The President has nothing but free time, Toby
September 12, 2014 9:21 AM   Subscribe

A Definitive Ranking of Every Character on 'The West Wing'

NOTE: Only characters who appeared in two or more episodes were eligible for this list ... with some exceptions. We left ourselves a few one-shot wild cards, because what would this list be without the Lionel Tribbeys or Evelyn Baker Langs of the show?
posted by roomthreeseventeen (86 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
The most memorable character for me Oliver Babish (Oliver Platt). Platt is such a great actor.
posted by Nevin at 9:35 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Reads list, feels what could only be described as Toby Ziegler levels of outrage at rankings.
posted by barchan at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


Really, any list that Toby isn't at the top of should be dismissed, but I thought it was fun for debate anyhow.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:38 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Criminy, roomthreeseventeen, I have stuff to do around here, ya know?!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


1. Toby
2. CJ
3. Who cares?
posted by schmod at 9:42 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


How dare they rank Donna Moss so low? She was the sexiest unsexy character on television.
posted by tommyD at 9:44 AM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Holy cow, so far, other than putting Amy lower and switching Sam and Fitz and moving up Josh, I agree with most of this list. Also, part of what that means is that a TON of credit goes to Allison Janey for doing an amazing job with a character that could have been a lot worse than she was and rising above the "CJ doesn't get it har har har" stuff that permeated a bunch of this show.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:45 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also I know that Lord John Marbury is problematic in a bunch of ways (lol sexism, lol British people, class stuff) but I do really enjoy having him on screen and Leo's reactions to him just make his time on the show a delight for me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:46 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


I was about to click into this and was thinking 'If Allison Janney isn't number one this list is pure bullshit."

It's not bullshit! As long as CJ is #1 the rest is a-ok with me.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:46 AM on September 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


WTF WAIT DANNY WHERE IS DANNY also Bruno and Edward James Olmos should be higher. NOW I AM ANGRY.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:48 AM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


I am always in favor of lists that feature C.J. Cregg in her true position as #1 (sorry quidnunc kid) but for the love of all things how is Margaret above Charlie?
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


No never mind I've calmed down, Danny SHOULD be higher but what was great about Danny was largely how great his interactions with CJ were and she is the top so we're good. Reflected glory.

I will stop posting now.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Danny is #34 which is a terrible outrage and another blight upon this list
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


I cannot stand the character played by Mary-Louise Parker, who ended up at #5, but I'm glad to see that Margaret was in the top 10, though I would have liked to see Ainsley Hayes up there as well.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:50 AM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm also glad that Josh got ranked as low as he did (17).
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reading this list made me think that The West Wing did not age as well as I thought it would; the phrase that jumped to mind as I read the blurb for each character was "so goddamned smug.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I, too, have strong opinions about the ordering of this list.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm also glad that Josh got ranked as low as he did (17).

You want to take this outside, my friend?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:52 AM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


So many giant names on this show. Might be time to rewatch.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:55 AM on September 12, 2014


He only barely meets the criteria, but I was kind of hoping for at least an honorable mention for Bernard, the snooty White House tour guide. But then, looking back over through this list, maybe it's just that Sorkin is pretty good at writing entertainingly snobby characters, because there are a damn lot of them in there.
posted by Copronymus at 9:56 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can't fight real hard having CJ first, although it is Toby (it is so obviously Toby. No, you shut up) on my list, but Josh at 17 is nuts.

And there's got to be some sort of adjustment for, like, Joseph ("I waited five years for a Democrat. Instead I got you") Crouch being in the bottom 10%, within shouting distance of Mandy. Not an important character, but one of the excellent "embarrassment of riches" characters that are part of what makes the early seasons so good.

Also I was stunned at a few episode counts. Hoynes was only in 20 episodes? It seems like it was way, way more than that, which speaks to how good the character/actor combination really was. And probably also speaks to how often "What I know that you don't could stun a team of oxen" showed up in the Previouslies.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:02 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Danny is #34 which is a terrible outrage and another blight upon this list

Danny didn't even get his picture in there! WHATEVER.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:03 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Actually Margaret should be first on the list in a coup d'etat.
posted by barchan at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reading this generally, but the use of the term "Mandyville" particularly, brings back fond memories of reading the recaps on Television Without Pity.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


I can live with Leo not being #1 because I recognize that this show had a phenomenal ensemble and putting Allison Janney at the top is barely even a mistake. Donna and Ellie both needed to be way higher, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:15 AM on September 12, 2014


*sigh*

Gee, thanks. Now I have to rewatch this damn thing.
posted by brundlefly at 10:22 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


the phrase that jumped to mind as I read the blurb for each character was "so goddamned smug.

True, but to be fair, "smug" was one of the primary in-show criticisms lobbed at the administration from all sides, so it's not like they weren't written to be smug.
posted by Think_Long at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2014


Everything about that list is wrong except CJ who deserved at least the top spot, maybe the top 2-3.
posted by jeather at 10:47 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would have been fine with either CJ or Toby at #1. And Josh at #17 is defensible from a certain POV, as he was pretty abrasive most of the time. But Mary-Louise Parker's fun but relatively unimportant character is ranked way too high, and putting Donna Moss all the way down at #39 is just wrong.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:47 AM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Rules for ranking WW:

1. There are only four seasons. Too bad they didn't try to find someone to fill Sorkin's shoes.
2. Toby is #1 but if there were more seasons CJ might have risen to that slot.
3. Charlie is in the top 3.
4. Josh belongs very, very low; certainly below Donna.
5. Jed Bartlett #4 after Toby/CJ/Charlie in whatever order.
6. Will Bailey and Sam Seaborn are tied for some spot because they play exactly the same role and are both lovely.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:55 AM on September 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


So there's a rewatch in progress over in FanFare. *cough* I'm just about to post S1E22.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:56 AM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is rank anti-Donna propaganda and therefore wrong and bad.
posted by feckless at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, Danny is THIRTY-FOUR?!?
And Charlie's best episode is not that bullshit turkey knife one. Which is a very sweet and well-done thing, but maybe one of his DAUGHTERS would have liked that knife?!? What with it being a family heirloom and all.
Maybe the president is just shipping Zoey and Charlie, too.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Come now. Seaosn 5 was an atrocity but 6 was good and 7 was very very good. I feel like Sam was a mostly deadweight character - a way for Sorkin to say everything he wanted to say about politics and women but have it come out of the mouth of a charming person who looks like Rob Lowe and is always right. Josh at least got constantly called on it (and had way more interesting things to do anyway.)
posted by Navelgazer at 11:00 AM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


. for everything after Season 4 for me.

But I am very much on board with the character of CJ being at number #1 and Amy being ranked highly as well. I loved the chemistry created between that character and Josh. When she plunks his cell phone in the stew? *AWESOME*.
posted by zuhl at 11:11 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


This list is bringing back the old ethical debate in my mind about whether Sam's final decision in S2E16 is the right one. That was one of my favorite episodes, for all that it exemplifies the show's occasional overly sincere mushiness. I liked the sincerity dangit. But was it right for Sam to spare the lady and her grandfather's feelings with false hope? Oh geeze this is going to be the thing that finally drags me over to FanFare isn't it?

Also yes obviously CJ is the best forever always.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:13 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, Sam is sparing the lady's father's feelings, about the lady's grandfather who was a spy. The lady's father didn't have much longer to go and probably didn't need a slap in the face from the white house that was really misdirected anger about Sam's cheating father (in a storyline that comes so directly from Sports Night that I have to imagine it actually happened to Sorkin.)
posted by Navelgazer at 11:16 AM on September 12, 2014


Seaosn 5 was an atrocity but 6 was good and 7 was very very good.

Oh, they remade West Wing? I'll have to check that out.

I feel like Sam was a mostly deadweight character... Josh at least got constantly called on it

Yeah, I dunno: both Sam and Will seemed like these principled, bumbling, brilliant guys who basically can be substituted for each other in any conversation. (The exception are all the stupid conversations with Ainsley Hayes, where Sam does, in fact, get called on his bullshit. Actually, Sam gets called out a lot. Will less so, which points up the real difference.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:16 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


The obvious bias against Donna has already been covered but how on earth this person found 70 people who they believed to be less appealing than Zoey outright baffles me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that Sam was always the Sorkin-surrogate.
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


The number one with a bullet should have been the character Nick Offerman played, with his vision to build a "wolf highway." In my mind this rebuff by the White House led him to enter local government back home in Indiana and challenge the "liberal elites" who had devastated his plans. Thus was born Ron Swanson as we now know him.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:35 AM on September 12, 2014 [20 favorites]


I'm glad that Abbey got the recognition she deserves (6)!

Evelyn Baker Lang is a worthy exception to the multiple episode rule, but as much as I love Laura Dern, Tabitha Fortis is way too high and not notable enough to be mentioned.

Ryan Pierce is worse than Mandy.
posted by casualinference at 11:42 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that Sam was always the Sorkin-surrogate.

Unless we're yelling at the internet. Then Josh is the Sorkin-surrogate.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:44 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's true, Josh kinda sucked.
posted by saul wright at 11:58 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


This list includes Secretary O'Leary, who, CCH Pounder aside, had a single not-very-memorable scene where she didn't do much of anything, but then leaves off all four of Will Bailey's speechwriting interns?

I call filthy shenanigans!
posted by Navelgazer at 12:16 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but CCH Pounder is pretty great in everything.
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 12:23 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


So is Christopher Lloyd, but we're not including his weird-ass turn playing Lawrence Lessig. (Man that was weird-ass.)
posted by Navelgazer at 12:25 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plus, the three Laurens could probably share an entry, so it's not like they would have added much bloat to the list.
posted by casualinference at 12:28 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I feel like the list undervalued long time constant contributors over flashes in the pan that were really good for a few episodes, what with Donna, Danny, and Josh being lower that I expected. Also John Goodman's character deserves higher than 50!
posted by DynamiteToast at 12:33 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed reading that because I miss the West Wing. Nobody writes smart/ funny/ real like Sorkin, and he's fantastic at casting, so, no matter how the list is ordered it's full of good performances, large and small. If you want to re-watch it, ApathyGirl is doing a great job of posting episodes on fanfare.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


CJ totally deserves that #1 spot, but I feel like the stuff in her write-up is a little bit off the mark. The Hollywood publicist backstory worked for me because it seemed very clear that it was a Band-Aid job for her rather than something she'd done for a long time. It was clear she'd been in politics before. She, like Sam, was stuck doing a job rather than following her heart. Josh, too, although that was more about pursuing his passions but working for the wrong guy while doing it. The story of them all coming together was about a whole group of people who were in the wrong place until they found one another.

As for the rest...I don't want to discount the complaints about Sorkin's writing of women, but I always read CJ's missteps and flaws as the sort of things that any man in the same position could make, too. I *always* empathized with her. I feel like those drawbacks only seem like problematic writing if we take it in the context of all of Sorkin's female characters. Judged independently of the others, I think she works fine.

But I really think the close #2 would be Charlie Young. The infrequent but poignant moments where he was shown to be the smartest person in that whole building never got old for me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:40 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is implicit in most of the comments already, but holy shit, what a great crop of characters. What show, other than the Wire, has a stronger ensemble?
posted by persona au gratin at 12:44 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also missing from the list (though not necessarily missed): Anthony.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:46 PM on September 12, 2014


Related: I was so sad when...

*SEASON 3 SPOILERS*

...Simon Donovan was killed. He and C.J. had such great chemistry.
posted by brundlefly at 1:07 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


What? No Marion Cotesworth-Haye of Marblehead? Preposterous.
posted by MrVisible at 2:07 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Who, that old racist woman? She's the one who dies!
posted by Navelgazer at 2:40 PM on September 12, 2014


You can't have Josh that low. He's the workhorse of the administration and the show itself. The good soldier, every single time.

There's this scene in Season 7 just after Santos wins where Josh and Santos go to a White House reception. They're walking in together, and Bartlet declares "all hail the conquering heroes". Josh doesn't absorb a nanosecond of the recognition, he immediately starts clapping his hands and spinning so that he is part of the audience, applauding Santos. Sure, he has an ego, but that scene in truth sums up his character perfectly: he can be that bulldog because he doesn't care about the credit.
posted by spaltavian at 2:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Any list that has Amy Gardner above Joey Lucas is dumb.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:02 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


CJ is the most obvious of obvious, but c'mon, Josh though. He's got to be above Sam.
And Donna's placement is a travesty.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:06 PM on September 12, 2014


I am amazed that Lionel Tribbey only had one appearance. You get John Larroquette in a character that lets him chew all the scenery he wants, and you never get him back?
posted by Etrigan at 3:07 PM on September 12, 2014


Also, how is it possible that Lionel Tribbey only appeared in one episode? I remember him so vividly as a character. I feel sure there must have been several.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:11 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's how I feel about Gene Parmesan in the original run of Arrested Development.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


The author of this list is entirely too soft on Mandy. There is no justifiable reason she should not be dead last. And Donna ought to be a lot higher.

"Donna rules." --Yo Yo Ma
posted by wabbittwax at 3:30 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


The placement of Josh and Donna is BS. Also, I'll watch Joey Lucas over Abbey Bartlet any day of the week.
posted by ersatz at 3:30 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Up until today I would have said I was certain Hope Davis was the actress who played Ellie Bartlet but this list informs me it was actually Nina Siemaszko (???).
posted by reuvenc at 3:40 PM on September 12, 2014


Hah. Ed and Larry's rankings made me laugh. Oh, and the unfair absence of Harry Groener's Secretary of Agriculture character from this list is worth nothing.
posted by reuvenc at 3:42 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


All in all, the attitude of "We're only discussing multiple appearances, except when we really like or hate someone who was only on once" comes across like willful argument-baiting on the part of the authors.
posted by Etrigan at 3:45 PM on September 12, 2014


Any list that has Amy Gardner above Joey Lucas is dumb.

Im a huge Amy Gardner fan and I agree with this. Because I'm not dumb and I'm also a huger Joey Lucas fan.
posted by dogwalker at 6:35 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dipshit listwriter puts Lyman, the actual subject of all 7 series, at number 17.

#fail
posted by genghis at 7:23 PM on September 12, 2014


I'm with a few other folks, I don't really care about the ordering of the list, this is just stabbing me in the heart and making me want to watch it all again starting at the top right now. Was it all perfect? No. But it was all amazing, and one of the first TV series I watched when I wished I could actually know the fictional people in question, and that made me cry. A lot. So.
posted by joycehealy at 8:20 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


You know, joycehealy, it's available on Netflix, and we're rewatching it from the beginning over on FanFare. I'm just saying.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:25 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Up until today I would have said I was certain Hope Davis was the actress who played Ellie Bartlet but this list informs me it was actually Nina Siemaszko (???).

I'm pretty sure Hope Davis is about ten years older than Nina Siemaszko, but I see the resemblance.

the unfair absence of Harry Groener's Secretary of Agriculture character from this list is worth nothing.

It's my understanding that this is where Mayor Wilkins ended up after all that darn unpleasantness at the end of Buffy Season 3.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:37 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh dear. i loved the show, it was fun and interesting and I felt cheated in the later episodes.

Thaaaaat being said.... I love love love that Oliver Babish/Platt was mentioned so early. It is my (not so) secret hope that we might one day see him play the lead in a Dirk Gently adaptation. Platt's portrayal of Babish fostered the kernel of that hope.
posted by mce at 9:04 PM on September 12, 2014


I can't believe some general dude ranked above MRS LANDINGHAM
posted by Sara C. at 9:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Up until today I would have said I was certain Hope Davis was the actress who played Ellie Bartlet but this list informs me it was actually Nina Siemaszko (???).

Same actress who played Sydney Ellen Wade's sister in the American President.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:28 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Donna Moss is CRIMINALLY low on this list. INSANELY low.
posted by booksherpa at 6:13 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Same actress who played Sydney Ellen Wade's sister in the American President.

And Casey's kid's nanny on Sports Night.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:03 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I'm discussing the list with my husband, who is also a big West Wing fan. He agrees with me about Donna's criminal placement on the list. Also, as I read him the list of characters from CJ on down, he kept saying "Who are these idiots?!"

Reading it out loud, I realized that that they basically front loaded every major or middling female character EXCEPT Donna.
posted by booksherpa at 9:19 AM on September 13, 2014


Because Donna is not only irritating, she exists only as a foil to the equally annoying Josh. (Though I'm only in mid season 3, so maybe she gets more dimension later?)

Fan Theory: Donnatella Moss is a figment of Josh Lyman's imagination. He doesn't really have an assistant at all. Any time we see Donna interacting with characters who aren't Josh/the outside world, that was really something that happened to Josh.

Also, as someone who is an assistant, I hate boss/assistant romantic subplots. I especially hated Donna tying Josh's tie. OMG dude srsly learn to fucking dress yourself.
posted by Sara C. at 9:26 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm good with these rankings at the most part but the Bartlets belong at the very bottom of the list.
posted by gerstle at 11:41 AM on September 13, 2014


Fan Theory: Donnatella Moss is a figment of Josh Lyman's imagination. He doesn't really have an assistant at all. Any time we see Donna interacting with characters who aren't Josh/the outside world, that was really something that happened to Josh.

Certainly makes the Cmdr. Reese plotline more interesting.
posted by Etrigan at 12:51 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


(Though I'm only in mid season 3, so maybe she gets more dimension later?)

I'm not the biggest Donna and Josh fan but mid-season 3 is not at all the top of Donna's character arc.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2014


But like does she EVER get to do anything besides be Josh's sidekick/love-interest and have ill-advised affairs with people who make life harder for the White House staffers?
posted by Sara C. at 1:05 PM on September 13, 2014


SPOILER ALERT

Yeeeeeeeep.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


though don't worry there's still an enormous amount of awkward flirting and tragic kissing outcomes and UNSPOKEN YEARNING
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:23 PM on September 13, 2014


Donna has maybe the clearest series-long arc of any of the characters.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:56 AM on September 14, 2014


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