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Thanksgiving Shipfest: The West Wing – Josh/Donna – 17 People

The West Wing – 17 People

I love this episode. It’s probably my favorite episode of the series. Everything about it is perfect, not just the shippy goodness. So it’s going to be kind of difficult for me to just focus on the Josh/Donna stuff without mentioning the amazing tension of the storyline where Toby finally learns about the President’s MS. But I’m going to try.

I think season 2 is the best season for Josh/Donna shipping. By the time we got to 17 People, over a season and half had passed, so we’d seen an excellent and completely natural development of this relationship. But it was still only the second season, not so far into the series where you’re getting frustrated because OH MY GOD IT’S BEEN YEARS WHY HAVEN’T THEY KISSED YET. The UST was at its most perfect point.

In 17 People we got both the snark and the sweetness of the J/D ship. They’re arguing for most of the episode over the date of their anniversary. Donna insists it’s when she first started working for him. Josh thinks that it should be the second time she started working for him – after she had quit, gone home to her boyfriend, and then come back – because that was the one that stuck. It’s a great argument because you know that it’s not the fact that Donna left that really made Josh upset. It was that she left to go back to her boyfriend.

And it’s fun to watch Josh and Donna banter. That really was what made their relationship. He was her boss, but she was still really smart and could argue just as well as he could. They were, in that respect, on equal footing.

Throughout the series Josh and Donna had a lot of moments where they just almost confessed to their feelings. They always seemed like they were just about to say it, and the famous ‘red lights’ comment is probably the best. It’s moments like that where we see how deeply dedicated that are to each other. You know that if Donna had known Josh had been shot before she got to the hospital, she wouldn’t have stopped for a single red light on her way there. Just like Josh was useless at his job after the bombing in Gaza because all he could think about was being with Donna.

And, since it’s still shippy, I’ll give a little shout out to our B-team ship of the episode, Sam and Ainsley. Really, looking back, all of Sam’s ships were disappointing because nothing ever came of them. I liked Sam and Mallory a lot, but that just kind of petered out, and nothing ever came of Sam and Ainsley. But they were a good match. I really think Ainsley was just the Republican female version of Sam. They were both smart, both incredibly well spoken with an excellent handle on the English language, and both awkward and neurotic. This is a great episode for them. Like Josh and Donna, they can both give as good as they get when it comes to arguing politics, and they both have excellent points on the Equal Rights Amendment. That and the chemistry between Rob Lowe and Emily Procter make they’re little B-story delightful.


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Episodes in a Bottle

Last night’s episode of Community was fantastic. After a front part of the season heavy with expensive, high concept episodes, they produced a bottle episode – an episode based in mostly one room, usually close to real time, featuring nearly no extras or guest stars. Shows do bottle episodes when they’ve produced a lot of really expensive episodes and now need to pinch pennies. In eight episode, the study group of Community have gone to space (sort of) and fought zombies, so it’s understandable why NBC would want them to do a bottle episode.

Well, it turned out to be, by far, the best episode of the season so and easily one of the best of the series. The characters are best when they’re really dealing with each other, actually being friends, and this episode brought all kinds of ugly things to the forefront. But our study group made it through, and were stronger in the end because of it. And a season that felt wildly uneven and somewhat untrue to its characters finally feels like its back on track.

When a good show does a bottle episode – it’s usually great. And Community made me think of some of my other favorite bottle episodes.

First of all, I want to praise HBO’s In Treatment, which is basically a series of bottle episodes. Each episode takes place in one room – Paul’s home/office – and takes place in real time. Each episode is a session with one of his patients.  That sounds like it might be boring, but the characters are so incredibly well-written and brilliantly performed, each half hour is an extremely intense exploration of the human mind. So, well done HBO, for essentially making a bottle series and a damn good one at that.

One of the most amazing examples of a bottle episode is Seinfeld‘s Chinese Restaurant episode. The entire episode takes place in a – you guessed it – Chinese restaurant, and takes place over a half hour while the friends wait for a table so they can eat before going to a movie. A simple enough premise – as so many episodes of Seinfeld were – but it’s one of the funniest episodes of the show.  It doesn’t have the kind of emotional revelations that Community’s Cooperative Calligraphy had, but…. it’s Seinfeld. What it lacks in emotional resonance, it makes up for in “Oh my god, that has happened to me and it’s SO TRUE.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a good bottle episode in the sixth season entitled Older and Far Away. There were a few scenes early in the episode that took place at the school and in the graveyard, but the majority of the episode took place in the Summers home for Buffy’s birthday. Birthday’s were never good things for Buffy – something bad always happened, and this was no exception. Thanks to a wish Dawn unintentionally made to a vengeance demon, Buffy and her friends end up trapped in the house. The episode doesn’t take place in real time, but with most of the episode taking place inside the house, it still qualifies. Being trapped in the house makes everyone a little crazy and some things are brought to light – Dawn’s shoplifting, Anya’s feelings about Willow’s addiction to magic. Season six was a dark season (which brought a fair amount of hate from fans), and this episode was no exception, delving into the way the group had fractured after Buffy’s return from the dead.

It might be a bit of a stretch to call The West Wing‘s 17 People a bottle episode, since it takes place in several different rooms. But the episode does take place on a single set, and it takes place in real time, so yes, it counts. It’s also probably my favorite episode of the series. It’s a masterful episode, one of the most intimate of the series, and the beginning of the explosion of the most important storyline of the show’s first four seasons. Toby has figured out that something is up with the Vice President’s behavior – that he’s making appearances that suggest he’ll be running for President in the next election – which leads Toby to wonder if, for some reason, Bartlet might not be running again – which leads to the President finally confessing to one of his staff that he has MS. The scenes between Toby and Bartlet are stunning and filled with tension. Neither really knows how to react to the situation. Toby’s not sure whether to be worried, upset, or outraged at being lied to, and the President isn’t sure whether or not he should be apologetic. This heavy storyline is then balanced out by two lighter ones. Several members of the staff – Josh, Donna, Sam, Ainsley, Ed, and Larry – stay late to punch up some jokes for the Correspondents Dinner, and Josh and Donna and Sam and Ainsley each have glorious shipper B-plots. Sam and Ainsley fight, adorably, over the Equal Rights Amendment, while Josh and Donna argue over their anniversary and when it actually is.  Really, aside from the episodes in season 7 when they FINALLY get together, this is probably the best J/D episode. “I’m just saying, if you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for a beer.” “If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.” Yeah, I’m saying it now… Best Bottle Episode Ever.

I have a soft spot for Christmas episodes, and when Bones was good (way back in its first season), they produced an awesome Christmas episode that was also an amazing bottle episode. When Hodgins does a messy job cutting something open or somesuch, since he’s been partaking in the Christmas party, the lab gets locked down with Brennan’s team – plus Booth – locked inside. It was still fairly early in the show’s run, and this episode was needed, I think, to really solidify the chemistry between the cast and tie the team together tightly, which was what made the show so good for its first few seasons. Also, Booth tripping as a side effect to the treatment? “It’s Christmas Eve Day! The only day that’s both a day and an eve! It’s Christmas miracle!” Amazing.

Firefly was an amazing show, and the very premise – life on the run from the Big Brother government in deep space – naturally produced a few bottle-type episodes in its half season run. The very best one – and probably my favorite episode of the series – is what is now considered the show’s final episode, Objects in Space. It takes place over the course of one night. A night during which the crew finally decides that, yes, River is some kind of goverment created psychic super assassin. Later that night, after they’ve all gone to bed, a bounty hunter climbs on board to find River, and ends up engaging Simon and River in some serious mind games. It’s a beautiful episode, where we finally get to see inside River’s head, to see things as she sees and perceives them. And we finally get to see her really become one of the crew. It actually hurts that – with the exception of the movie – we never got to see what happened to her relationship with the crew next.

Frasier is one of my all time favorite television comedies. It’s absolutely fucking brilliant. Total, all out, unabashed farce that’s so smart it’s scary. It’s like a Neil Simon play that lasted a decade. It had more than one bottle episode, but the best was definitely The Dinner Party.  This episode is what Frasier did so damn well. The episode starts out with a plan, and then one thing goes wrong, and then another, and then another, and then it’s all out chaos. This one was even more hilarious and more chaotic because it was a bottle episode, taking place in real time, and it was just totally NUTS. I really miss Frasier. It was such an awesome show, and it plays just as well on rewatch as it did the first time.

Much like Firefly, the fact that the Doctor and his companions in Doctor Who were traveling in a time machine/space ship through time and space kind of lent itself to bottle-type episode. Sometime they’d on a planet somewhere, where they could explore the landscape and the villages and the whatnot. And sometimes they’d land on a space station, or someplace confined where they couldn’t really go anywhere. There really are a lot of bottle-type episodes. Most people, when talking about them, go with Midnight, which is a really good episode. But I’m going to go with something else, just to be different. I was tempted to go with The Long Game, but for some reason just the fact that it’s such a HUGE freaking space station with so many extras makes it feel not at all like a bottle episode. New Earth is a pretty good one, too. But I’m going to go with Dalek from the first season. The Doctor and Rose find themselves in a big, locked down, personal museum of alien stuff, where a mean and kind of crazy collector keeps his prized possessions – among them a Dalek, the Doctor’s greatest enemy. It’s great because for the first time we get to really, truly see the Doctor lose his cool because of his anger and fear of the Daleks, and we really get to see the Doctor’s feelings for Rose when he thinks he’s lost her. It’s a really good episode.

I do have to mention the Angel episode Spin the Bottle. It’s not one of my favorite episodes, but it is a classic and excellent example of a bottle episode.  It features only the main cast and takes place entirely in the hotel. And it is pretty fun. Lorne does a spell to help Cordelia recover her memory, but it ends up just making everyone revert to their teenage selves. It’s almost comforting to see Cordy the way she was when she was on Buffy, before all that character development, and it’s just delightful to see what everyone else was like before they all met.

Deep Space 9 is my favorite of the Star Trek series. Being set on a space station there’s not as much action as there is on the other Star Trek shows.  But what it lacks in action it more than makes up in some awesome and intense character relationships. In its first season the show produced a bottle episode, which was basically an interrogation by Kira of a Cardassian. The tension continues to mount slowly and brilliantly. It’s SO good.

So, there we go. My favorite bottle episodes! What are your favorites? Did I forget some that you really love? Let me know! Post some comments!


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Shipping Meme to Help Cope With Boredom

Six Ships I Love:
1. Josh/Donna (The West Wing)

2. Jeff/Annie (Community)

3. Jessica/Hoyt (True Blood)

4. Charlie/Claire (Lost)

5. Matt/Harriet (Studio 60)

6. Mason/Daisey (Dead Like Me)

Three Ships I Liked, But Don’t Anymore:
7. Jack/Kate (Lost)
8. Leslie/Mark (Parks and Rec)
9. Rachel/Jessie (Glee)

Three Ships I Don’t Like:
10. Sawyer/Kate (Lost)
11. Bill/Sookie (True Blood)
12. Jeff/Britta (Community)

Two Ships I Am Curious About, But Don’t Actually Ship:
13. Britta/Abed (Community)
14. Chance/Emma (Human Target)

1) Why do you dislike #11 so much? (Bill/Sookie)
Well, Stephen Moyer is a terrible actor, so it’s pretty hard to like Bill when he’s doing anything. He treats Sookie like property, gets pissy when she doesn’t do exactly what he wants her to, and treats her like a child. And Sookie, who is supposed to be this sassy badass, just takes it.

2) Who is someone you know that ships #13? (Britta/Abed)
Nobody specifically, but I know they exist in the fandom. Every ship in the Community fandom has at least one follower.

3) What would be your ideal scenario for couple #3 (even if the show isn’t on the air anymore)? (Jessica/Hoyt)
Jessica goes to Hoyt and confesses that she killed that guy, and Hoyt forgives her and helps her cover it up and cope with her first kill. And then they’re together forever.

4) Which is your favorite episode for #1? Try to pick just one. (Josh/Donna)
Probably 17 People. So much good snark, so many good revelations, and “If you were in an accident I wouldn’t stop for red lights.” Perfect.

5) How long have you been following couple #6? (Mason/Daisey)
I started Dead Like Me when it was in syndication about three years ago, and I started on season 2, so I missed a lot of the great buildup from the last half of season 2. But I caught up and they’re just wonderful.

6) What’s the story with #8? What made you stop liking them/caring? (Leslie/Mark)
They had good chemistry, and it was always nice when Mark did sweet things for Leslie, but in the end it kind of doesn’t measure out to how thoughtless he can be toward her. Tom was right when he said that Mark’s an idiot and Leslie can do better. And then Ron started being the one who did sweet things for her, but instead of them being undercut by him being a jerk, he’s always sweet, even if he masks it with a gruff exterior.

7) Which ship do you prefer, #2 or #4? (Jeff/Annie or Charlie/Claire)
Right now, Jeff and Annie, but probably just because Community is still on the air and we’re really only at the beginning of the ship.

8) You have the power to make one ship non-existant. Choose from #10 or #12. (Sawyer/Kate or Jeff/Britta)
Well, Sawyer/Kate don’t exist as a couple anymore. The finale made it clear that the Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Juliet were the people that were meant for each other. So I guess Jeff/Britta. They’re awesome as friends, but they just don’t work romantically.

9) What interests you about #14? (Chance/Emma)
Emma won’t take any of Chance’s crap, which is probably what he needs. But now that it seems Catherine probably isn’t really dead, he belongs with his true love.

10) When did you stop liking #7? (Jack/Kate)
I wouldn’t say I stopped liking them. I mostly always shipped them as the lesser of two evils just because I hated S/K so much. There was a string of a few episodes that made me ship J/K hardcore, but it didn’t last long. So I didn’t stop liking them. I just went back to being lukewarm.

11) Did your waning interest in #9 kill your interest in the show? (Jessie/Rachel)
Not at all. I liked Jessie/Rachel, but I still ship Puck/Rachel above them. The nonsensical character assassination of Jessie pissed me off, but not enough for me to not want to watch the show.

12) What’s a song that reminds you of #5? (Matt/Harriet)
Have a Little Faith In Me, the song that played during their argument montage at the end of K & R pt. 1. Perfect.

13) Which of these ships do you love the most?
At the moment, Jeff/Annie. But Josh/Donna is my all time favorite ship.

14) Which do you dislike the most?

15) If you could have any of these two pairings double date, who would it be?
Matt/Harriet and Josh/Donna. They’re both Sorkin pairings, so the dialogue would be AMAZING!

16) Have #2 kissed yet? Elaborate if you’d like. (Jeff/Annie)
Yes, twice! Let’s hope there’s a lot more kissing down the road.

17) Did #4 have a happy ending? If the show hasn’t ended yet, do you think a happy ending is likely? (Charlie/Claire)
Well, yes and no. I mean, Charlie died and Claire went crazy. But they found each other in the afterlife and were able to move on together.

18) What would make you start shipping #13? (Britta/Abed)
Some kind of indication from the writers that it would possibly happen. There have been a few cute moments, but at the moment I have a hard time actually visualizing them in a relationship, so I’d need to see that the writers could do it.

19) If only one could happen, which would you prefer – #2 or #6? (Jeff/Annie or Mason Daisy)
I guess Jeff/Annie. Mason/Daisy will probably always have a certain layer of fucked up/not getting their act together-ness. Jeff and Annie could actually work.

20) You have the power to decide the fate of #10. What happens to them? (Nick/Sara)
I don’t want them to get together just because they’re significant others both died on the island. I just want them to stay buddies.

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The West Wing … Still the Greatest

It’s been over ten years now since The West Wing first premiered on NBC.

Honestly, nothing since has even come close to measuring up.

The West Wing is my all time favorite television show. Any time I start to think that it might be something else, I’ll watch an episode of TWW and realize, “Oh, yeah. There’s nothing that even touches this.” I love it so much that, as I write this, I’m actually having a hard time thinking of the words to accurately express what I feel for this show. I think of the show, and there really aren’t words. Just misty eyes, a lump in my throat, and even after four years off the air, a place in my heart where the show should be. Some people might think it’s sad, but The West Wing will always be one of the most important things that ever happened to my life. And not just because it was damn good tv.

Though it was damn good tv. No other hour long drama has so effortlessly combined all of its elements so seamlessly. The characters are so real, so deeply and honestly flawed, yet so damn likable in spite of it. A character as endlessly egotistical as Josh Lyman, or as married to his job as Leo McGarry, or as pessimistic as Toby Zeigler, or as fond of yelling at men as CJ Cregg, or as willfully naïve as Sam Seaborn shouldn’t be so lovable. You shouldn’t identify with them so much. But we get to see why these people are the way they are, the things they have to deal with in such a high pressure job and, most importantly, how good and decent and honest they can be when the chips are down (Toby arranging a funeral for a homeless vet, Josh refusing his NSA instruction card because he doesn’t want to leave his friends behind) and those are the things that make us love them. They’re good people trying as hard as they can to make the world a better place. And sometimes that gets mixed up in politics, or in their personal lives. But that’s just because they are, above all things, human.

It’s always a little surprising how funny the show is. Aaron Sorkin is a BRILLIANT writer, and with The West Wing he wrote dialogue that is the stuff legendary television is made of. It’s a serious show that deals with serious issues. But, much like life, it’s often very funny. In an episode dealing with the heavy subject of the President hiding his MS from the world, the secondary storyline deals with the staff trying to write jokes for the Correspondents Dinner… and doing a really terrible job of it (We’ve got one, but it involves a John Wayne impersonation and a sock puppet). The second season’s February sweeps two-parter has Bartlet delivering his State of the Union Address and then having to handle a hostage situation in Colombia. In the same two episodes, Ainsley Hayes has two humiliating meetings with the President: one where she’s drunk in a bathrobe, and one where she’s stuck in a closet she thought was a bathroom. Even just the little moments – Oliver Babbish smashing his recorder, CJ losing it with the President after a particularly long story (“When I came in here, back in the late ‘50s, there was a purpose to it. But then one thing led to another and I blacked out.”)

But the show’s greatest strength was its emotion. I got into an argument once on Rotten Tomatoes with someone who said that the show was “dangerous”. When I asked why, he responded that it was because it gave people hope that the people in charge of running the country can be good and honest people who want to do the right thing. What planet was he living on that this is dangerous? Yes, sometimes the show was a little idealistic. But the fact that it was hopeful that people like these exist in the world is a good thing. I know it’s fashionable to hate any and all politicians, but if we don’t have hope that they can be better, that they can actually give a damn, then what they hell are we all still doing here?

And the important thing is that it wasn’t always easy for them to do the right thing. The characters often got so wrapped up in politics, in the ends justifies the means thinking, in wanting so badly to get what they wanted that they compromised what was really important. They didn’t always do it right. They had to make impossible decisions, knowing that no matter what side they came out on there would be fallout. When Bartlet finally made the decision to kill Shareef at the end of season 3, he knew that either way, the outcome would be messy.

There are just so many moments in this show that leave me in complete awe. So many moments that just bring me to tears. The ending to Two Cathedrals, set to Dire Strait’s “Brothers In Arms

The funeral at the end of In Excelsis Deo

Leo’s speech to Josh in Noel

The end of the first part of “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” when Leo is telling Jed why he wants him to run

Bartlet’s speech following a bombing at a college in 20 Hours in America, set to Tori Amos’ cover of “I Don’t Like Mondays” – “This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.”

Aaron Sorkin left the show after the fourth season, and it did take a bit of a dip early on in the fifth season. But by the end of the season, it was back to being amazing. It was different, but it was still the best thing on television.

Even now I don’t think I’ve come close to doing The West Wing justice. It’s really a show that has to be seen. If you never have, go out and get it on DVD now.

Here are some more scenes from this amazing show.

Bartlet smacks down homophobia

Cartographers for Social Equality

Sam gets his ass handed to him by the most adorable Republican ever

Josh’s secret plan to fight inflation

100,000 Airplanes

You can’t pardon a turkey?

Babies come with hats

Is this a real person or a Donna person?

Bartlet’s rant in Two Cathedrals

Blame It on the Bossa Nova

Good cop, bad cop


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