The West Wing at 20: Ranking the 20 Best Episodes of All Time

The 20 Greatest The West Wing Episodes of All Time: Part 2

#15: Season 3, Episode 16 “Dead Irish Writers” [May 6th, 2002]

On the Eve of Abbey’s birthday, the news is coming down that the First Lady is going to lose her medical license for violating several state’s medical boards by treating her husband in secret. Amy (Mary-Louise Parker) wants to get boozy with her then write a book one day, while Donna shoots it straight, and everyone comes to the conclusion that their men are jackasses.

Best Line: “You know, John, there are places in the world where it might be considered rude to talk about the physical attributes of another man’s wife.” – President Bartlet letting Lord John Marbury know he shouldn’t be commenting on the First Lady’s, um, assets.

Best Line #2: “If you pay close attention and stay quiet, I can teach you how to spell it.”  -Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman) as Dr. Dalton Milgate, arrogantly telling Sam what he can teach him about the superconducting supercollider in ten minutes.

#14: Season 2, Episode 20 “18th & Potomac” [May 9th, 2001]

Few episodes can knock you over the head like a bag full of bricks, but this episode takes the New Hampshire Maple Syrup. It’s revealed the beloved secretary, Mrs. Landingham, was killed by a drunk driver after picking up her first brand-new car from the dealership. This is another great example of the show’s history of using smoke and mirrors before the big reveal, leaving fans in a sense of shock, as in the episode’s final moments.

Best Line: “No, but I don’t really care that much.” – Oliver Babbish (Oliver Platt) to Abbey when she asks him if he knows what Peripheral Neuropathy indicates.

Factoid: Mrs. Landingham is played by Kathryn Joosten, who is the real-life mother of Peter Billingsley, who famously portrayed Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

#13: Season 4, Episode 1 & 2 “20 Hours in America: Part I & II” [September 25, 2002]

In yet another sensational, double-fisted season opener, Josh, Toby, and Donna get stranded in the middle of nowhere, only then to realize why they loved public service in the first place.

Best Line: “The streets of heaven are too filled with angels tonight.” – President Bartlet

Notable Guest Star: Before being nominated for 4 Oscars (and being snubbed for Arrival), Amy Adams guest-starred as an Indiana farm-girl that is working two jobs to make all her family’s ends meet.

Notable Guest Stat #2: Before his voice broke, The Newsroom’s John Gallagher J.R. played a high-school intern with romantic entanglements and a poor sense of direction.

#12: Season 4, Episode 19 “Life on Mars” [April 30th, 2003]

This episode is best-known for the end of a story-arc for Matthew Perry, who was still on Friends at the time, and played a new White House counsel, Joe Quincy, who was responsible for taking down the Vice President Hoynes (Tim Matheson). It also features a quality guest-turn by Matheson, who portrays the perfect balance of touching melancholy and outright arrogance.

Best Line: “…the Fourth Circuit lacks the judicial imagination God gave pistachio nuts.” Joe Quincy (Perry) repeating Toby’s line that will eventually get cleaned up by C.J.

Notable Guest Star: Grimm’s Claire Coffee pops up as a White House speechwriter intern, Cassie Tatum.

#11: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Short List” [February 16th, 2000]/Season 1, Episode 15 “Celestial Navigation” [February 16th, 2000]

In a pair of episodes that focused on nominating a justice to the Supreme Court, both are expertly plotted hours where Roberto Mendoza (Edward James Olmos) gets his “socks knocked off” by being a long-shot nominee, and then refuses to sit quietly during his confirmation. Later, he then gets arrested in Connecticut for, as Sam puts it, “…driving while Hispanic. While the former is played out in real-time, the latter is told in flashbacks, where Josh is speaking to a group of college students at a speaking engagement about his week at the White House, and bumbling a press briefing while filling in for C.J.

Best Line: “Go into your office and come up with a secret plan to fight inflation!” – Donna

Best Line#2: “I wasn’t calling you a fool, sir. The brand new state of Georgia was.” – Sam

Factoid: While becoming famous for it later in the series, “Celestial Navigation” was the first episode in the show to use flashbacks.

M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

3 thoughts on “The West Wing at 20: Ranking the 20 Best Episodes of All Time

  • October 6, 2019 at 7:03 am

    I have one pet peeve here, and that’s no inclusion of “In Excelsis Deo”, another fine episode featuring Toby as well as more backstory on Mrs Landingham. The final scene with the funeral, and the accompanying music (Little Drummer Boy), brings tears to my eyes, every time.

  • October 7, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    While I was reading the article, I was thinking to myself “better two cathedrals be number 1”. It might be the best television episode ever recorded.

    You say you can Google the whole church speech? I can quote it. ?

    • October 9, 2019 at 3:58 am

      You can quote the entire speech from, “Two Cathedrals?” Nice!


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