I am not one of the Lucky Ones (or so I've deemed them) who realized the amazingness of The West Wing from the very first episode and have been fans since the beginning. While the first episode I ever saw was, in fact, the pilot on its Wednesday night series premiere way back in 1999, my deep appreciation for the show came much later. I remember watching NBC during the summer of '99 and seeing promos for The West Wing like every 5 seconds...they sort of made it seem like Rob Lowe was the lead, at least from what I remember (thank God that turned out to be inaccurate...not that I have a problem with Rob Lowe, because I don't). At the time I had a passing interest in politics and government (this interest has since developed into a mild obsession) plus Rob was totally hot, so I figured I'd check out the pilot.
That was nine (!) years ago and my memory isn't perfect, but I do remember liking the first episode quite a bit. It was different from most one hour dramas, but apparently it wasn't enough to hook me because I didn't watch another episode until five years later. The only thing that really stuck with me was that Rob's character accidentally slept with a prostitute. Oh, and Martin Sheen was the president. Other than that, I didn't remember a thing. The fact that it took me so long to watch the show again had nothing at all to do with the show's quality...it was entirely due to the fact that I was little busy with things like -- let's see -- college, studying, friends, extracurricular activities, and crazy-now-ex-boyfriends. I just honestly didn't have the time in my schedule for another television show. I'm sorry, West Wing, I didn't mean to ignore you for so long!
Fast forward to the fall of 2004. I've graduated from college and have been working full-time for a while. So one night, I'm flipping through channels trying to find something worth watching and I end up on Bravo. You guys remember West Wing Marathon Mondays on Bravo, right? Yeah, thought so. I didn't know what I was watching at first. The episode just happened to be Manchester Part I, and Manchester is one of those flashback episodes where only some of the scenes are set inside the White House so it took me a few minutes to figure out I was watching The West Wing. When I finally realized it, I thought, "Okay, lots of people talk about how great this series is, I'll give it a chance."
Then, the most amazing thing happened, the thing that took me from just a casual viewer to a fully-invested fan: Josh and Donna came on screen. Now, I need to preface this by saying that I love television shows with substance -- shows that deal with timely issues and important topics, shows with great writing and strong characters -- but I am also a romantic at heart. I'm a sucker for a love story. Josh and Donna were bantering back-and-forth and acting, well, couple-y, at least it seemed that way to an almost West Wing virgin like myself. And somewhere, waaaay back in the recesses of my mind, a memory started to surface...I started remembering bits and pieces of that very first episode of The West Wing, the first and only episode I has ever seen until that moment. And what I remembered was that there was a guy named Josh, who almost gets fired in the pilot, and he had a cute, perky, blonde assistant named Donna. "Wait," I think, "Are those two together now?!" And, honestly, can you really blame me for thinking that with dialogue like this? --
DONNA: What's Mifepristone?
JOSH: A pill that'll abort a pregnancy up to 49 days.
DONNA: Mifepristone is RU-486?
DONNA: And the FDA's approving it?
JOSH: I think you're thinking that, somehow, this pill means more sex for you.
Okay, If you had never seen an episode before, wouldn't you think he was talking about more sex for her with him? And even if you didn't think that, isn't it kind of unusual for someone to talk so freely about his subordinate's sex life unless they are very close?
Then there is the following scene. I'm trying to remember correctly (and like I said, it's been a long time and my memory is fuzzy), but I think the scene in the bar is actually the first Josh and Donna scene I ever saw:
JOSH: I said to you, I said this. I said, "Do you want food?"
JOSH: And you said, "No, I don't want any food."
JOSH: And now you're eating my food!
DONNA: I kind of think you'd have learned that by now.
JOSH: Are you eating the rest of the sandwich?
DONNA: Are you?
(Josh takes a big bite of his sandwich)
Isn't that cute? She eats his food! Also, the part where Connie asks if the kitchen is still open and Donna offers her Josh's potato salad: "I'm not eating this potato salad." "I'm eating it!" Awww. So cute.
It was like, even though there wasn't really anything romantic between them, there was still something between them. Does that make sense? I loved that. Sorkin did a great job writing Josh and Donna, and Brad and Janel did a fantastic job interpreting Sorkin's words.
Every scene and every character is great, though, not just Josh and Donna. In Manchester, as with all the episodes, there is just so much going on...all of which is vital to the ongoing story arc. CJ is stressed out over the gaffe she made, Toby isn't working well with Bruno and Doug, Sam is having a personal problem with the fact that the President hasn't apologized for the MS secret, and Abbey and Jed's marriage is on the rocks. All of those things, and all the things that happened in subsequent episodes, contributed to my current (and incurable) addiction to The West Wing.
It was actually really fun to start watching in the middle of the series. I had to put the pieces together like a puzzle to figure out what had happened in previous seasons and to learn all the characters' backstories. I think solving those mysteries and gathering all those bits of information made me even more appreciative of the series. And the cool thing is, even today, four years later, I'm still finding new things to love about The West Wing!
Oh, and thanks so much to Political Affairs for the Josh/Donna quotes!