In episode 221 of Reconcilable Differences Merlin Mann introduced the world to the the idea of “best, first, favourite” for things like TV shows, movie franchises, book series etc. It sounds like a simple premise, but when you stop and try to apply it to something you love the results can be surprising.
Here are my answers for the greatest TV show ever created: The West Wing.
I reckon almost every The West Wing fan would give the same answer for this one. Season 2 episode 22: “Two Cathedrals”. It’s the final episode of season 2, and it ties the preceding 4-or-5 episodes together magnificently.
The final scene is more of a bombshell than a cliffhanger, but one of the best traits of The West Wing is that it doesn’t treat the audience like idiots. We’re hungry for the next episode because it’s great TV, not because the last episode drops a cheap teaser or leaves some business unfinished.
This is the episode you’d recommend to someone if they’d never seen the show, but you wanted to wow them with a representative sample of what it’s like.
This one is tricky - most of the episodes stand by themselves really well (perhaps less so in the last couple of seasons where continuity does matter much more). That being said, some of the episodes that made my short list for this category do contain spoilers for some common threads, so were immediately eliminated.
So my answer is season 1 episode 6: “Mr. Willis of Ohio”. It’s got aspirational politics, great humour, and running-a-country realness. All of our heroes are featured, and there are a couple of scenes that take us outside the west wing which is relatively unusual, but I think perhaps make this episode more approachable to a newbie.
Another difficult one to answer but only because there are so many to choose from. But I think my favourite episode is season 2 episode 10: Noël.
It’s an award-winning episode, and it kicks me right in the feels. I love when Aaron Sorkin plays around with time like he does in this episode, and the execution of the transitions between past and present are done perfectly. This episode introduces us to Stanley Keyworth, and we get to meet the hilarious Bernard Thatch. The set looks amazing when they Christmas it up as well, so bonus for that.
Honourable mentions to “The Stackhouse Filibuster”, “Twenty Five”, and “20 Hours in America”.