I don't think this was meant to be the start of a meme, but perhaps by continuing it here, it will become one. Simon at Screen Insight put together his Top 5 'Friends' Episodes after seeing Andy Buckle's Film Emporium's Top 10 'Seinfeld' episodes. So I thought I'd take my own favorite TV show (after 'Friends') and create my own Top 10 list. There was recently a post over at The Matinee talking about the decline of the Top 5 list. I would argue that one perspective he left out that probably will always sustain the Top 5 (or 10) and that's nostalgia for a favored topic/show/movie/actor. While I could argue with Simon that there are different episodes that should make up the Top 5 'Friends' episodes, I'm fine with his choices because I'm a huge fan and just reading where his funny bone was tickled is enough for me. That's the spirit in which I write this list.
Honorable Mention - Isaac and Ishmael (Season 3 Episode 1) - This is the only completely stand alone episode of the series. It references nothing you'd need to know from any other episode and furthers no other plots. It's the response to 9/11 episode and as the world changed, The West Wing decided to incorporate that into their political story without making it change the world within it. Talking about all aspects of terrorism and terrorists and with plenty of the typical West Wing history lessons, it's a wonderful episode and always makes me cry. Everyone gets to shine for just a moment without any single character running the show
# 10 - Shibboleth (Season 2 Episode 8) - There are a lot of episodes that deal with faith during the course of this show. But this episode deals specifically with Chinese Christian refugees. However, the part that I really like throughout the episode is Bartlett's obsession with Thanksgiving. The holiday episodes of this show usually deal with them peripherally, but they face it head on here.
#9 - 20 Hours in America (parts I and II) (Season 4 Episode 1 and 2) - There are a lot of two-part episodes, at least one per season, and they often create some of the best stories of the series. This kicks off Bartlett's re-election campaign with a trip across the country where Toby, Josh and Donna get left behind by the motorcade. We watch them try to get back to DC while arguing over how the campaign is going. There's also my favorite speech in this episode about halfway through the second part referencing a catastrophe at a college - it's the music underneath that I really love.
#8 - Take This Sabbath Day (Season 1 Episode 14) - This is Marlee Matlin's first episode as a campaign manager. Overall, the President is trying to decide whether or not to commute a death sentence and what it will mean if he does it just because he (as a Catholic) doesn't believe in the death penalty. There's a scene with Karl Malden as his former parish priest that gets me every time.
#7 - The Stackhouse Fillibuster (Season 2 Episode 17) - This is a fairly unique episode because there is voice-over. Each of the senior staff are writing letters to people describing their recent days that have led to the first filibuster of the term. It's a particularly long filibuster by a Senator for no obvious reason. Over the course of the night they figure out how to help the Senator and what he's actually trying to accomplish with the tactic. It's a lot of information about how our government should and often does work, but done in a really creative way.
#6 - No Exit (Season 5 Episode 20) - One of The West Wing's best qualities is when they force people to have lengthy conversations when all else has stopped (like during a catastrophe). In this one (in a nod to Sartre) people are forced to stay in rooms when an airborne toxin is detected. Most also happen to be in rooms with people they dislike or don't know and for a change, things don't resolve particularly well. Mary McCormack has arrived as a new NSA staffer and fights really well with Josh.
#5 - Undecideds (Season 7 Episode 8) - There aren't a lot of stand alone episodes from the final 2 seasons. They're fairly continuous from episode to episode, but this one has a throwback moment to the quality of the first seasons (under Aaron Sorkin) where Matt Santos is trying to figure out how to be both a Presidential candidate and a Latino representing his race. Watching him struggle hits home for anyone who wants to be both a representative of their group and to stand above being identified solely by that group. And the speech his gives at the end is awesome.
#4 - In the Shadow of Two Gunman Part I and II - This is the origin episode and starts the second season. When I loan my DVDs to people I always give them the first disc of the second season with the first season because the cliff hanger at the end of the first season is impossible to stop at. This episode shows how Bartlett got into the race to be President and how the rest of his staff got hired - you get to see what they were each doing before they joined the campaign. It's a really really terrific episode with lots of action and quickness interspersed with information where everyone tells their story.
#3 - The Supremes - A really really terrific episode that shows all the creativity you can have when you're making up a political universe and have innovative ideas that could potentially happen in the real world if the real world didn't actually include politicians. Glenn Close guest stars as a liberal judge being considered for the Supreme Court. However, given the difficulty in getting people through the Senate confirmation process they've realized anyone with strong political convictions can no longer get confirmed. A creative solution presents itself and we see a long discussion of the Supreme Court.
#2 - Two Cathedrals (Season 2 Episode 22 - Another flashback episode preceding Bartlett's confirmation of re-election. It's just after Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) is killed. We see the first time she meets Bartlett in high school and the kind of kid he was that led to the man he became. He talks to God in Latin in a terrific sequence in the Cathedral after her funeral. A young Mrs. Landingham played by Kirsten Nelson does a great job of capturing Joosten's acting style we love. It was a sad day losing Mrs. Landingham, but she's sent off in a terrific episode.
#1 - Evidence of Things Not Seen (Season 4 Episode 19) - My favorite episode of the entire series. It's a lot of talking - the staff is meeting to play poker on a Friday night. However, Bartlett needs to talk to the Russian President to resolve a crashed spy-plane. And the White House is shot at and is put under lock-down, forcing people to stay in certain places and keep talking to each other. And throughout the episode, CJ is always trying to convince her colleagues that you can stand an egg on end during the equinox to a lot of humor. Oh, and Mathew Perry guest stars as a new counsel applicant. You can see why they chose Perry and Bradley Whitford to star in Sorkin's next show. Oh, and Joshua Malina has arrived to stay. Love him!
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