Mr. Vice President, is there something you know that I don't know?
May 20, 2014 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Seventeen People. A modest tribute to—and deconstruction of—my favorite hour of television.
posted by Cash4Lead (35 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh. Now I'm gonna have to rewatch all of The West Wing again, aren't I?

Maybe just the Toby compilations on YouTube, anyway.
posted by cthuljew at 6:15 PM on May 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


There's already been one West Wing thread in the past week -- I'm not sure I can afford to lose another night to watching hours of West Wing clips on YouTube.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:16 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


It turns out I can watch the first 4 seasons of The West Wing on loop. Forever. Sigh, off to Netflix with me.
posted by Skorgu at 6:30 PM on May 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is my favorite West Wing episode. Toby bouncing his ball, and being righteously outraged. I don't know why Toby's righteous outrage is always so vicariously satisfying to me, but it is.

"I'd bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that it was Leo. Who NO ONE ELECTED."
posted by gerstle at 6:39 PM on May 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


"For ninety minutes that night there was a coup d'etat in this country!"

Toby's finest moment.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 6:49 PM on May 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Here's the pivotal scene (spoilers abound if you aren't already familiar with The West Wing, though.)
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 6:58 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.= PERFECTION
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:06 PM on May 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


A modest tribute to…

Such blatantly false modesty is unbecoming. This is fantastic.
posted by Zozo at 7:24 PM on May 20, 2014


If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.= PERFECTION

The whole entire reason I haven't gotten married yet is because I haven't met a person who's said that to me.
posted by kerning at 8:02 PM on May 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


This just showed up on Canadian Netflix and I think I've only ever seen the first three seasons. I wasn't crazy about some of the directions the show was going in, but it's probably worth watching at least the next one.
posted by ODiV at 8:28 PM on May 20, 2014


I'll agree with the general consensus that the show went down hill after that point - but damn if it isn't still worth watching right to the end.
posted by Jimbob at 8:43 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


During my planning, I ran into a problem: This episode is chronologically impossible. “17 People” aired on April 4th, 2001, so I’m inclined to set its events no-later-than-that-week. This is bolstered by the fact that 2001’s WHCD didn’t happen until 4/28 (good), and Donna confirms that it’s currently April (good). Which means that “The Stackhouse Filibuster” had to be on a Friday six-days-earlier (3/30). Unfortunately, Josh’s crush on Mike Piazza complicates this, because the Mets weren’t in Port St. Lucie on the weekend of March 31–April 1. So either Josh was lying to C.J. to get out of working late, or the Mets did an unscheduled stay in Florida instead of training in Pittsburgh.
The author seems to be aware that the West Wing universe is different from our own in ways that are slightly more consequential than a baseball training schedule. I'm not sure why he's getting hung up on this - perhaps he is privy to the secret knowledge that across the splendid multiverse, the one constant and inviolable thread is the continuing tragedy of the New York Mets.
posted by zamboni at 9:03 PM on May 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


I just watched this episode last night - is the West Wing on Netflix new, and is that why so many people are watching it right now?

This really is as good as the show ever got. Righteous Toby is so much better than cynical centrist Toby. And it's one of the episodes that's really willing to face the idea that Bartlett is, deep down, a real asshole.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is probably my favourite episode of the show, and absolutely the turning point of the series (how the public reacted to Bartlet's hiding his MS was always less germane to the development of the characters and the series than how his staff reacted and dealt with it going forward).

One thing always bugged me though. In the climatic scene where Toby is eviscerating the President for his carelessness, his main point is totally wrong. If there were a signed letter in a cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment, and someone asked why it was there, the answer would naturally be "because the President might randomly get shot." It wouldn't raise suspicion that Bartlet was hiding something.

The confusion over who was in charge when Bartlet was shot was the result of the flaw in how the 25th Amendment is written (not handing over power to the VP unless the President says so explicitly or dies) and would have played out exactly the same way if the President was, aside from his gunshot wound, in perfect health. Yes he could have signed a letter before being put under anesthetic, but again, nothing to do with hiding his MS.

Toby is right to lecture the President, and that there was effectively a coup d'état. But it had nothing to do with Bartlet concealing the true nature of his health. Always kinda takes the air out of that scene for me.

Well I talked about that for a long time.
posted by dry white toast at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


I've watched the whole series on DVD like five or six time end to end. I hear that little drum cadence, and I figure I know what i am doing for the next five days.

My daughter's guinea pigs were named Josh Lyman, Sam Seaborn, and Toby Ziegler. That's how twisted this family is about this show.

I once sat in on a focus group with Frank Luntz, about the beginning of the fourth season, on how to make it better. I said he should make Will Bailey a bigger character. He wrote it down, and called it into the producers while I was in the room.

In the end with the guinea pigs, in all truth?

Sam Seaborn died a natural death.

Toby Ziegler apparently ass raped Josh Lyman to death one night.

And Toby Ziegler died about two weeks ago. I swear he turned around and looked at me twice with a scowl before he passed.
posted by timsteil at 9:30 PM on May 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


Your guinea pigs clearly don't read West Wing slash. They have that pairing totally wrong.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:11 PM on May 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Great tribute. Interesting that it doesn't note one of the most important, but least obvious, reasons why this works: it's a bottle episode. They had spent a lot of money on location shooting for In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, plus the regular cost overruns due to Sorkin blowing deadlines, so the budget came up a bit short. This was an opportunity to write an episode using only existing sets (and costumes, for that matter).

Which meant that Aaron Sorkin, who started as and still sometimes fancies himself, a playwright, wrote a play set in the West Wing universe. Excellent.

[I]t's one of the episodes that's really willing to face the idea that Bartlett is, deep down, a real asshole.

I rewatch this series every few years. What is totally, and absolutely clear to me having done so, is that Jed Bartlet is an arrogant prick. He is surly, prickly, full of himself, and an unremitting asshole. None of these are incompatible with the fact that he wants what's best and equitable for just about everyone. But boy, Abby should have smacked him across the face many, many, many more times.

Still love the character, though. Would vote for him every day and twice on Tuesdays.
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:29 PM on May 20, 2014 [13 favorites]


This is just beautiful, great stuff. Thanks. And, yes, Bartlet is, deep down, a real asshole. I got pulled into rewatching and in the first season so far I've really noticed how much Bartlet bullies his staff. The banter is clever and fun but Josh was exhausted at 2 am and Jed keeps him up lecturing about the national parks, just basically showing off and torturing Josh. He and Leo punish Sam unmercifully with that stupid birthday message just to teach Mallory some lesson about not being so hard on Leo while Jed himself is saying completely vicious things to Leo because Leo's wife has left him due to the fact that Leo was giving everything to supporting Jed. I kinda let all this slide the first few times I watched. I'm glad it's this rich and layered and I can go back and see this dark underbelly now. I'll probably always be up for a rehash of TWW. I'm not looking forward to what happens to Toby. He's one of my favorite characters.
posted by Anitanola at 1:46 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


One thing always bugged me though. In the climatic scene where Toby is eviscerating the President for his carelessness, his main point is totally wrong. If there were a signed letter in a cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment, and someone asked why it was there, the answer would naturally be "because the President might randomly get shot." It wouldn't raise suspicion that Bartlet was hiding something.


mmmm... but then why isn't this standard or even mandatory procedure?
posted by Bwithh at 2:56 AM on May 21, 2014


One thing always bugged me though. In the climatic scene where Toby is eviscerating the President for his carelessness, his main point is totally wrong. If there were a signed letter in a cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment, and someone asked why it was there, the answer would naturally be "because the President might randomly get shot." It wouldn't raise suspicion that Bartlet was hiding something.

The issue when the President gets shot is that everyone knows the President has been shot. There is still confusion in the few minutes after he's shot before the Vice President is brought on-line, but after that, the Cabinet can be consulted and the appropriate action taken in full view of the public. That's what the 25th Amendment is for -- it's a pre-prepared contingency plan for that situation.

But when the President has a secret wasting disease, then you need to plan for a situation where he is incapable of being President without tipping off the world that you're planning it. Hence the letter.
posted by Etrigan at 4:29 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


It turns out I can watch the first 4 seasons of The West Wing on loop. Forever.

My father has been doing this exact thing for, oh, five years now? Probably more. Every night. Starts with episode one, goes all the way through The Ascension of Jimmy Smits, then back to the beginning. Every night. For years.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:33 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


And it's one of the episodes that's really willing to face the idea that Bartlett is, deep down, a real asshole.

A friend of mine once pointed out — correctly, in my estimation — that Toby Ziegler is the only actually principled and progressive Type B in a group otherwise composed entirely of mercenary, self-serving — although noble — Type As. The highlighting of this contrast made Toby much more fun to watch on following run-throughs.
posted by cthuljew at 5:40 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


Seems like the whole (internet) world collectively has Bartlet on the brain today, because AV Club (who already have done analyses of the first 4 seasons) published this today.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 5:46 AM on May 21, 2014


My father has been doing this exact thing for, oh, five years now? Probably more. Every night.

middleclasstool..... I am your father.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:24 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd say, often. In fact, my big kick to actually see it through was when I demo'd a rough mockup to my friend over coffee. "Y'know, people are going to think you're insane," he gently offered. Never have I felt so instantly affirmed or recharged.

From an interesting Vox interview .
posted by shothotbot at 6:34 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've never seen The West Wing because I think it would just make me sad and angry, as a person whose political awareness began around 2000. I feel like it'd be similar to watching a home decorating show while homeless.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


It is actually a little depressing sometimes to watch it and remember how small some of the problems were that people were arguing over in those days.

My favorite is the episode where the characters talk about how utterly ludicrous it is that we still think we need to have a military equipped to fight two major land wars simultaneously. Ha! How ridiculous! ...... And then I beat my head against the wall for a while.
posted by gerstle at 8:16 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


how utterly ludicrous it is that we still think we need to have a military equipped to fight two major land wars simultaneously. Ha! How ridiculous!

Referring, of course, to Cold War doctrine that set up the US military to re-fight World War II if necessary. Putting aside the necessity of that, circa 2000, this was transparently out-of-date. Even when the US was involved in two wars, they were hardly the scale or the difficulty level of WWII.

To your broader, and main point: it is totally quaint what people sometimes worried about back then. The major plot point of the end of season three is whether the president might consider the moral swamp of assassinating one non-US national involved with terrorism. One. *bitter, bitter laughter*
posted by aureliobuendia at 9:56 AM on May 21, 2014


I skipped to the end, and it turns out that the person who wrote this, and explicitly wants you to watch it, didn't bother to give the season and episode number for it. Thanks a bunch, Mr. More People Should Like the Things I Like.
posted by Flexagon at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


This site is beautifully designed and illustrated, but as someone who already loves this episode I don't really understand what it's supposed to be doing.

It can't be a persuasion piece, something to get people to watch the show, because it references characters as though the reader already knows who they are. It isn't an analysis of the show's technique or storytelling (except, perhaps, at the most ephemeral level). It gives us a bunch of infographics that confuse rather than edify. It's obsessed with the most trivial of details. It tells me what the episode is about, but almost nothing about how the episode is about it.

What I love about "Seventeen People" is that it kicks off an arc of roughly ten awesome episodes. The arc deals with a genuinely meaty question (to what extent is it wrong for a president, or presidential candidate, to conceal a disease he has from the electorate?) and is full of really tense conversations, half of which feature Oliver Platt.

For me, Sorkin is a bit too cute when he tries to write comedy, but when two characters need to yell at one another for ten minutes, he's the only guy I want writing that scene. The West Wing contains his best dramatic work, I suspect because it's easy to write drama about high-stakes environments like the presidency. (When Studio 60 tried to inject a Tom's-brother-is-serving-in-Afghanistan sub-plot I could practically hear Sorkin admitting that he had run out of ideas for how to make dramatic situations inside of a comedy show setting.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


how utterly ludicrous it is that we still think we need to have a military equipped to fight two major land wars simultaneously. Ha! How ridiculous!

Referring, of course, to Cold War doctrine that set up the US military to re-fight World War II if necessary. Putting aside the necessity of that, circa 2000, this was transparently out-of-date. Even when the US was involved in two wars, they were hardly the scale or the difficulty level of WWII.


That Cold War doctrine had been scaled down between the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the 21st Century, from two major land wars to two regional wars. It wasn't out of date.
posted by Etrigan at 10:12 AM on May 21, 2014


But when the President has a secret wasting disease, then you need to plan for a situation where he is incapable of being President without tipping off the world that you're planning it. Hence the letter.

So is there also a letter somewhere about the President's secret plan to fight inflation?
posted by dogwalker at 11:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I liked West Wing though I am no fanatic, but this is the episode I think of when I think of the show.

Tough tbh, I really think of my friend saying "My president is Jed Bartlett" over and over again after in the months after W was elected.
posted by shothotbot at 12:08 PM on May 21, 2014


Imma let you finish 17 people and all, but hot damn Two Cathedrals might be my favorite hour of anything.
posted by Sphinx at 4:32 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


For me, Sorkin is a bit too cute when he tries to write comedy

I hear that, but nevertheless, this scene with CJ cracks me up every time.
posted by dry white toast at 10:00 AM on May 22, 2014


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