U.S. Poet Laureate (3.17)

It’s the magic of 2002. Josh discovers an online chatroom called Lemon Lyman (which, incidentally, was an active tumblr until 2013: http://lemonylyman.tumblr.com/), and engages in a fruitless (get it?) battle with anonymous people on the Internet. Furthermore, this episode brilliantly addresses one of the most frustrating idiosyncrasies of the Republican Party – their belief that intelligence and education are somehow not characteristics we should expect in the president of the United States. 

Privateers (4.18)

I included this episode for Amy Gardner (played by Mary-Louise Parker), who is one of my favorite additions to the West Wing ensemble. Her rapport with Josh is the best part of season four, and I appreciate that the First Lady’s office starts getting a bit more action. In Privateers, CJ is overly amused by a visitor’s name, the First Lady may be related to pirates, and Amy’s new office is falling apart. It’s a good romp-y episode all around. 

The Supremes (5.17)

The episode where Josh puts Donna’s cats on the supreme court. Also, the first post-Sorkin episode to make the cut. The comedy is solid (though it’s a tad easier to get laughs when White House officials are wandering the halls drunk), and it’s a nice throwback to when Republicans were still intelligent. I love the ideal of well-reasoned political debate this episode endorses, even if it is a bit…well, idealistic.

Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail (2.16)

It’s big block of cheese day, and the Cartographers for Social Justice steal the show! Josh is quick to mock the ridiculousness of their name, but the Cartographers for Social Justice have a surprisingly important mission – one that we have yet to embrace fifteen years later, though I suppose that’s a point for a different blog post… It’s a great episode for Sam and Donna fans, the music is amazing, and I need Toby to be my BFF. (Shhhh I don’t care that he’s fictional.)

Shibboleth (2.8)

Did you know that turkeys need to be supported by their hindquarters? Watch Shibboleth and you will learn more than you could ever care to know about the care of turkeys (which, incidentally, makes for great television). Plus, we get Charlie and the President searching for the perfect carving knife, which is the best Charlie scene of all time. I give Shibboleth 10/10 for Thanksgiving comedy and sappiness.

In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (2.1 and 2.2)

It’s the West Wing meets Grey’s Anatomy. What could be better? We have political drama, we have police drama, we have medical drama. Not to mention the flashbacks to how everyone joined the Bartlett campaign in the first place. If you are an avid West Wing fan, this one’s a tearjerker. It’s so satisfying to see everyone coming together, and (spoiler alert) Josh doesn’t die. So that’s cool.

Celestial Navigation (1.15)

I know this is everybody’s favorite West Wing episode. But it’s my favorite too, dammit! Emergency dental procedures, police racism, and a nominee for the supreme court who loves antique shopping – it’s really the best this show has to offer. By far one of the comedic standouts of the entire series and the highlight of Season One. Also, I still need Toby to be my BFF.

Two Cathedrals (2.22)

Again, West Wing kills it with the flashbacks. On most shows, I hate them. But on West Wing, I simultaneously want to cry and pursue a career in professional politics. The cathedral imagery is beyond brilliant. The relationship between young Jed and young Mrs. Landingham. The torrential downpour is poetic perfection. Cliche? Yes. But in the best possible way. And the ending, when Bartlett decides to run for president again? It’s worth rematching that 30 second clip ten-ish times. 

My Conclusions:

  • I really need Toby to be my best friend.
  • Season 2 of West Wing is far superior to any other season.
  • It is indeed possible to justify watching lots of West Wing reruns with list making.
  • Though perhaps I could have accomplished more important things during the 100 hours I spent rewatching this show.
  • In my defense, I am a somewhat decent multi-tasker.

5 Comments

  1. Sue Hutchinson

    I love your choices, but I think the pilot deserves to be on the list. In 1999, it was groundbreaking to discuss drug use and prostitution on commercial television. Aaron Sorkin’s way of introducing each character was genius. (Not to mention that Rob Lowe was able to reinvent himself after his personal/professional disgrace.)

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  2. Sue Hutchinson

    Are you a West Wing fan or Aaron Sorkin fan? I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing style. (For example: A Few Good Men, & Social Network). Are you familiar with his earlier series, Sports Night?

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  3. ianthecool

    I really enjoyed reading this. Our lists are quite different, and yet I really can’t fault you much. There are just that many great episodes.

    Its hard not to have Two Cathedrals on top. Magnificent television right there. I think that the first Shadow of 2 Gunman was much better than the second part, quite a lot of the momentum drops off.

    You reminded me of how great Shibboleth and Celestial Navigation are.

    I like that you included The Supremes; the rare season 5 episode that was really great. It just made #11 on my list.

    Like

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