The West Wing: In Excelsis Deo   Rewatch 
July 31, 2014 7:24 AM - Season 1, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Amid Christmas preparations, Toby looks into a homeless person's background, while Danny and C.J. discuss a first date.

As Christmas Eve approaches, President Bartlet eagerly sneaks out of the White House for some last-minute Christmas shopping, while a haunted Toby learns more about a forgotten Korean War hero who died alone on the district's cold streets wearing a coat that Toby once donated to charity. In other hushed corridors, Sam and Josh ignore Leo's advice and consult Sam's call girl friend concerning her confidential clientele when one political rival hints at exposing Leo's previous drug problem. C.J. wonders aloud about the President's public response to a notorious hate crime while her personal resolve weakens as persistent reporter continues to ask her out.

Airdate: December 15, 1999
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: Aaron Sorkin & Rick Cleveland
We're supposed to believe that media consultant Dr. Hampton wouldn't know Al Roker lost weight?!?
posted by ApathyGirl (12 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And thus we arrive at the reason why hearing Little Drummer Boy makes me cry in grocery stores.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:33 AM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just from the teaser, two things that really grind me:

1 -- Toby and his assistant don't have a code word for "No, this is an important call but I don't want to say it out loud"?

2 -- CJ would know her Secret Service code name, for exactly this reason.

Okay, that aside:

Richard Schiff's scene under the bridge was one of the most incredible performances of the decade in any medium. Just annihilating. Schiff could have turned it into mawkish crap with a single misstep, and he carried it.

I think that when Sorkin wrote the scene with Sam and Josh and Lori, he actively shifted his own perception of Josh's character. Josh spent the first half of the season being all "The President doesn't carry a grudge -- that's what he pays me for," arcing a little bit toward "We talk about enemies more than we used to." But then, in this episode, there's two things that turn him into much more the audience-substitute character than he was at the beginning: the bit with Lori where he realizes what he's become; and earlier, when Leo tells him about the hate crime, Josh pauses just a bit and asks how the kid is before he makes the political suggestion.
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, thank god that "Lord John Marbury" is the next one, just as a palate cleanser after they tore our guts out with this ep.
posted by Etrigan at 11:03 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a great string of three coming up that are just terrific, which is good because the execution episode is... not. If it weren't for Joey Lucas I'd never watch that episode.
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2014

So I watched this last spring when I was early pregnant and had just found out it was twins and when my husband came in the room he was seriously alarmed to find me crying so hard, until he saw what was on TV.

This -- or at least the Toby part -- is one of my favorite episodes. It's a whole-box-of-Kleenex tearjerker, AND holiday-themed, and yet it's much less manipulative and shoving-emotion-down-your-throat than most of this series. And I think Richard Schiff is really great in general, but he is wonderful in this episode.
posted by gerstle at 2:23 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is just a really great episode. Toby's plot line is amazing, CJ's plotline is pretty great, and even Sam and Josh get called out on their behaviour, and make sure Lori retains the high ground.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:56 PM on July 31, 2014

I got off the posting schedule this week. Sorry 'bout that!
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2014

A few things about this episode.

* Richard Schiff won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
* An Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series went to Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland.
* The episode was nominated for Emmys in two other categories: Editing and Sound Mixing
* Cleveland and Sorkin won the Writers Guild of America Award for best episodic drama.

Here's background on the "B" story about the homeless veteran, from an essay by Rick Cleveland, originally published in Writers' Guild Magazine:
When I was 23 years old and still very much a struggling playwright in Chicago, my father passed away of complications due to liver failure. I hadn't seen him in almost 10 years. A Korean War veteran with an alcohol addiction that got the better of us all, he spent the last years of his life living in flophouses and on the street, passing his days riding the same city bus line he himself used to drive.

I made the long drive back to Ohio to arrange his funeral. He was buried in the military section of a small cemetery in Brooklyn, Ohio. At the time there wasn't even enough money to give him a full-blown gravesite ceremony, and my uncle, my sister, and I helped a couple of workman unload and carry his casket off the back of a pickup truck in the rain.

Many months later, when I finally had the courage to go through what few personal items he left us, I found his military records and mementos. He had served in the Marine Corps with the First Infantry Division of the Second Battalion during the Korean conflict from 1950 to 1953. He came home a Staff Sergeant, blew almost all his muster pay in a three-day poker game, and then went to work in a factory making corrugated cardboard boxes and later as a bus driver. Among his military decorations were a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, a United Nations Service Citation, and a Purple Heart. I didn't know it at the time but subsequently found out that I could have had him buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

For a long time I thought I might try and track down all my father's old war buddies to see if anyone could actually remember him from a time in his life that must have in some significant way shaped the hard-luck case he would become. He was my father, and I didn't know (not many people did for that matter) his story. I still think I might do it, but for the time being my own life keeps getting in the way.

In 1995, shortly after its commemoration, I visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the place has haunted me ever since.

A few years ago, I worked as a co-producer on the writing staff of The West Wing, and the earliest draft of my first episode was titled "Bellwether," which was the name of the episode's problem cat I had given the First Lady as a pet. (I also hoped that as a title it might prove to be a good omen for scripts written by other members of the writing staff.) The cat never made the final cut of that episode and the title got changed, but my "A" story about Toby's (Richard Schiff's character) attempts to get a homeless Korean War veteran buried in Arlington stayed. So did some funny stuff I wrote about Stephen Jay Gould's opinions about the upcoming millennium, as did some stuff about C.J. (Allison Janney) discovering that her Secret Service code name was Flamingo. (Actually, my wife came up with that--a lot of my best stuff I steal directly from her, and so far, God bless her, she's been inclined to let me get away with it.)

On Sunday, September 10, 2000, the day my twin sons, Gus and Charlie, turned 18 months old, I won an Emmy for co-writing the above-described episode, now titled "In Excelcis Deo." That day also happened to be my grandmother's birthday, as well as my wife's grandparents' wedding anniversary.
That essay (specifically what came after the quoted bit) started a war of words between Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland online. Before it was TelevisionWithoutPity and owned by Bravo, the site was known as mightybigtv. Aaron Sorkin and quite a few other professional tv writers lurked in the forums. Sorkin, insulted by the essay, decided to set the record straight about Cleveland's involvement in the script. He used the screen name "Benjamin."

Unfortunately for Sorkin, many people involved in Hollywood also read the forums. Slate covered what he had said. So did the New York Post. Cleveland registered and responded twice. Relevant quotes from their exchange can be seen here.

There's a breakdown of Sorkin's tempestuous relationship with MBTV and TWoP here.

Sorkin's revenge against TWoP comes during season three of the West Wing. The U.S. Poet Laureate. In which our intrepid hero Josh Lyman discovers the internet and finds out he has a fan site. Donna tries and fails to talk some sense into him, and then....

CJ: "Oh Josh, The Federal Page from the Washington Post just called Carol to confirm that you are the Josh Lyman who posted on an Internet website that the White House could order a GAO review of anything it wants."
Josh: "Without threatening the separation of powers is what I was saying."
CJ: "You posted on a website?"
Josh: "CJ, it's a crazy place. They've got this dictatorial leader...."
CJ: "What did you go there for in the first place?"
Josh: "It's called"
CJ: "Let me explain something to you. This is sort of my field. The people on these sites, they're the cast of 'One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest.' I'm telling you to open the ward room window and climb on out before they give you a pre-frontal lobotomy and I have to smother you with a pillow. I'm assigning an intern from the press office to that website. They're going to check it every night before they go home. If they discover you've been there, I'm going to shove a motherboard so far up your ass -- What?"
Josh: "Well, uh technically, I outrank you."
posted by zarq at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

On Sunday, September 10, 2000, the day my twin sons, Gus and Charlie...

I think Rick Cleveland is actually Dulé Hill.
posted by Etrigan at 12:04 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, Sorkin further buried Cleveland as "Ricky Tahoe" in Studio 60, because he cannot fucking drop a grudge ever. From TVTropes:
Also at former West Wing writer Rick Cleveland, with whom Sorkin had a public feud over "In Excelsis Deo", an episode which the two co-wrote. Cleveland is written into Studio 60 as Ricky Tahoe. Ricky is time and again characterized as a hack, a nasty little man who publicly ostracized Matt over a controversial statement Matt had made. He ultimately leaves the show with a crappily written pilot script, petulantly taking the entire writing staff with him. In a rare moment of class just before Ricky departs, Matt secretly gives Ron suggestions on how to improve the problematic script.
(I'd go less with "rare moment of class" and more "yet another way that Sorkin fluffs up his own Gary Stu," but YMMV.)
posted by Etrigan at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

For those of you who haven't been rerewatching and listening to Joshua Malina's The West Wing Weekly podcast, this week they're going over this episode and have Richard Schiff talking about it, and it is endlessly fascinating and emotional.
posted by Etrigan at 7:12 AM on May 25, 2016

C.J. to Sam: What's your Secret Service code name?
Sam, smugly: "Princeton."

Because of course it is.
posted by orange swan at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2017

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