Rewatching The West Wing

As I mentioned a while back, I’ve been rewatching The West Wing. I started over the summer and finished last week. Some of it I’ve seen a lot—I think I can probably recite most of Season 2 from memory—some of it I’ve only watched once. Actually, I think either my memory is shoddy or there are entire episodes in Seasons 6 and 7 I never saw in the first place. Honestly, I think it’s my memory being shoddy, but still…

There’s an upside to this. Because I didn’t watch those later seasons obsessively (and yes, it’s true, the reason I didn’t obsess over them is because they weren’t as good) is that I get to experience them almost like they’re new. And it’s been a long time since I saw new West Wing episodes.

First, I have to note, that while compared to the first four seasons, the last three seasons are not as good, they are still much better than most shows on television currently. There are actually a lot of awesome things about these seasons, Season 7 in particular. It has: Josh and Donna’s first kiss (seven years in the making), Josh and Donna having sex for the first time, that moment where they go on vacation together… (no, I make no apologies for my Josh/Donna shipperiness). Then there’s also CJ and Danny finally getting together. The live debate episode (though I recommend you don’t ever watch that episode in close proximity to watching an actual presidential debate. It will leave you so disappointed).

Also, a couple of awesome guest stars. Jon Bon Jovi is at the top of my list as far as guest stars are concerned on account of him being Jon Bon Jovi. When Emily Proctor made a guest appearance as Ainsley Hayes, one of my first reactions was, “Wait, she could take a break from CSI Miami, but he can’t take a couple days off from The Lions Den to guest on the show that made him a serious actor again? Then he was in the next episode. Clearly, I should not be so judgey.

Altogether, rewatching The West Wing is almost as good as watching The West Wing for the first time. Highly recommended.

My New Thanksgiving Tradition

Being a single person on Thanksgiving is a little strange. It’s a holiday that kind of needs to be celebrated in groups. Before you think I’m being poor me, I want to make it clear that I did have a group of people to eat dinner with Thursday. It wasn’t the best Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had, but it was fine. And there was amazing baked Alaska, so I’m not going to complain.

But I’m a folklorist, so I’m big into traditions. And not having a family around (and, to be honest, my family doesn’t really having any big Thanksgiving traditions) it’s up to me to create my own. With nowhere better to start, I decided to start by watching Thanksgiving episodes of televisions shows. Given the television shows I have, it’s a short list since science fiction shows tend to not have Thanksgiving episodes. Hell, most shows tend not to have Thanksgiving episodes.

There is, of course, the phenomenal West Wing episode “Shibboleth.” This episode features some amazing Thanksgiving funny including CJ Cregg dealing with turkey pardoning and Sam Seaborn developing an action adventure series called Pilgrim Detectives (“By day they churn butter and worship according to their own beliefs, and by night, they solve crimes!”). No really, if you haven’t seen this episode, you need to. Because what I always forget about that episode is that amidst all the funny, it packs a serious emotional punch. It also has Toby Ziegler explaining exactly why preventing organized prayer in school is so important and a heart rending case of refugees seeking asylum. It had me in tears. Twice.

West Wing also gives us “The Indians in the Lobby” from Season 3 (which I really thought was called “The Butterball Hotline” until yesterday). It’s good, but not nearly as good. I remember being really disappointed when it originally aired because the previews looked so much funnier than the actual episode was. If you remove expectations though, it’s a totally fine way to spend 45 minutes or so of your Thanksgiving Day.

My final Thanksgiving episode was from The Class. Do you remember The Class? I’d be impressed if you did. It was a short lived sitcom on CBS around 2005 or 2006. I’m not generally huge into sitcoms, but this one had a charming premise, a fantastic cast, and fun banter. The fact that Two and a Half Men got the ratings to survive that year and this show didn’t, sort of epitomizes everything that’s wrong with America. Anyway, in its lone season the show had an episode titled “The Class Gives Thanks.” It’s a fairly typical episode of the show, with multiple subplots all surrounding the Thanksgiving theme. High school sweethearts Duncan and Nicole share an awkward dinner with her retired football player husband. Kyle brings his partner to his ex-girlfriend’s house for dinner where lots of wackiness surrounds her obviously closeted husband and father. And Richie begs Lena to take him back while her twin sister Kat threatens to spray Pam in his eyes. I’m not doing it justice, but you should totally YouTube it.

All in all I like my new Thanksgiving tradition. It’s certainly better than watching football. What about you, not-so-gentle readers? Any favorite Thanksgiving themed viewing choices?

This Coffee is off the Record

As previously mentioned, I’ve been mainlining The West Wing while cooking or cleaning or doing mindless work. In trying to come up with someone for a “Coffee with” I thought, “Hey, what about President Bartlett?” Then I thought, “Wait, I think Cammy may have done him already.” So I checked. No, Cammy didn’t select Jed Bartlett for coffee, I did. Yeah, my memory’s crap. This led to me thinking who else from the show I would drink coffee with, and that led me to…

Would we drink coffee with C.J. Cregg?

Kristy: Most definitely. I shamelessly confess she was one of my favorite characters on the show, so how could I pass up the chance? She’s smart, she’s articulate, and she knows how to bring the funny. My only minor concern is that all those years as press secretary may have made her overly evasive on some topics–I doubt we’ll get any great dishy stories about her time in the White House. In my silly little fangirl fantasy world I also want to have coffee with her to get a few updates: Are she and Danny still together? That baby mentioned in S7Ep1, biological or adopted? What’s the rest of the gang up to? I suspect that while the conversation might begin over coffee, we might wind up migrating to the bar across the way. We saw her get boozy with the first lady and request her assistant find her some Cuervo 1800–you know this woman likes to knock a few back.

Cammy: Not even a question in my mind. Of course I’d have coffee with C.J. And I do believe I agree with Kristy on the booze migration. While CJ was definitely smart and articulate, she was not so scary-smart or overly articulate as to be intimidating, so the odds of actually being able to converse with her go way up. I don’t really want dishy stories on the White House, I’ll take the fan-girl updates (has SHE heard anything from Ainsley? And what mysterious abyss did they push Mandy into?), but really, I just want to hang out and people watch. C.J. is her own special kind of wacky and with the kind of crew that frequents the Spacial Anomaly, there will be no end of fodder for her to comment on (and possibly have her own fangirl squee moments over).

The Election I want to Vote in

So another election cycle is over and we’re still not going to talk about American politics. Except very briefly to say how annoying they are. Real American politics pales in comparison to fictional American politics.

What am I talking about?

Well since this summer I’ve been rewatching The West Wing. In case you’re unaware, it rocks. And yes, it went downhill after season 4, but even then it was so much better than most of what’s on television now. I made a horrible miscalculation though. I’m currently in the midst of season 7. This means I’ve been watching the season about a presidential election while living through a real presidential election. It means that a week after watching the final presidential debate, I watched the Santos/Vinnick debate.

Man. That was stupid.

Contemporary American politics is annoying enough without comparing it to how good it could be. Imagine a presidential election in which the worst possible choice was Vinnick or Santos (depending on your political leanings). Imagine candidates who were ethical enough to run clean campaigns. Candidates who were straightforward enough to cut through the stupid rhetoric and speak to us like we were intelligent adults. Candidates who were themselves intelligent enough to have a spontaneous debate with no rules and moderation.

Yeah… I don’t see that happening either. But it would be easier to accept that I’ll never see that happen if I hadn’t watched it happen in a fictional universe. Seriously.

Bartlett 2016!

Presidential Coffee

I couldn’t think of anyone to have coffee with off the top of my head today, so went with my standard brainstorming strategy of checking Wikipedia’s “born on this day” list and learned today was the birthday of this historic Josiah Bartlett, signer of the US Declaration of Independence.  I’ll be honest, I know nothing about him except what I’ve already written.  But that did make me think of another Josiah Bartlett that would be perfect for this feature.

Would we drink coffee with President Josiah Bartlett from The West Wing?

Kristy:  Yes.  And it doesn’t even have anything to do with his political views (though he and I are fairly well aligned in that department).  I want to have coffee with him because he’s a big ol’ nerd.  Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, speaks five languages, and makes frequent historical and literary references?  Yes, please!  You just know the man could keep up with just about any conversation topic you threw at him.  Also he’s a storyteller, which means that coffee with him is bound to include fantastic tales of a fictional White House, meetings with world leaders, and the Bartlett family.  Finally, but possibly most importantly, the man knows how to bring the funny.  And you know I love the funny.

Cammy:  Sure why not?  First off, we haven’t had coffee with anyone fictional in a while, so that’s a nice change.  Second, I don’t think I’ll have to say much.  Pretty sure he can get going on a lecture and run with it.  While I don’t align with him politically, neither did Ainsley Hayes and she seemed okay with him.  He’s more than just a story teller, the man is a walkin’ book of fun facts.  Like Wikipedia on legs–and who doesn’t love Wikipedia?!?!?  Sure, I may feel stupid for the majority of the get together, but I’ll probably walk away with some serious fodder for my next dinner party.  And, as Kristy said, with this guy, you know at least some of it will be funny.

Things that make you go MEEP!

I like to pretend that I’m all unconventional and don’t get sucked in by the same trite things that suck other people in.  But at the end of the day, watching television, I’m as much a sucker for a good shipper worthy couple as the next fangirl.  I get all mushy over those big romantic scenes, just like everyone else.  Yes, I’m a cliché.

But there’s something a little more nebulous that I might love even more.  It’s those lines that are textually speaking not romantic at all, but in the right context, with the right actors and the right director just become pure shipper gold.  Here are my top three examples (in no particular order):

1.        “I’m thinking about getting a car.”  Shawn to Juliet, Psych Okay, so this one did happen in the middle of a big romantic scene.  But to anyone who’s ever watched the show, it never would have worked to have Shawn pouring out his feelings like a typical romantic lead.  Just wouldn’t have felt forced and awkward and deflated everything that made Shawn and Jules Shawn and Jules.  Instead we got Shawn talking about how much he loved his motorcycle, followed by this revelation about how spending time with Juliet had changed his priorities.  And fangirls all over went *Sigh*

2.       “I want you to have Morocco.”  Ethan to Kat, The Class.  I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that most of our readers have never heard of this short lived series.  Which is sad, because it was awesome.  The fact that Two and a Half Men evidently got better ratings than this show sort of encapsulates everything wrong with America for me.  Assuming you don’t have the time to track down the whole series on the interwebs so you can watch and realize why this line still makes me a little gushy:  Ethan and Kat were that couple that was clearly meant for each other and wouldn’t have figured that out until season three, shortly after which things would have gone stupidly wrong only to have them reunite just before the final episode.  Sadly the show ended on a season 1 cliffhanger so all we ever got was Ethan and Kat denying their feelings for each other and being bffs while each dated other people.  Kat (played by the delightful Lizzie Caplan) was a head case and a half who had just explained to Ethan that she had to dump her current boyfriend because he was talking about taking a trip to Morocco together in three months.  Kat explained to Ethan that as much as she wanted to go on that trip, she knew it would never last that long.  “Just because you want Morocco doesn’t mean you get Morocco.”  And that’s when Ethan gave her a pep talk which closed with this line.  Letting us all know exactly how much he wanted her to be happy.  Even if it wasn’t with him.  Aw!

3.       “If you were in an accident I wouldn’t stop for red lights.”  Donna to Josh, The West Wing Seriously, we got this beautiful moment in season 2 and it took these two till season 7 to work their shit out.  Seriously!  I have to confess I’m not sure I believe Donna stops for red lights on a regular basis anyway, but still… this moment was magic.  One of those times where two people make it so obvious that they totally love each other without a single real affectionate comment or discussing feelings at all.  Thank you Aaron Sorkin.  I still gratuitously rewind this one.

Bring me the Funny!

Today we explore an important, commonly used phrase in the My TV, My Peanut Butter lexicon:

“To bring the funny” (verb phrase)

Definition:  To amuse us.  To include humor.  To entertain.

Etymology:  While I cannot say with any degree of certainty that this was the origin of the phrase in general, the phrase was first introduced to Kristy and Cammy through The West Wing episode “Seventeen People.”  Incidentally, this was the episode I used to convince Cammy that she did, in fact, love The West Wing and that she wanted to continue watching it obsessively with me (Ainsley Hayes was my secret weapon).  In this episode the phrase is used as a critique of a speech written for the White House Correspondents’ dinner which was apparently less than entertaining.  The writers “forgot to bring the funny” and one of the plots of the episode is a large portion of the cast attempting to “find the funny” in order to make the speech successful.

Cammy and I frequently use this as a critique of television episodes (or fanfics.  Don’t judge) that fail to amuse us the way we want to.  Such episodes “forget to bring the funny” or “don’t bring the funny.”  When West Wing kinda sucked for a couple seasons, it was largely because it forgot to bring the funny.  Incidentally, the phrase “the funny” can occasionally be used as a stand alone phrase to mean “that which makes something amusing.”  My good buddy Russell once insisted that a missing nuclear submarine qualified as “the funny” but I’m still less than convinced.

A particular character may be praised for “bringing the funny.”  Cammy likes her almost namesake on Bones because “she brings the funny.”

It is important to understand that neither Cammy nor I tend to watch comedies.  I would never say “How I Met Your Mother brings the funny.”  It would not be incorrect so much as unidiomatic.  “Bringing the funny” is something that happens mostly in otherwise serious situations; it is a technique for creating levity which helps us process and cope with said situations.  The aforementioned West Wing episode is a great example.  The major plotline of the episode is heavy and ominous, but it is balanced by “the funny” of the speech writing and Ainsley/Sam, Josh/Donna banter.  (I’m being deliberately vague since one of our five readers has just finished West Wing Season 1 and I don’t want to spoil the brilliance of this episode).

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that if you want My TV, My Peanut Butter to enjoy something, it definitely helps to bring the funny.  And if we are able to bring the funny, even a little bit, here on our little blog, well that makes us extremely happy.