10 Reasons to Love Josh and Donna

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You probably didn’t need reasons, but I’m giving you them anyway, as the wise philosopher Billie Piper once sang, because I want to, because I want to. Indulge my shipping heart a moment and allow me to reflect on what made the White House romance quite so special.

1. They were a beautiful accident. 

Much about the success of The West Wing has a touch of serendipity to it, but nothing more than the relationship between the deputy chief of staff and his assistant. Bradley Whitford, who played Josh in the White House drama, said: “They’re completely in love. What’s great is Aaron Sorkin never wrote it as a romantic thing. It just sort of came out.”

In fact, because Rob Lowe is reeeeal pricey, folks, Whitford was originally asked to play Sam (perish the thought!), and he had to fight for Josh. He won the part in the end, of course, but back then, no will they/ won’t they tension was intended between Josh and Donna; rather, Josh was supposed to romantically spar with White House media consultant/professional disappearing act, Mandy Hampton. Donna herself, Janel Moloney, had originally auditioned to play CJ and lost out to the wonderful Allison Janney before being offered a few lines in the pilot episode as everyone’s favourite deputy deputy chief of staff. Chemistry happened, and those few lines earned her an extra scene in the pilot episode. She continued earning herself extra scenes throughout the inaugural season until Moloney was promoted to a series regular for Season 2. By this time, all hope had been lost for a Josh/Mandy romance, praise be.

Moloney explained: “I decided early on that this was a passionate, deep love relationship where my character was mad, head over heels in love. Because that’s drama, that’s fun. A little bit of love’s not fun for anybody. I think it made the relationship special because there wasn’t really anything like that on the show. And you can’t get rid of a hot, burning romance on your hit show.” True dat.

2. The best things come to those who wait.

Josh and Donna take their sweet time to get together, eventually locking lips in a moment of euphoria, mid-Season 7. Yes, I’m sad that we had so little time to bask in the post-consummated glory of a Josh and Donna relationship. But the beauty of the slow burn is that all of the little moments feel like big ones. Any time they flirt or gaze at each other or basically outright declare undying love (“If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights”), it’s a huge effin’ deal. The best thing is, these delightful occurrences come on the regular.

A particularly sweet, very downplayed moment occurs when Josh is telling Donna’s prospective boyfriend, Jack Reese, some dorky stories about her. She’s mortified; he’s confused. He insists, “Those are good stories about you, though. Those stories would make me like you.” It still burns me that she doesn’t notice the intense googly eyes he’s making at her as he says it. Yes, I took every single piece of bait they threw at me for seven seasons. Expect no less. I WAITED FOR THEM FOR SEVEN YEARS.

3. Individually, they are two of the most dynamic, complex, heartbreaking and amusing characters in their show – or in any show, period. 

It’s perhaps unsurprising that separately Donna and Josh (in that order) make up the top two on my list of West Wing faves, but it would be a poor show to overlook their respective brilliance.

Donna is witty, confident, brave, compassionate, determined, and incredibly good at all the jobs we see her have. As Josh’s assistant, she begins under-qualified and ends up over-competent. Donna embarks on an arc of empowerment through the later seasons of the show, a storyline that sees her all the way to the office of FLOTUS chief of staff. Whether she is pursuing her ambitions, bringing the comic relief or providing a moral compass, Donna Moss is a constant joy. It’s really no wonder that Josh couldn’t bear the idea of losing her, professionally or personally.

Speaking of Josh, he’s plenty interesting himself. Desperately loyal, committed, intelligent, funny and just a little broken, Sorkin expertly juxtaposes his amusing arrogance with such deep vulnerability that one can’t help but fall hard. One minute he’s declaring, “I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.” and another he’s flying all the way to Germany at a moment’s notice to be at Donna’s side.  I would argue that Josh is the most complex character (while Toby’s the most nuanced) and by mid-Season 2, the show has inadvertently made him its very compelling lead. Whitford’s Emmy for Noel, an episode that explored Josh’s post-traumatic stress disorder, was about as well deserved as Emmys get.

4. Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney.

bradjanelThe actors who play them are candid about their characters’ onscreen relationship, openly expressing support for it. Moloney said of their collaboration: “I really feel like that’s my central relationship on the show. Any scene I do with Brad is particularly enjoyable.” Whitford obviously shared this sentiment, having told the director, “God, I love her!” immediately after their first scene together.

On their characters, both conceded that the pair belong together. Whitford admitted that “they’re absolutely crazy about each other” despite their jobs, adding that, “I think I know deep down that emotionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her and I think professionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her, either.” Geez. Now I’m struggling to function.

Moloney commented that, “I think they’re absolutely mad for each other. I think it’s probably something that they both struggle with personally and they don’t really know how to express it and they don’t really want to admit that they have the feelings that they have.”

At a reunion, the duo was asked what they imagine their fictional counterparts are doing with themselves several years on. Married with a kid, they agreed.

5. War Crimes.

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HE BROKE THE LAW TO PROTECT HER. HE MAKES THE LAW. HE IS THE LAW. HE BROKE THE LAW… FOR HER.  Don’t tell me to be calm about this! I will not be calm.

6. They bring the funny.

Their witty repartee never ceases to entertain me. Always a delightful dose of sharp dialogue and sizzling chemistry, biting sarcasm permeates their every exchange. At times, most times really, they resemble an old married couple – reluctantly sharing food, dressing each other, having their petty squabbles and sharing the most over-familiar rapport.  They play tricks on each other (the “XW-9 warhead in a silo 93 feet below the Eisenhower putting green”) and they play tricks on their colleagues (“I framed Roger Rabbit!”). They fight (“You know, there are times when, to put it quite simply, I hate your breathing guts.”) and they flirt (“You are a very powerful and a very handsome man”). It’s hard to know which is more enjoyable to watch. Both actors have a knack for understated physical comedy and superb comic timing, which lends itself beautifully to the lightness of their scenes.

7. “She was the one who guessed.”

They get each other. When Josh’s symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder begin to manifest, Donna is the one to notice and get him help. When Donna is caught in a roadside explosion, Josh drops everything and flies to Germany to be with her. In a more low-key display of the bond between them, after Donna hears of the suicide of Donovan Morrissey in The Benign Prerogative, she tells Josh that she “needs to learn how to […] keep things at arm’s length”. He replies simply: “I hope not.” The sincerity of the line’s delivery shows his affection for that part of her, her deep-rooted compassion as a driving force of her character.

It’s hard to talk about Josh and Donna “getting” each other without referring to her conversation with Amy in Commencement. “You have to get Josh,” Donna states, the implication being that Amy does not. “His sister died in a fire while she was babysitting him. She tried to put it out; he ran outside. He went off campaigning; his father died. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers the president’s been shot. He goes through every day worried that somebody he likes is gonna die and it’s gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast?” She gets him, like really gets him. She’s thinking about all the factors that have shaped who he is and how he behaves on a moment-by-moment basis. She takes the time to wholly know him and so when an outsider comes to her for some insight on the mind of Josh, it’s as simple as: “You have to get Josh.” But she’s the only one who does.

8. They don’t even try to hide it.

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They are more tactile than married Jim and Pam, to be quite honest. If Josh can find an excuse to touch the small of her back or hold her hand, by golly, he’ll do it! And likewise, Donna makes a nice home for herself in Josh’s personal space. There is an episode, Stirred (a favourite of mine for many reasons), where she positions herself in his office with her legs up on his desk. Scandal! In-universe, it’s made clear that there are rumblings around DC about the nature of their relationship as outsider Amy flatly asks, “Are you dating your assistant? […] I heard you might be.” His mind’s telling him no, but his body’s telling him “IF ONLY!”

Did anyone else kind of want it to become a Mary Marsh-involved scandal that tested their relationship but ultimately brought them closer together? My best friend and I talk about this so often that it’s become real to me. I feel like Taylor Swift wrote ‘I Know Places’ about this very dream.

9. Their first meeting and THAT stage direction.

Josh is immediately a smitten kitten when this charming, audacious Wisconsinite shows up “at my desk, reading my calendar, answering my phone and hoping that I wouldn’t notice that I never hired you.” From that very moment, he’s a goner. And judging from one rather touching stage direction, so is she:

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Goddammit, Sorkin.

10. The struggle is real.

The obstacle in their relationship is legitimate. It’s not that they won’t admit to themselves that they’re in love; it’s not that they are with other people; it’s not that they are cop partners who can’t risk complicating their working relationship. If they were to enter into a relationship, they would risk tarnishing the Bartlet presidency with a pretty big scandal that the administration could very much do without. Obviously they know the term is going to be four or eight years, and potentially that’s what is in the back of their minds whenever they confront their feelings. The backlash to any potential romance would be catastrophic if it were to happen while Donna was still his assistant. It would seem as though he was taking advantage, or that she was sleeping her way to the top.

Romances from Sorkin’s other shows have had comparatively insubstantial obstacles – Dana and Casey’s nonsense, Matt and Harriet’s nonsense, Will and Mackenzie’s nonsense. I’m just saying, he’s good at romantical nonsense. Dana and Casey’s felt like a real low point until you caught Season 2 of The Newsroom and were introduced to the second round of Mackenzie and Will. Seriously, their obstacle was mindless stubbornness and literally nothing else. If there had been a Josh and Mandy romance, I have a feeling it would have resembled the aforementioned list of nonsense.

The fact that Josh and Donna were a blessed surprise to even their writer may have actually worked hugely in their favour. Throughout the show, their situation, their problems, their struggle is real – making it all the sweeter when you reach the delightful final chapter.

OMBRE

Photo 18-02-2014 18 20 29Oh, ombre. The best trend that no one’s entirely sure how to pronounce.

A friend just assured me that “an entry about your transformation into the fourth Haim sister will be a thrilling read” so I thought I would post about my third ombre. It was definitely the most successful attempt yet and I think we’ve mastered it, folks. Before I continue, let me apologise for the weird pictures I include – nothing can be done about my not-so-photogenic awkwardness. C’est la vie.

This is my straight-up before and after:

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Jerome-Russell-bblonde-highlighting-kitI used Jerome Russell’s Bblonde Highlight Kit. If you have trouble remembering it, it’s the one with the Natalie Dormer lookalike on the front. It’s really good value in Boots for about a fiver (sorry, can’t find it online!). I chose it because a lot of the ombre blogs and tutorials I’d read beforehand had used this one, and I really like it because it picks up on the natural highlights in your hair so that the blonde is not just an unnatural block colour. For ombre, I want it to look as natural as possible with a gentle fade to blonde.

Both times previously, I was very eager to see the results and took out the dye after only about twenty minutes. Both of those times young, naive Jess ended up reapplying for a second go to get a bolder effect for a further twenty minutes. This time, I was a little more strategic about it.

Clairey, my trustee hair-dyer and commander-in-chief, first applied about half the dye mixture/ blue stuff up to about halfway down my hair – about chin level – and we waited half an hour for it to take effect. I used a Haim playlist to kill the time, which is a very important step that you should not miss under any circumstances. We washed out the dye and used the shampoo and condish that they give you in the pack, and it looked a little like this after drying:

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I was a little disappointed because it looked slightly lighter but it had to catch the light for any real effect to show up. I suggested that the second dye should just be about an inch or two up so that I could have much blonder ends. Claire also made sure to put a little dye onto the ends of my growing-out fringe too, which was a nice touch. I left this on for about 45-50 minutes. AND HOT DAMN IT WORKED SO MUCH BETTER. I also gave my hair a deep condition after because gotta look after my mane.

It came out pretty good in the end:20140218_180615 copy

Thanks to Claire for helping with the blondifying. I’m very happy with how my hair looks now! I plan to do a few more deep conditions over the next week or two, just so that the dye doesn’t damage my hair too much.

My Mad Perfect Diary

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I feel like My Mad Fat Diary explores a previously-untapped point of view. All told through the female protagonist’s diary entries, it explores deeply personal – sometimes taboo – issues. These are quite often things that I have never before seen approached on TV. But I’m glad it’s happening now. Last night’s episode took this to new heights, dizzying heights, look-at-the-beautiful-scenery-up-here heights. It was PERFECT. Here’s why:

Sex was a hot topic in the season premiere. But unlike most (read: all) times that I’ve seen sex referenced on TV, MMFD focused on female pleasure. Women liking sex? Who’d have thunk it?! How many times have you read headlines like, “How to Keep Your Man Happy in the Bedroom” on the covers of women’s mags? Too many, anyhow. Note that vice versa doesn’t pepper the covers of men’s magazines. Evan Rachel Wood was recently even talking about her frustrations with the way the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) censor female sexuality, commenting that “The scene [in her movie] where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable”, but the scenes in which people are being murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.” She further suggested that this was symptomatic of a society that punishes women for enjoying sex. While MMFD didn’t go as far as to show male-to-female oral sex, it was certainly addressed as Rae expressed her desire for Finn to “go down on me for so long that he has to evolve gills.” It was both hilarious and a delightfully positive acknowledgement of female sexuality, as was Rae’s later comment that she “was so turned on, we were gonna need a canoe and life jackets.”

Another wonderful moment in the episode was the acknowledge that pubic hair exists. These might seem like easy bonus points but seriously, it might be the first time I’ve ever seen pubic hair mentioned on TV. After her visit to the beauticians, Rae eloquently states: “My lady clam no longer looks like a barber’s bin.”  I believe the world would be a better place, an easier place for teenage girls at least, if we stopped pretending girls aren’t naturally hairless.

And yes, BRAS SUCK. And My Mad Fat Diary proved that rather brilliantly last night as Rae, who has given up comfort in favour of more aesthetically pleasing lingerie, is given some boob support from “stereotype gay best friend” Archie. Too often femininity comes at the cost of comfort.

Hello, Finn’s butt. Daaayummmm boy.

Then there’s Rae’s heartbreakingly relatable insecurity. The show, at its best, superbly taps into a near-universal human neuroses that manifests in all of us differently. Personally, I’ve found a worrying amount of solace in Rae Earl quotes from the show: “It’s easier to like yourself when someone else likes you”, “The worst thing was that a lot of the stuff was so nice … It just wasn’t made for someone whose body wasn’t pretty, wasn’t delicate”. I feel like Rae is representative of a personality that we don’t see on TV enough, at least not depicted in such a positive and enlightened way. Mental illness is a sensitive issue to explore and MMFD does it beautifully, clearly informed by the autobiographical source material.

Finally, the episode beautifully addressed the mindfuck chaos that comes from the pressure to lose your virginity in your teens. Please can we stop hurling the word “virgin” around? Girl will get the D when she so wishes.

Harry Potter: Text vs. Author

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Despite the fact that the Harry Potter book series wrapped up back in ’07, the headline dominating my Twitter feed this morning was JK Rowling’s admission that Ron and Hermione were a mistake. It should have been Harry and Hermione happily ever after, apparently.

But how much does it matter?

My issue with this rather late confession is less with the plot idea (although was it not a positive thing that the relationship between Harry and Hermione celebrated male/female friendship?), but the idea that, as author, Rowling has the commanding voice over all readings of the books. If Harry and Hermione were meant to be, the fans would have read that in the text. And many did.

Telling the whole world that canon events were a mistake just leaves you feeling uneasy. I always felt that the epilogue was a mistake, firstly for being overly saccharine but also for removing the option to imagine various other directions for the characters. It’s an author’s final attempt to retain control of her world. I feel the same way about The West Wing‘s flash-forward (re: CJ). I hate the airtight conclusions, not allowing the reader’s imagination the freedom that is more than earned after seven long books. But now to tell them that the ending was actually a mistake? It makes you imagine that while the characters had those resolutions, they were never happy in them. As an invested reader, it’s hard to accept that it turns out that the epilogue wasn’t saccharine but instead was kind of tragic.

This is not the first time Rowling has thrown out a headline-making revelation about the world of Potter. While the news of Dumbledore’s homosexuality didn’t contradict canon events, it always felt rather hollow considering the lack of explicit evidence in the text. I have no issue with Dumbledore being gay, but I find it an odd move for Rowling to throw it out into the world as though proof of representation. I’m not invalidating authorial intent entirely, but I feel that the control and intent of the author begins and ends in the text they create. They can do anything within their story, and then once it has been put out into the world, people should be allowed to read whatever they want into those words. I am not into the idea of authors deciding, years later, that my reading of a novel is invalid.

It’s sad, too, because one of the most enjoyable aspects of Harry Potter is its exclusion of a love triangle. The main trio are bonded by friendship. It was refreshing that the lead female character wasn’t the hero’s prize. Rowling’s revelation tarnishes this, and also removes the focus from Hermione’s brilliance, her intelligence and her compassion. Whether you ship H/Hr or R/Hr, we can all agree on that, right?

Sidenote: I really feel like if JK Rowling should take issue with anything in her own book series, it should be the pretence that Snape turned out to be a standup bloke. Dude terrorised 11 year old son of woman who rejected him in high school. He also bullied Hermione about her teeth (which she later has permanently changed because of the insecurity) and inexplicably punishes her for being brilliant. But yes, it absolutely makes sense that older Harry would give his son the middle name of Severus. Wha-what?