The West Wing characters: Danny Concannon “I enjoy movies, I enjoy music, I’m not wild about ice-skating, but what the hell, I’ll do it.”
The most whipped man in America, Danny is pretty darn loveable as CJ’s favourite reporter. Whether it’s the adoption of Gail the goldfish in The Short List, or his festive return in season four, I adore the lighthearted tone of Danny’s character. Despite the fact that he represents the media, and provides the communication between the White House and the public, he’s a very fair character. I noticed when going through caps for the above edit that he spends most of his time looking very adoringly at CJ. He also has a really nice soft-spoken voice, and I never get tired of him saying “Okey-dokey” or “What’s going on?!”
I know there are biiiig CJ/ Toby shippers out there, but Danny really loved CJ. It’s adorable. I came to realise how canon all of my ships are when, after about five episodes I said to my friend, “I love Danny and CJ; are they gonna get together?” I gave up on the cause during Danny’s little hiatus, but alas - my ship prevailed! Plus, I didn’t want Gail to be from a broken home. He always understood that he was destined to be Mr CJ Cregg, and I think his acceptance of that was admirable. He didn’t really care, as long as he was with CJ. I think he was just about the opposite, romantically, to all the other male characters on the show - putting himself out there repeatedly. He so far and above has the best declaration-y lines. While I would have rather heard certain lines of his from Josh to Donna (that boy is so frustrating sometimes), I do love hearing them said to CJ. And the Internal Displacement ones were written by Brad, so that makes them dreamier.
My one complaint is that we didn’t get to see more of his bromance with Josh. I seriously think that needed to be explored more. It was so good in Celestial Navigation, and again in their shared cockblock moment in Requiem.
The West Wing characters: Amy Gardner “The First Lady just asked me to get boozy with her. You don’t think I want to write a book one day?”
Possibly the most contentious character on my list, Amy is certainly one to divide opinion. While some might say that her soul is as black as her feet, I actually think that Amy commands respect for her unparalleled focus in achieving whatever her latest political goal is. Obviously sometimes I get frustrated with her, as she cuts phone lines and throws cell phones in stews, displaying an utter inability to do anything close to compromise, but she is a great character. I also don’t think she’s quite the devil woman that fan fiction would have you believe. I always have far more pleasant associations with Amy - like, balloon animals and Van Morrison. I would argue that she might just be the strongest, most resilient character on the show - surviving numerous setbacks and firings to still be standing strong and bossing the new President about at the very end of the series. She’s witty, sexy and a formidable opponent in any political debate - it’s easy to see how Josh got to be so bewitched and ensorcelled.
There is never a moment when I have felt that Amy doesn’t at least deserve the right to be heard. She speaks for women’s issues and is largely a personification of the feminist force that the White House will have encountered with any democratic party in charge. That’s why I think it would be idiotic to dislike her for Donna-related reasons. She was never malicious to Donna, I don’t believe. But Donna was always an unwilling third member of the Josh/Amy relationship, and neither woman could be expected to be happy about that. Josh is only person who ever messed Donna around romantically, in my opinion. I love Donna, she’s my favourite. But, most of the time, what Amy’s fighting for is beneficial to Donna. To all women, for that matter. Marriage incentives? What kind of mad government could think that the best way to improve the American family is to incentivise marriage?! I’m with you there, girlfriend. So, I guess my love for Amy is the opposite to my love for Ainsley in that - I agree with her politics most of the time, but usually not her method.
That being said, I will personally pay for a pedicure out of my own money. And the way her mouth doesn’t move when she talks is disconcerting. Perhaps if things don’t work out in politics for her, she could have a ventriloquist act.
The West Wing characters: CJ Cregg ”One in forty American men wear women’s clothing and we’ve had well over forty presidents. I’m just saying, one of these guys was dancing around the Oval Office in a prom dress. Now let’s get to the bottom of that.”
In my opinion, CJ is one of the most essential members of the ensemble. She is the poster girl for 21st century feminism, as the brilliant and (would you believe!) capable woman of the White House. I think the audience becomes attached to CJ quickest, actually, because she comes from a more relatable mindset. Where Josh is duty-bound, Toby carries an undeniably melancholic tone, Sam is the eager up-and-comer, Leo is the voice of wisdom and the President is their charismatic leader, CJ is there for a cause. I think, unlike a lot of the other characters, her primary reason for joining the Bartlet campaign was the direction of a cause led by people she respects (as understood from In The Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 2). Her biggest flaw is, arguably, her morality. It shines through at certain moments that, for CJ, it is not about the politics but about whether or not they are truly doing the best they can to achieve what is right. One moment that comes to mind, occurs in The Women of Qumar, in which Allison gives an outstanding performance.
I think CJ is as entertaining as she is, because she’s one of the boys while also being the strongest female presence on television in that era. I truly believe she was. Josh, Toby and Sam treat her like a sister, and that familial bond between the core characters is a huge part of the draw with this show. The backdrop is so serious, dramatic and compelling that to have CJ’s flirtatious humour contrasting that, is vital. While every single character has made me laugh countless times, CJ always seems to be at the centre of the amusing chaos of the White House - Gail the goldfish, the root canal surgery, ‘I’m too sexy’, Josh vs. CJ (in A Proportional Response and Third Day Story), CJ and the turkeys, The Jackal, the prank war with Charlie, her reaction to Josh’s fansite etc. She never becomes a one-note character, though. Janney delivers the heartbreaking humanity of CJ on as many occasions as she lets audiences hear that infectious laughter of hers. While Sorkin brings a great deal to defining CJ’s character from the start, Allison Janney brings her alive in a way that simply no other actress could have done. It is effortless with her, and I am constantly in awe of the talents of this cast.
Frankly, I am of the belief that you could not watch The West Wing and not fall in love with CJ Cregg. If not simply because, if you loved any single member of ensemble, she had a wonderful rapport with all of them.
The West Wing characters: Ellie Bartlet “I don’t know how to make you happy, dad. For that you’ve got to talk to Zoey or Liz.”
While my inclusion of the Bartlet’s middle daughter might be surprising, Ellie was always my favourite of the Bartlet children. Her debut episode, Ellie, is one of my favourite episodes of the show’s run. It explores a far more complex father-daughter relationship than ever we’ve seen before on the show. It’s not uncommon for me to be weeping by the end of this particular episode. What I like about it is that Ellie is never unlikeable for being the daughter who calls him out on his parenting. She’s soft and warm, and I found her instantly sympathetic. By the end of the series, I actually thought that the bond between Jed and Ellie had so naturally matured in a way, that they shared a bond much deeper than that with Zoey or Liz.
She’s intelligent, compassionate and never uses her position to throw her weight around. Even when she does, in Ellie, make a decidedly underhand play to undermine her father’s position, it comes from a place of principle and not a personal cry for attention. I found that final scene in Ellie, where Jed says, “The only thing you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day”, so beautifully played by both actors. It felt right that their relationship developed as it did during the kidnapping, contrasting the initial understanding that Ellie was her mother’s daughter and Zoey, her father’s. Ellie stands by him. And I think that speaks for her nature, and the view she holds of Jed, more balanced than anyone else during that time. She goes on to prove her competency and strength in Eppur Si Muove.
The season seven storyline for Ellie was an enjoyable end chapter, for me. She was always such a minor character but I felt incredibly invested in her well being, and her development. I enjoy that over the course of the series we saw the depth of her bond with Jed develop, she got to truly make her parents proud (Eppur Si Muove), and she found personal contentment within her own family - the luckiest in love of the three sisters, for sure.
Isn’t she divine? I call Donna the Josh whisperer. More than any other character, I think it’s fair to say that Donna developed naturally - with an arc of empowerment. I think Janel had the biggest effect on her character of all of the cast too. Starting out as nothing more than Josh’s assistant, Donna was soon a series regular and fan favorite. It speaks volumes for Janel’s performances, which proved to be more mature and evocative with each new season. Both Janel and Donna truly earned the eventual position of chief of staff to the First Lady. I also felt that it was important within the romantic relationship Donna has with Josh that, before they did seal the deal, they were on a more equal footing professionally.
Janel’s brought some seriously emotional performances over the years, but I have to confess a particular love of the silly and hilarious banter that was in pretty much every episode of the early seasons. I feel like Janel and Brad played off each other so incredibly well, both dramatically and comedically. It kind of sizzled on-screen really. I think they kept this gorgeous balance of Donna's naïveté, her brilliance/talent and the depth of her feelings for Josh. It’s just nice to have a character present who you feel a trust with so completely. She may even be the truest of heart of all the characters, bringing the best out of her colleagues on countless occasions (notably the end of 20 Hours in America). When you watch Donna, there’s no doubt of her competency and Josh’s dependence on her. It would have been a shame if we hadn’t got to see her potential fulfilled by the finale, so it’s a truly deserved moment as she observes that grand office of hers. That, on the same day as waking up beside Josh Lyman. I kinda love that the two of them end up the power couple of the White House! The country’s in safe hands, circa Tomorrow.
The West Wing characters: President Josiah Bartlet “More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. Forty four people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran in to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.”
I would have chosen a shorter quote if I had been any less moved by the poeticism of that particular one. Though, there were an innumerable number of potential speeches that Jed’s delivered over the course of the show that could have been worthy contenders. From the moment the President first walks in, he is the leader. You can see it in the way that Bradley and Allison look at Martin in the scene, with utter admiration. No one could do for Bartlet, what Martin Sheen did. The compatibility of Sorkin’s writing and Martin’s delivery meant that every speech Bartlet ever gave, whether in front of a podium or not, was compelling, intelligent and perfectly cadent. Another particular favourite being that of The Midterms, directed at Dr Jenna Jacobs on the subject of homosexuality.
It wasn’t just as leader of the free world that Jed Bartlet shone. The complexity of his morality and his relationships was gripping. The complex relationships that Jed had with Leo, Charlie, his children, the First Lady, Josh, CJ, Toby and Sam was a central element of The West Wing to me. There was a curious balance of intimidation and friendly rapport. In Two Cathedrals, we see the President describe Josh Lyman as his son when talking to God following Mrs Landingham’s funeral, and it is not the only occasion when it is suggested that Jed sees his senior staff with the eyes of a father. It is impossible, at that point, to not feel what he feels. It is a sign of a truly great actor when no matter their flaws, the audience is feeling with the character. As an agnostic, as well, watching Jed’s relationship with God be explored was a focal point of the show. He was a character with an unavoidable awareness of the horrors of the world and yet he could still, at the end of it all, believe in God. For a show, or a character, to accomplish the ability to make viewers contemplate - to take in the profound topics that it explores, is so incredibly rare and so incredibly special.
Finally, as Will Arnett recently said, even dramatic characters should have catchphrases, and Jed’s is a pretty great one. I think it has echoed repeatedly through the seven years of The West Wing, but it was Jed Bartlet who first said the concluding words in the pilot episode. “What next?”
The West Wing characters: Joey Lucas (and Kenny!) “You say that these numbers mean dial it down. I say they mean dial it up. You haven’t gotten through. There are people you haven’t persuaded yet. These numbers mean dial it up. Otherwise you’re like the French radical, watching the crowd run by and saying, ‘There go my people. I must find out where they’re going so I can lead them.’“
From Take This Sabbath Day, Joey was feisty and funny and brilliant - most of which was recognised immediately by Josh (despite his sensitive system) and the President. When we were reunited with the character in 20 Hours in LA, I found myself willing Josh and Joey together despite Donna, which says a lot for the chemistry and talents of Marlee and Brad, to be honest. I think I could have quite happily settled in to the JL/JL pairing (that would have meant neither needed their towels re-sewn). I admire Joey a lot as a character; she’s fearless. I wish she had been a regular, because every time she came back, those were great episodes.
My favourite performance and scene featuring Joey is in The Fall’s Gonna Kill You, when Josh signs 'MS’ to her and asks her to come up with a way to poll the reaction to the President’s MS without having anyone realize the questions they’re answering. There’s a complexity to the way Marlee acts, and given that she is stripped of a huge part of the communication process, it’s unbelievable the fluidity of the scenes she’s in. Credit also must be given to Kenny. As well as intense emotional moments, Joey also has a hilarious banter with Josh (and some of the other characters too) as seen in episodes like The War at Home, 100,000 Airplanes and The Benign Prerogative (one of my favourite moments is the pregnancy reveal). There is also the tenderness of Mandatory Minimums, in which Josh reveals the story of his Joey Lucas suit (not his regular Tuesday suit).
She’s just a fantastic character, with a great rapport with the ensemble. You can tell that every time she returns, they’re like 'YAY JOEY’. And damn, the girl’s got sass! I mean, the women on this show are like a congregation of the biggest HBICs in all the land!
The West Wing characters: Leo McGarry “This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” As long as I got a job, you got a job, you understand?”
Firstly, I must pull myself together long enough to articulate my feelings about Leo Thomas McGarry. What a guy. I can’t imagine Leo played by any other person but John Spencer. He was the backbone of the show, managing the emotions of the President while keeping the staff in check, even in the most dramatic of circumstances. His relationships with the President, Josh and Margaret were my personal favourites, exploring the depths of John Spencer’s talents week in, week out. One of my favourite moments, within the very Leo-centric episode Bartlet For America, is when he very quietly utters “I love him so much” in reference to Jed. It just runs so deep, with Jed and Leo. Years of watching John and Martin play off each other so beautifully is the very reason that the Election Day scene in which CJ informs the President that Leo is dead is absolutely devastating.
I have managed to compartmentalize the show a little bit, so as to not be overwhelmed by melancholy when trying to appreciate Leo’s humorous moments. Whether it’s total crackpot day or Leo versus Lord John Marbury, he’s forever wonderful. There are so many dialogues I could pick to exemplify the reasons why Leo is my hero as much as Josh’s, but none more than the above quote. From talking about his alcohol addiction to Ainsley Hayes or Paris Gellar, or time after time proving his loyalty to President Bartlet, Leo is a pillar of strength - to everyone. I’m not astrological, but never have I been more proud to be a Leo than while watching McGarry do his thing. It always reminds me of the lion in The Wizard of Oz. I think of his walk down the yellow brick road as his path to sobriety, and his path to Jed Bartlet’s campaign. From that point, Leo is utterly filled with courage - to overcome the countless challenges laid before him.
He’s the best. And, so much of the greatness in the other characters through the series can be attributed to their having known him. Thanks, boss.
The West Wing characters: Josh Lyman ”Victory is mine! Victory is mine! I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land!”
It’s hard to nail down the moment that the White House deputy chief of staff secured my affections, but it was definitely early on in the pilot. Certainly the opening exchange between Donna and Josh over a cup of coffee was a significant scene as my opinions began to form. Donna immediately comes across as a trustworthy, good-hearted character so I think as the audience, you willingly trust her judgement when it comes to Josh. His response, to reassure and comfort her almost, is one of the earliest displays of Josh’s sweet side. This is played to perfectly counter-balance his charmingly arrogant humour seen frequently in his banter with Donna (in episodes like 17 People), as well as scenes with characters including Sam, Toby and CJ. The three boys in Shibboleth, for example, and even earlier as with the opening Josh scene of episode 2, Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (quote above).
I think Bradley always plays Josh with a depth of emotion that means his character is sympathetic. Early on, it is Noel that really shows Brad’s versatility as an actor as far as the scope of human emotion goes. I don’t think you can be a fully fledged West Wing fan if Josh hasn’t made you teary-eyed at least once! There’s this look of a lost little boy spread on Bradley’s face, in certain sadder moments of the show, that I find inexplicably poignant. That, sort of, open-mouthed ambiguously emotional look that I most memorably recall from NSF Thurmont and Election Day Part 2. I just feel like Bradley acts from a place deep inside himself, that allows the character to fulfill all of the incredible dialogue that Sorkin writes for him.
The West Wing characters: Margaret Hooper “Red meat has been found to cause cancer in white rats. Maraschino cherries have been found to cause cancer in white rats. Cellular phones have been found to cause cancer in white rats. Has anyone examined the possibility that cancer might be hereditary in white rats?”
Her name alone fills me with joy, as I hear the voice of John Spencer calling. The bond between Margaret and Leo is yet another element of The West Wing that I couldn’t bear to be without. While Donna and Josh explore the sexual tension approach to the boss-assistant relationship, Margaret and Leo serve as an offbeat, comic relief even in some of the show’s darkest hours. Namely, in the aftermath of the Rosslyn shooting when Margaret offers her services in the form of forgery and a coup d’etat. Even when Leo’s not getting frustrated by Margaret or, often as the case may be, vice versa, there is a perfectly compelling bond between the two of them, with as much loyalty as you’ll find anywhere within the show. It’s a perfectly formed relationship, without falsehood or miscommunication. I feel that both characters have an enormous amount of love for one another, and that bond of mutual respect translates to the screen.
While we never got to know too much about Margaret outside of the White House, although I like to think she had a slightly Benedick/Beatrice romance during Bartlet’s presidency that she kept under wraps, I think she always came to the table as a fully-formed character. She was a formidable force. I think that it’s impressive, that Sorkin could have created so many characters on the assistant level that were just as brilliantly crafted as the senior staff. In my mind, Margaret would have been the only person for the assistant position to Josh under Santos’ government. I like to think that’s what happened, anyway. Quirky, with brilliant comedic timing, NiCole Robinson shined so bright every time she was on screen and I whole-heartedly adore her and the character she brought life to. There could never have been enough Margaret moments, many of which made me confuse this show for a gosh darn comedy!
The West Wing characters: Ainsley Hayes “It’s humiliating. A new amendment we vote on declaring that I am equal under the law to a man, I am mortified to discover there’s reason to believe I wasn’t before. I am a citizen of this country, I am not a special subset in need of your protection. I do not have to have my rights handed down to me by a bunch of old, white, men. The same Article 14 that protects you, protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure.”
Of all the non-regulars, I think Ainsley must be just about the cream of the crop. Everybody loves Ainsley, no? For a character with barely more than ten episodes in the entire series, Ainsley Hayes certainly made her mark in this White House. The Republican among Democrats, the woman among men, Ainsley was the flaxen-haired, feisty Southerner who provided a welcome conflict in the healthy staff discussions, of which there were plenty.
Of all the female characters within the show, while Donna and CJ were feminist forces characteristically, Ainsley was the most direct in her empowerment of the sisterhood. In 17 People we see her render Sam speechless over the equal rights amendment, to which she is opposed. My favourite moment, however, is in response to what we might now regard as “slut shaming”. When one of the staffers, Celia, suggests that Ainsley willingly lets her sexuality diminish her power, Ainsley confronts Celia with lipstick feminism. She argues that “nonsense issues distract attention away from real issues”, undermining honest-to-God sexual harassment, and that it is perfectly acceptable that she enjoys being teased by the boys, and being “on the team”. She is such a force, with such autonomy and confidence, that I can’t do anything but adore her.
While I don’t agree with all of her politics, Ainsley had such an enjoyable energy that I loved every second of her on-screen. I only wish that we could have seen her relationships with characters including Sam, Donna, Leo and Josh develop a little more. She provided such an interesting, alternative angle in a lot of the discussions; it would have been wonderful to see more of that!