The day after the 2016 election, I started rewatching The West Wing on Netflix. I guess I wanted to keep a sane, if somewhat idealized, version of the presidency and the White House within my vision. Martin Sheen as the down-to-earth yet dignified and devout President Jed Bartlett has comforted me since the series first aired, and the cast of characters serving in his cabinet almost feel like familiar old friends.
So when a friend shared a fanfic-style 2020 West Wing scene, I was intrigued. By the time I finished it, I was highly impressed and thoroughly delighted.
Los Angeles-based TV writer Jelena Woehr posted the script in a Twitter thread last week, the day Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19. The scene opens with former President Bartlett obviously just reading the news of the diagnosis and telling his wife Abby about it. The phone conversations that ensue are remarkably true to the show's writing and characters—like, you can actually hear their voices as you read it. Woehr nails the show so thoroughly it's almost spooky.
TOBY: yes, sir, I've heard. JED: do you think he's faking it? TOBY: no, sir, I don't. I don't think his ego would… https://t.co/mb3QDoIo4f— 👻 Headless Horsegirl 👻 (@👻 Headless Horsegirl 👻)1601620532.0
Here's Woehr's whole WW2020 thread, shared directly as written. Enjoy.
JED BARTLETT: *peering at news* Abby, did you see this?
ABBY: don't get your blood pressure up. it's not your concern anymore.
JED: well, of course it is. can't a man be interested in current events?
ABBY: just tell me you won't call--
JED: get Toby on the phone, will you?
TOBY: yes, sir, I've heard.
JED: do you think he's faking it?
TOBY: no, sir, I don't. I don't think his ego would allow it.
JED: should I make a statement?
TOBY: what kind of statement, sir?
JED: I don't know. "I told you so?"
TOBY: no, I don't think you should say that.
JED: have you talked to C.J.?
TOBY: I called, but she was dancing barefoot on the lawn under the full moon. she hung up on me.
JED: *snort* WOMEN.
ABBY: *clears throat*
JED: what I meant to say was, have you spoken to Sam?
TOBY: on the other line, sir. I'll merge the calls.
SAM: good evening, sir. how are you feeling?
JED: I'm married to a doctor. I'm feeling nostalgic for the outdoors.
TOBY: the president thinks he should make a statement.
SAM: don't say "I told you so."
JED: I wasn't going to.
JED: I might have considered it.
TOBY: sir, CJ's calling. should I merge her in?
JED: yes, for god's sake.
CJ: (out of breath) good evening, sir.
JED: I heard you were dancing.
CJ: a little bit, sir.
JED: did you do the jackal?
CJ: It's the WAP now, sir.
JED: I hope the P stands for "Pope."
CJ: no, sir
JED: CJ, don't you think it's somewhat unseemly to dance when a man has contracted a dangerous virus?
CJ: can the First Lady hear me?
ABBY: I'm here.
CJ: Mrs. Bartlett, do you have some sort of music-playing device with you? I want you to look up an artist named Megan--
SAM: Abby, don't do what she's telling you to do.
ABBY: that's Dr. Bartlett. I'm looking, CJ.
JED: I believe we were talking about me.
TOBY: yes, sir. a statement. I still think it's a bad idea.
SAM: there's nothing to say that won't sound vindictive or false.
JED: what if I'm feeling vindictive?
TOBY: then that's all the more reason not to say anything.
JED: god, you lily-livered intellectual elites pain me sometimes.
TOBY: sir, you're a Nobel laureate.
JED: get Ainsley on the phone.
CJ: you know who she works for now, right?
AINSLEY: good evening, Mr. President. I imagine you're calling to gloat?
JED: you have a vivid imagination.
TOBY: he's calling for advice. he thinks he should make a statement.
AINSLEY: sir, I work for the Lincoln Project. I don't think it's right I advise you.
SAM: I do.
TOBY: you do?
SAM: sure. we're on the same team on this one.
AINSLEY: your making a statement might benefit us, and not you.
JED: what benefit am I worried about? I'm retired.
ABBY: your legacy.
JED: is secure.
ABBY: your children.
JED: are rich, grown, and happy.
SAM: he's thinking of saying "I told you so."
JED: it was just a first draft. Toby will write the real thing.
AINSLEY: you shouldn't appear vindictive.
SAM: that's what I said.
AINSLEY: something statesmanlike.
JED: I've been statesmanlike this whole time. I wore a mask.
ABBY: I made you wear a mask.
JED: Dr. Bartlett made me wear a mask. and in statesmanlike fashion, I obeyed my wife.
CJ: where are you planning to place this statement?
JED: I don't know. I hear Chuck Grassley found a messenger pigeon.
TOBY: the pigeon was dead, sir.
JED: oh. well I suppose it's not very good at its job, then.
TOBY: about as good as the postal service these days, sir.
JED: where would you suggest placing the statement, CJ?
CJ: I could give it to Danny.
JED: isn't he retired?
CJ: semi-retired. he freelances.
JED: Danny, then. all right. we can give it to Danny. Ainsley, what should I say?
AINSLEY: should I bring George in on this?
JED: Conway? no. he's a nincompoop. blows this way and that with the wind.
TOBY: well said, sir.
JED: I want your opinion, Ainsley, not your bosses'.
AINSLEY: well, I think you should say that although you disagree on many things, you know what it's like to experience an illness in office.
JED: that's soft. you don't want me to be soft on the guy.
SAM: it's smart, sir. never interrupt your opponent when he's losing votes.
TOBY: he's not our opponent. we don't have an opponent. if we had an opponent, Josh would be on this call!
JED: good point. Toby, get Josh on the call.
CJ: sir, Josh is--
JED: In Portland, yes. they have phones in anarchist jurisdictions, right?
TOBY: he's in jail, sir.
JED: an actual jail?
TOBY: as opposed to what kind?
JED: I don't know. some sort of mock U.N. thing, for kids.
AINSLEY: please don't put anything about mock jails in the statement, Mr. President.
SAM: why didn't Josh call me? I should be his phone call.
TOBY: he called me.
SAM: I'm his attorney!
TOBY: well, maybe he doesn't want to get out of jail just yet.
JED: I can't still pardon him, can I?
TOBY: no, sir.
JED: God, I miss it sometimes.
CJ: the presidency, sir?
JED: just the part where I could tell all of you to shut up and make it stick.
JOSH: good evening, sir.
JED: I thought you were in jail.
JOSH: I am in jail, sir. what can I do for you?
CJ: while Toby and Sam were busy arguing about who Josh should have called, I called the jail and asked for Josh.
JED: Josh, should I make a statement or not?
JOSH: you should make one rip-roaring hell of a statement.
JED: should I say "I told you so?"
JOSH: did you tell him so?
JED: I tried. he wouldn't return my calls.
JOSH: then no, that's lying.
JED: and you're going to tell me I only get to do that while in office, I suppose.
CJ: what if you just send your well-wishes to the youngest one?
JED: the tall one?
CJ: is that a dig at me?
TOBY: he really is quite tall.
AINSLEY: he's a child, sir. don't bring him in.
JOSH: well-wishes are "bringing him in?"
AINSLEY: in a statement to the press? yes.
JED: I suppose you're right. I won't wish him well. in fact, I'll wish him nothing at all.
TOBY: you could say you're feeling fortunate to have been well-advised while in office by health experts, including the First Lady.
JOSH: that'll just bring up M.S. comparisons.
SAM: how about you don't say anything about him at all?
TOBY: make it about the American people.
SAM: in a time of crisis—
CJ: *snorts* it's not a crisis, it's the first good news this year.
SAM: in a time of great uncertainty...
TOBY: a time of yearning for stability...
SAM: ...a time when America, stuck in a beleaguered present, longs for a mythical past and a promised future...
TOBY: ...it is clearer now than ever that today's challenges shape tomorrow's opportunities.
SAM: ...as a nation, we grieve deeply together, and we rise together.
TOBY: and—bear with me, sir—today's unprecedented trials remind me that America has yet to keep her founding promises to her citizens.
SAM: liberty. equality. prosperity. for too many American families, these ideals remain out of reach.
TOBY: my time to lead has passed.
SAM: today, I am proud to follow a new generation—a rising force that fights for what it believes in.
JOSH: hey. still in jail for fighting for what I believe in over here.
ABBY: maybe you're an honorary youth?
TOBY: we're riffing. please don't interrupt when we're riffing.
ABBY: that's "please don't interrupt, DR. Bartlett."
TOBY: yes, ma'am.
JED: say something about my children. Zoe's doing such great work at that awful socialist rag.
SAM: I am inspired most of all by my daughters, fearless in their devotion to their values and their nation.
TOBY: my time in the oval office affords me a unique vantage point from which to observe today's trials and tribulations.
SAM: and what I've observed most keenly is the unquenchable spirit of human kindness.
TOBY: presidents don't save lives. nurses and teachers do.
SAM: so when you ask me if I think the country can survive this current crisis?
TOBY: I think a country is not so much defined by those with the most power, but by those with the least.
SAM: the real business of America takes place not in the Oval Office, but in classrooms.
TOBY: and on street corners, where too many Americans, too many veterans, sleep at night.
SAM: and in the streets, where our youth are proud to march together and call for change.
TOBY: I know my successor in the White House will receive the best medical care in the world.
SAM: I only hope that—with the leadership of more citizens, and fewer politicians—there will come a day when I can say the same of every single mother, every newborn child, and every senior citizen.
TOBY: add a God Bless America, and you're done.
JED: CJ, did you get all that?
ABBY: you really should see this video CJ is showing me. it's really something. you say *you* did that dance?
CJ: well, not quite like they do it.
JED: please tell me someone wrote all that down.
AINSLEY: I did, sir. on tape.
JED: of course. the republican.
JOSH: you can't record this. you're in a two-party state.
AINSLEY: relax, I'm joking. I just took notes. I'll type them up for you.
JED: should I add something in about voting?
CJ: sir, if anyone hasn't decided whether or not to vote by this time, you won't sway them.
JED: so that's it. that's the statement. no well-wishes, but no I-told-you-so.
TOBY: that's the statement.
JED: Zoe will ask why I didn't give it to her.
CJ: you can't give Jacobin an exclusive, sir.
JED: well why the hell not?
CJ: because I already texted Danny.
JED: fine. we'll give it to Danny. but if there's any followup, Zoe gets it.
JOSH: you just called her publication a "socialist rag."
JED: and? she may be redder than a baboon's behind, but she's my daughter.
AINSLEY: it's okay, Ma'am. Presidents are coarse now.
JED: see? even the republican is on my side.
AINSLEY: we have very few decent sides to be on these days, sir.
JED: give that nutter Conway my regards. and trip his wife down the stairs for me, will you?
TOBY: you'll send CJ the final language?
AINSLEY: already did.
JED: excellent. now, if there's nothing else to do, I'm going back to bed.
SAM: sir, Josh is still in jail.
JED: call a nurse or a teacher to get him out. politicians and intellectuals are passé.
ABBY: wait! CJ, don't hang up. I need to know how to get one of these leotards.
CJ: planning to learn the WAP, ma'am?
JED: good-NIGHT everyone. *hangs up phone*
ABBY: I wasn't done!
JED: you don't secretly hate Christmas or anything, do you?
ABBY: You know I love Christmas.
JED: Let's go upstairs, Dr. Bartlett.
ABBY: Lead the way, Mr. President.
I feel like we need a "The End" here.
Seriously, though, wasn't that remarkable and delightful? Woehr has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention and praise for the imaginary reboot and says she's planning more for people who loved the thread. (Also, here's her LinkedIn profile because somebody in television seriously needs to hire her.)
Twitter, I remain so intensely grateful for the love for my work you all are putting out into the beautiful, infini… https://t.co/BGJgHOIVzN— 👻 Headless Horsegirl 👻 (@👻 Headless Horsegirl 👻)1602040316.0
Thanks for bringing a bit of The West Wing into the craziest part of 2020, Jelena! It's the levity and inspiration we didn't know we needed.
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