In which Joshua Malina employs The Cynthia Nixon Defense

By Ray Rahman
March 23, 2016 at 08:07 PM EDT
Mitchell Haddad/NBCU Photo Bank

It’s finally arrived: The ultimate walk-and-talk. We’re referring, of course, to The West Wing Weekly podcast, the first episode of which debuted Wednesday morning.

The recap show, hosted by Joshua Malina (a.k.a. Will Bailey) and Hrishikesh Hirway (of the Song Exploder podcast), begins its noble mission of recapping every single episode of the vaunted Aaron Sorkin series by taking a deep dive into the 1999 pilot episode. Blending insider insight and giddy fandom, the pair offer up all sorts of good tidbits. Some of it is already well known, but other nuggets might be new to even the most passionate Lemon-Lyman member. Here are some takeaways from the podcast’s premiere:

— Malina discusses how when he first read the episode’s script, he tried to lobby Sorkin into letting him play Sam Seaborn. At the time, Malina was a cast member on the writer’s other TV show, Sports Night, so Sorkin didn’t think Malina should be pulling double-duty. Malina countered with what we’ll call The Cynthia Nixon Defense: In 1984, the actress was in two Broadway shows at once, The Real Thing and Hurlyburly, and would run between theaters between acts. As we know now, Sorkin didn’t buy it — Rob Lowe got the job.

— Malina decides that he’s a Charlotte, and that Hirway is a Miranda.

— They point out how Sorkin’s script stayed one step ahead of the audience and began in medias res, which was a fairly uncommon approach for network television at the time.

— At the time, the term “POTUS” served as a bit of a plot point, providing a bit of mystery in an era when most Americans didn’t know what the acronym stood for. Now, Malina notes, that wouldn’t work anymore, largely because of The West Wing‘s role in popularizing the word.

— The episode contains a Cuban refugee crisis as one of its plots, but as Malina points out on Twitter, the podcast was recorded before Obama’s historic visit to Cuba.

— On Scandal, Seaborn’s predicament with the prostitute he slept with would’ve been dealt with via murder, Malina posits.

— Even though it’s easy to remember Jed Bartlet as one of our more beloved fictional presidents, Hirway reminds us that he was actually unpopular in the West Wing universe. The pilot repeatedly refers to how low his approval numbers are.

— When discussing the storyline where Josh Lyman battles the Christian right (particularly Mary Marsh), they relate that fictional incident with real-life current events and even play a recent clip of Hillary Clinton taking about religion. Similarly, they directly link Marsh’s “New York humor” comment to Ted Cruz’s infamous “New York values” remark (though fail to note the anti-Semitic nature of both). It seems Malina and Hirway are setting an early precedent about how they’ll connect the series to our present politics (which makes sense, because election).

— Malina is a West Wing truther! He jokingly rants that Aaron Sorkin stole Malina’s life for the show. His name is Josh, just like Bradley Whitford’s character. Further, Malina’s sister’s name is Toby, as in Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler. And Lyman itself is an-almost anagram of Malina. You follow?

— Hardcore fans will be delighted to hear the hosts mention Ed and Larry’s first appearance on the show. Malina goes on to joke that he still doesn’t know which actor plays which character. 

— Neither of them know what the “W. G.” stands for in W. G. Snuffy Walden, who is The West Wing‘s music composer. (The answer is William Garrett.)

— Malina draws an interesting comparison to how some of Sorkin’s writing style (specifically the way characters are prone to pepper their dialogue with references to their résumés) might have rubbed off on his current boss, Shonda Rhimes, an admitted West Wing fan. 

— Sam Seaborn’s assistant is played by Suzy Nakamura, who went on to costar with Malina in the failed sitcom Imagine That.

— Malina calls Jeb Bartlet’s first appearance on the show as “one of the all-time great character entrances.”

— Leo McGarry gets in a fight with the New York Times crossword editor about how to spell “Gaddafi” or “Qadaffi — though Hirway says they’re both wrong. The late Libyan dictator’s actual passport spelled his last name as “Gathafi.”

— At the end of the episode, Hirway digs up research on how the premiere was reviewed at the time. We’ll toot our own horn here: He points out that Entertainment Weekly was one of the first publications to recognize the show’s brilliance (we gave it an A grade), while others were a lot less kind.

That concludes the first episode in what Malina and Hirway hope will be a long-running podcast series. Only 153 West Wing episodes left to go!