LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing 1×17, “20 Hours in L.A.”

We’re in the home stretch for season one, with only six more episodes to go. Today’s recap is for an episode that isn’t one of my favorites, but it does have a lot of cameos. I think these two things may be related. There’s no ToePick, which is something, and there is a lot of CJ humor, and since she is our Goddess, that is always welcome.

Previously, on The West Wing, hate-groups started sending hate mail to the White House about Charlie and Zoe, the president’s approval ratings are down, and Justice Admiral Edward James Olmos Adama is on his way to being seated on the bench.

Tonight, we’re following most of the senior staff, their assistants, the president, Charlie and Zoe on a trip to L.A. to attend a fundraiser and do some schmoozing. Leo is stuck back in DC trying to get an ethanol tax credit passed, and trying to force Vice President Hoynes into voting against his record and very public statements against the ethanol credit. We get to see Air Force One from the inside, and I remember being seriously impressed on first viewing of “20 Hours in L.A.”

Bartlet’s schedule in California is full, with stops at a town hall meeting with folks wanting a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration, which sparks the president to make this face:

President Bartlet cares about your problems.

And to utter:

Bartlet: This is a debate that is obviously going to continue in town halls, city halls, state legislatures, and the U.S. House of Representatives. There is a population in this country that seems to focus so much time and energy into this conversation, so much so that I am forced to ask this question – is there an epidemic of flag burning going on that I’m not aware of?

Zoe and Charlie have a cute moment on that fancy honking Presidential plane, where Charlie tells Zoe it will be harder for him to be the attentive boyfriend she’s been teaching him to be on this trip, but she tells him it’s okay, and she understands.

Our college boyfriends were no Charlie Youngs.

While the president is hearing arguments for a little Constitutional editing, Josh is meeting with Bob Balaban, Hollywood hotshot and host of that evening’s massive fund-raiser. Bob Balaban is upset that a congressperson has introduced a bill to ban gays from serving in the military. He wants Bartlet to publicly denounce the bill. When Josh tells him the bill has no chance anyway, and that the president won’t have to veto anything, Bob Balaban demands a public statement or threatens to cancel the party. This (see below image) is Bob Balaban’s house in The West Wing world. I bet Christopher Guest never hooked him up like Sorkin did.

President Bartlet knows where to party. I bet there won't be sausage balls, though.

After the flag meeting, Bartlet is off to lunch with Zoe, while the senior staff has to deal with Q, from Star Trek. Instead of launching them across the universe to meet the Borg, he tries to sell them on the idea that Bartlet will gain 47% of the white, male vote if he takes a stand against flag burning.

Meanwhile, Toby and Sam give Josh some pointers for winning back Bob Balaban, and Josh makes the magic happen. Running alongside the fundraiser plot, Josh has learned that Joey Lucas is in town, and is in fact staying in the same hotel as he is. She’s planning on attending the fancy party, and Josh is atwitter. I like that the men drool over Joey on this show because she’s smart. She’s gorg, too, but they like her because she has a big brain full of good stuff.

At the fancy party, we see that Bob Balaban’s fancy house looks even better when it’s draped in 1000 giant lights and rich people.

This is as close as I will ever get to a party like this.

CJ is approached by a Hollywood type who wants to offer her a job in development, which she doesn’t understand and he can’t explain. She repeatedly uses Sam as a foil to escape, and ends up chatting with Jay Leno.

CJ: The president appreciates you laying off Leo McGarry the last few months. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Jay Leno: You guys give me monologue material every minute.
CJ: If there’s anything I can do.
Jay Leno: You know what would be great? If you could get him to drive his bike into a tree again.

She also wore a red dress with a red and gold wrap and looked fantastic and Goddess-like.


The president gives Bob Balaban ten minutes of his undivided attention, and the president treats him as he does several guest stars throughout the series, as a therapist pro-tem. He rails a bit, and tells Bob that speaking out against this ridiculous bill would do more to set back gay rights than anything else he could do. I didn’t fully understand his logic, but Bob Balaban seemed pleased.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (heh), Leo is telling Hoynes he has to do his Veeply duty and break the tie holding up the ethanol bill. Hoynes is understandably upset, and Leo ends up calling the president to tell him Hoynes is right and the administration is wrong. With the help of Sam, the president relents and gives Hoynes the go-ahead to break the tie in the other direction, killing the bill. It’s interesting to see this now eleven-year-old show outline many of the biggest problems we’ve had with ethanol, but here we are still not willing to call it a failure.

Joey meets with Josh, and informs him that Q is full of shit. He pulls in Sam, CJ and Toby, and Joey explains that Q asked the wrong questions. He asked if respondents would support a flag-burning amendment, but didn’t ask how important the issue was to voters. Joey asked the right questions, and discovered that while the majority supported the amendment, only a handful considered such an amendment important enough to sway their votes.

This is the face of a woman who knows she's impressed Toby Ziegler.
And this is the face of Toby Ziegler, impressed.

With all the California business wrapped up, Josh decided to make a 1AM booty call to Joey Lucas’ room. Sadly, he is thwarted.

It's okay Josh, he once woo'd a woman from Jean Luc Picard.

On the plane, Bartlet calls Hoynes and tells him he was right, and Bartlet was wrong, which I think we can safely assume is not something Bartlet does often. In a bit of foreshadowing, Bartlet can’t sleep, which he’s mentioned to both Leo and Bob Balaban, before mentioning it here to Hoynes. The last shot is a bit ominous, with Bartlet staring into space, grim and wide awake.

Join Sally J next week for the recap of “The White House Pro-Am” as we wind down the season. She and I are planning on getting boozy and double-teaming the season one finale, which I can promise will be really interesting. Until then, go with CJ.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

2 replies on “Ladyghosts: The West Wing 1×17, “20 Hours in L.A.””

I have to admit that these recaps made me finally break down and just buy the whole series. I don’t regret it. I loved this show when it first ran, and I’m loving it even more now. I’m with you, this is not one of my favorite episodes, but the foreshadowing is key for later story lines.

Tangent: What’s amazing (and frustrating) is how much nothing has changed in this country. Some of the same “fictional” arguments from the show 10 years ago are still being played out in real time today. During the episodes where Bartlet is frustrated by not being able to get anything done, I find myself remarking “I bet Obama can relate.”

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