Monday, 16 July 2012

S01E15: Celestial Navigation

Once every year there is an episode of TV that is just so good that all other episodes of all other shows fall by the wayside in deference to that particular episode's brilliance. A couple of years ago it was Community's "Modern Warfare", but in the 1999/2000 season it was Celestial Navigation, and by a country mile.

This isn't a comedy show, but I defy anyone to find a funnier hour of TV than the one we get here. From Toby and Sam bickering in the car, to CJ's woot canal, to the secret plan to fight inflation, it's just brilliant. What's even more impressive is the amount of serious subject matter the episode squeezes in.

Yes, I know I've already mentioned it, but the sequence from where CJ comes back from the dentist to the end of the briefing is just televisual perfection. I swear that CJ is channelling Elmer Fudd when she warns Josh "be vewy vewy careful not to destwoy us." Then Josh steps into the press room and gets a polite warning from Danny that this isn't a good idea. Maybe up to this point we'd been thinking "how badly could it go", but the way Josh brushes off Danny's concerns in the most condescending way possible tells us that it's going to be a car crash. From the moment Josh says "Are you sure you want your one question to be that stupid" we're treated to the most symphonic display of humour I've ever heard. The way they cut to reactions from CJ and the manner in which Josh gradually digs himself into a deeper hole, culminating in the "secret plan to fight inflation" is just beautiful. Of course, it carries on beyond the briefing itself, as we get all the main character's reactions to Josh's calamitous performance which also overlaps with the Mendoza comments on O'Leary. The final cherry on top is Sam's display of geek bravado as he describes Mendoza's potential route from Nova Scotia to Washington via Connecticut (which makes his getting lost even funnier). Oh yeah, there's also the President's response to Josh's precis of the situation.

With all that Sorkin still manages to give us a bit of commentary on racial profiling. This is the one part that doesn't ring 100% true with me, as I don't imagine a 50 something year old man being pulled when they're in a car with their wife and nine year old child. Maybe that's just me being naive though.

So as I said at the outset, all in all, not only is this the best episode of this season of West Wing (and one of my all time top five episodes), it's the best episode of any show that season. Have you guessed what grade I'm awarding it yet?

Random observations:

Weird intro to this episode - basically it introduces all the characters with them saying what they do. US folk - was this the first episode after a break, or did they realise that this was such a good episode that they promoted it to death in an attempt to get new viewers?

Debbie O'Leary is better known as a surgeon from ER.

The watch commander was Archer's superior officer from Enterprise.

Episode grade: A+

So what did you all think?

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