Okay, here we go. Five Christmas episodes in five days, in order, starting with:
In Excelsis Deo (Ep. 1:10)
Written by: Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland
Directed by: Alex Graves
Episode Description (from NBC):
As Christmas Eve approaches, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) eagerly sneaks out of the White House for some last-minute Christmas shopping, while a haunted Toby (Richard Schiff) learns more about a forgotten Korean War hero who died alone on the district's cold streets wearing a coat that Toby once donated to charity. In other hushed corridors, Sam (Rob Lowe) and Josh (Bradley Whitford) ignore Leo's (John Spencer) advice and consult Sam's call girl friend (Lisa Edelstein) concerning her confidential clientele when one political rival hints at exposing Leo's previous drug problem. C.J. (Allison Janney) wonders aloud about the President's public response to a notorious hate crime while her personal resolve weakens as a persistent reporter (Timothy Busfield) continues to ask her out.
I love this episode for many, many reasons...
I have a confession to make: I was not always a Toby fan. It's hard for me to explain why, I just didn't feel a connection with his character. It's not that I didn't like him at all, I was just indifferent to him for a long time. Then one day about six months ago I was bored and decided to rewatch 17 People for about the hundreth time. I think I was so focused on the Josh-and-Donna-ness of that episode that I never paid much attention to Toby. But for some reason during that particular viewing I really saw Richard Schiff's performance, you know what I mean? He is truly amazing. From that moment on Toby became one of my favorite characters. In Excelsis Deo is yet another episode where Richard Schiff truly shines. He definitely deserved his Emmy. The whole Korean war veteran storyline is so touching...I always get a bit emotional during The Little Drummer Boy montage. I also love how uncomfortable Toby is while he's talking to the homeless vet's brother: "You don't know me, but I'm an in-- I'm an influential person. I'm a very powerful person." You know he did not want to have to say those words...he's not the kind of guy who likes to throw his position in other people's faces.
2. Josh & Sam visit Laurie
This was really, really an awful thing for Josh and Sam to do. And, yet, you also kind of love them for being so loyal and wanting to protect Leo in any way they can. I felt sorry for Laurie when she opens the door for Sam and sees Josh standing there, and she just has that look like "Nothing good can come of this." Lisa Edelstein was great during this story arc. I think Josh's apology at the end is so...Josh-like. It's another thing that's hard for me to explain. He's acting so self-righteous and rude to Laurie, and then all of a sudden he just deflates...like a switch is flipped and he realizes what an ass he's being and what a stupid idea this was and he's feels terrible about it. I love how Lisa Edelstein delivered this line: "You're the good guys. You should act like it."
3. CJ & Danny
Not much to say here, other than: How awesome is the chemistry between Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield? I can't believe I'm admitting this, but they really do rival Brad and Janel in a lot of ways. Also, I cannot believe CJ actually made a list. Okay, no, I can because it is a very CJ thing to do. Hilarious!
4. Lowell Lydell
We, of course, continue this story in Take Out The Trash Day, but this is the introduction of the hate crimes storyline. When the reporter asks if the White House will revisit hate crimes legislation, CJ responds with "Yes, I do. Though I suppose the best time to do that was the day before Lowell Lydell got his brain beaten out and not the day after. Who's next?"
5. Josh & Donna
What? You thought I was going to forget about them? Not likely. I love that Donna has a list of ski-related items that Josh is obviously not going to purchase for her. And I honestly believe Donna didn't really expect him to buy her any of those things...she was just having a little fun with him. This is the first time we see, in my opinion, that there might be something else to Josh and Donna's relationship besides being boss/assistant. It's not anything overt, like "Oh yeah, they totally have the hots for each other!" That's not it at all...you can just tell Josh thinks of Donna as a really good friend. He could have gotten her a gift card or something. Instead, he found a book (an antique book = pricey) that is related to her interests (skiing...which means, yes, he was listening to her when she was yammering on earlier in the day), and he took the time to write an inscription that was obviously very sweet (Why else would Donna have gotten so emotional?). Anyway, I love them. They love each other. Everyone lives happily ever after.
6. I almost forgot! Mandy.
Yes, you read that correctly. I've never disliked Mandy, she just didn't mesh well with the rest of the cast. This was one of those episodes where you could tell Aaron didn't really have anything to give Moira Kelly to do. It's really too bad, because Moira is a fantastic actress (If you haven't seen Chaplin, go rent it!). What I liked about Mandy in this ep is how she is so focused on making the White House perfect for Christmas that she's starting to go a bit overboard:
MANDY: This might seem trivial under the circumstances.
MANDY: The Santa hats do clash with the Dickensian costumes.
TOBY: It might seem trivial?
MANDY: Just keeping you in the loop.
Well, I'll be back sometime tomorrow night with my favorite Christmas episode of all time, Noel!