'The West Wing' Cast Reflects on Favorite Episodes

West Wing Oral History - H 2014
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

West Wing Oral History - H 2014

Allison Janney admits she hasn’t seen every episode of The West Wing, but she’s planning to change that.

"I would love to get some of my cast mates together and sit in my living room and binge-watch a bunch of episodes," she tells The Hollywood Reporter

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But which of the episodes would they watch first? THR recently caught up with the cast for an uncensored oral history -- in that process, the show's stars shared their favorite story arcs from the series' acclaimed seven-season run on NBC.

Here are their picks:

Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg): For Janney, it’s three-way tie between the season three episode "Hartsfield's Landing," where a prank war erupts between her character and Charlie (Dule Hill); another season three episode, "The Women of Qumar," for which Janney took home an Emmy; and the season six episode "Liftoff," where C.J. becomes chief of staff – a "tricky transition" for her, she says. "Anytime where Aaron let me do comedic scenes, the ones with the working with the turkeys, those were all fun for me," she adds, referring to the season two episode "Shibboleth," where C.J. has to choose between two turkeys for the Presidential pardon ceremony. ("Shibboleth" was also one of Hill's favorite episodes, thanks to the Bartlet-Young bonding over carving knives.)

Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn): Like many, Lowe especially enjoyed the pilot -- particularly his audition scene in which he doesn't realize he's talking to Leo's daughter Mallory -- but he's also fond of season two's "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail," which scored him an Emmy nomination. What do the two episodes have in common? "Those are my personal favorites because they’re very Sam-centric and that character really got a really nice moment in the sun," says the actor.

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Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman): Whitford is partial to “Noel,” he says of an episode which he adds for “obvious reasons it was a great challenge and joy.” The second season episode, which won him an Emmy, follows his character as he discovers that he has post-traumatic stress disorder -- in the wake of being shot during the attempt on President Bartlet's life -- that is triggered by music. (Whitford acknowledged that he was nervous when he found out that it was his character who would be shot at the conclusion of season one, but creator Aaron Sorkin jokes "his fear didn't last long. At the table read, I said, 'Do you know why it's Josh?' And he said, 'Cause you wanted your friend to win an Emmy?') 

Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler): It was Yo-Yo Ma’s visit during "Noel" that remains memorable for Schiff. While filming on location at a church, he recalls Ma playing the cello in between takes, and at one point, Hill asked Ma to play a classical Bach piece so that he could tap-dance. "It was a beautiful moment. Yo-Yo Ma was ecstatic, and Dule is one of our country's premiere tap dancers. I will never forget that," says Schiff.

As for personal favorites for Toby, Schiff calls attention to two episodes that he feels defined his character. The first is the pilot, specifically the scene where he reacts to the Christian lady that makes an anti-Semitic remark. "That was a defining moment for us because Toby wasn't someone that was just emotionally erratic. He was someone that had very passionate feelings, but it's when people stepped over the line that he laid into them," he explains. The other was another first season episode, "In Excelsis Deo," where Toby learns about a forgotten Korean War hero. "It hit me very, very deep," he says of the impact the episode had on him. "I remember showing this Korean memorial site to my daughter and getting all emotional all over again, just from the memory of doing that scene with the guy in the kiosk, this lovely, lovely local actor from Baltimore who was an actual veteran."

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Elisabeth Moss (Zoey Barlet): It’s the earlier part of the series Moss treasures the most, and, more specifically, anything with Martin Sheen: “Any time I got to work with him, I was so honored," she says of her co-star. "He was so much fun and so sweet… and a lot of my stuff was with him, so that was the highlight every single time." Interestingly, Moss also points to the penultimate episode of season four, "Commencement," where her character gets kidnapped in a club in D.C. (Sorkin departed before the storyline concluded, adding an extra layer of suspense for the cast as well as its viewers.) Forever jarred into her memory is the eerie song "Angel," by Massive Attack, that played during filming to set the tone for the scene. (It was also used in the episode's on-air soundtrack.)

Janel Moloney (Donna Moss): Moloney, who wasn't initially cast as a series regular, cherishes the beginning of the second season, with the most memorable episode being "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." The two-part episode chronicled how the Bartlet Administration got together, including Josh and Donna's first meeting at the campaign headquarters. "There were so many wonderful episodes, so many wonderful moments, but that one really stands out just because it's so defining for them," she says.

Jimmy Smits (Matt Santos): Smits resonated the most with the seventh season's live episode, "The Debate," where the Congressman and Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) dueled it out for the presidency. Fortunately for Smits, the cast had the chance to film it twice -- once for the East Coast and once for the West Coast. "They structured it in such a way that we got to rehearse it like we were rehearsing a play. To me, that was a real stretch as an actor, and very satisfying in the way it turned out," he tells THR.