Week to week, Hirway and Malina tap into the pop culture fandom (and nostalgia) surrounding the NBC series as they rewatch and discuss episodes of the show. The pair is currently up to season four, episode nine (“Swiss Diplomacy”) of the show’s seven-season run, meaning they’ve recently passed the halfway mark of their ongoing experiment, which has proved to be wildly successful.
“Josh and I were both really surprised by the reaction the podcast got at first. We were really overwhelmed by how many other West Wing fans there are out there and how passionate they are,” Hirway tells ET, adding they dread the end of the series more than they’ve really discussed what happens next. “That’s been part of the DNA of the show, that at some point we’ll stop doing this. But Josh and I really enjoy talking to each other and we would like to figure out if there's a way for us to continue doing that in a formal, structured way. We would like to continue having our weekly discussions.”
While there are plenty of lists Hirway could have come up with surrounding The West Wing, not one made more sense than the host revealing his favorite scenes from the series -- so far. In keeping with the series’ non-spoiler recaps, Hirway shares his five favorite West Wing scenes from the episodes they’ve recapped on their podcast.
“In Excelsis Deo” (Season 1, Episode 10): The Funeral
This episode, where Toby arranges for a military funeral for a homeless Korean War veteran, won Richard Schiff an Emmy. It's the Christmas episode of the first season, and the final scene intercuts shots of the funeral at Arlington with a children's choir singing “Little Drummer Boy” at the White House. It's an exceptional moment for the series, which is usually so verbose, because there's no dialogue in these final two minutes of the episode, but that provides room to take in how impressive -- and expressive --Richard Schiff's acting is, even without saying a word.
“Shibboleth” (Season 2, Episode 8): The Paul Revere Knife
Throughout the Thanksgiving episode of season two, Charlie's on a mission looking for a new carving knife for President Bartlet, but none seems to satisfy the president's stringent requirements. Finally, after striking out on his third attempt, Charlie asks why it's so important to be so picky about a knife. The president says carving knives are meant to be passed down from father to son throughout generations (and the Bartlets have been around since America's independence), before letting him know that he's passing his own family's carving knife on to Charlie. The West Wing never dwelled much on Charlie's family; we know his father's never been in the picture, and his mother was killed in the line of duty as a police officer. The relationship between the president and Charlie has always been warm, but this beautiful moment of fatherly affection is especially tender, and the stakes keep getting raised even after the gift is given: the president reveals the knife was made by Paul Revere, and then to Charlie's shocked face, he says, "I'm proud of you, Charlie." Hard to escape this one with a dry eye.
“Two Cathedrals” (Season 2, Episode 22): The Latin Monologue
Most West Wing fans, when pressed, will say that the season two finale (”Two Cathedrals”) is the best episode of the series. (I've done the research on this.) And within that standout episode, the standout scene is one in National Cathedral. The president harangues God -- in Latin -- then lights a cigarette, puts it out on the floor, and announces he's not going to run for re-election (“You get Hoynes”). It's some of the most eloquent bitterness ever put on screen.
“Bartlet for America” (Season 3, Episode 10): The Napkin
Aaron Sorkin's Christmas episodes are always fantastic, and this one, in season three, features some great flashbacks. One of them is the moment when Leo first approaches then-Governor Bartlet with the idea that he ought to run for president, by showing him a napkin on which he's written "Bartlet for America." The scene that makes the top five, though, is the final scene of the episode, back in the present day. The president returns the napkin to Leo, framed. John Spencer won an Emmy for his performance in this episode, and it could have been on the merits of this scene alone, where the tough exterior he normally presents instantly crumbles. This scene is so beloved that Parks and Recreation paid homage to it (in the episode “Live Ammo,” which is full of West Wing references, guest star Bradley Whitford(!) is running for office and has a napkin that says “Pillner for Pawnee”). In the Hamilton's America PBS documentary, you can see a "Miranda for America" napkin that was given to West Wing superfan Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“Game On” (Season 4, Episode 6): The Debate
There's an oft-recurring theme in The West Wing: seeing the value in the opposing viewpoint. There are scenes where characters face off, make their arguments eloquently, and some humanity is revealed and empathy gleaned on both sides. It's a virtuous (if utterly unrealistic) depiction of politics, and a big part of why I love the show. In this episode, however, there's something truly satisfying about seeing the president just demolish his opponent in a debate. James Brolin plays Governor Robert Ritchie, modeled by Aaron Sorkin after George W. Bush, but he shares a lot of qualities with Donald Trump, who won the electoral college despite losing the debates to Hillary Clinton. This episode has some of Sorkin's sharpest dialogue, and Martin Sheen wields it precisely and beautifully. This is as close to watching sports as The West Wing gets -- it's like watching Jordan or LeBron or Steph Curry playing a record-breaking game. It doesn't hurt that I've most recently watched this episode in 2017, where more and more we've come to expect less and less from the power of language, thanks to a real-life president who tweets without regard for what his words mean or what impact they have.