When you're watching a show as flawless as The West Wing, it's hard to imagine anything about it being different, because it's technically perfect in every way. (Fight me on this, I dare you.) But for the sake of argument, what would The West Wing be like without Charlie Young? The character of Charlie, played brilliantly by Dulé Hill, began the series as President Jed Bartlet's personal aide, a position that meant he could really pop up in any scene at any time, and his quiet humor, intelligence, and determination provided a through-line for the show. You might not think his absence would change things that much, considering he's not the President himself, or a highly-visible member of the staff, but I think you'd be surprised at how much would be affected.
And honestly, we almost lived in a Charlie Young-less world. On the show, the woman who interviewed Charlie, Deborah De LaGuardia, was actually doing so for another position: a part-time messenger. However, she recommended him for the body-man job over the son of a prominent donor, leading to her dismissal. So, if she'd bowed to pressure and given the position to the other guy, we never would've had our charming Charlie. And I'm glad that she didn't, because I can think of eight ways that The West Wing would have been different (read: worse) without him.
1. Deborah Fiderer Wouldn't Have Been Hired As The President's Secretary
After the tragic death of Mrs. Landingham, President Bartlet needed a new secretary, and he turned to Charlie for help finding one after the pool of candidates was less than overwhelming. Charlie recommended Debby, talked her into applying, and essentially shepherded her through the entire process. He knew her acerbic wit would make her perfect for the job, and it did, but, without Charlie, she wouldn't have gotten anywhere near an interview. (Although to be fair, she also wouldn't have been fired from her original position if she hadn't vouched for Charlie, so it might be a wash.)
2. There'd Be No One To Bring President Bartlet Down To Earth
More so than any other character, Charlie gets to talk to the President like he's a real person. And more importantly, the President spoke to Charlie the same way in return. We're talking lines like, "Sir, I need you to dig in now. It wasn't a nightmare. You really are the President" (Charlie to President Bartlet) and "Aren't you afraid that one day I'm just gonna kick your ass like it's never been kicked?" (the President to Charlie). It's crucial stuff to help relieve tension in critical moments, and, without Charlie, we'd miss out on a lot of it.
3. ...But He'd Still Have That Knife
President Bartlet would still have that fancy knife from Paul Revere though, so once again, a wash. (JK, Charlie is way more valuable than any carving knife. I don't care which Boston silversmith made it.)
4. Who Would Stand Up For C.J. Cregg?
I mean Toby Ziegler will do it sometimes, when he's in a sentimental mood, as will Leo McGarry and the President, if they happen to catch a slight, but nobody looks out for C.J. quite like Charlie. This is him in Season 4, Episode 1, shutting down his Little Brother, Anthony Marcus for not addressing C.J. properly:
This is Ms. Cregg. She's the White House Press Secretary and Senior Counsel to the President. And if she wasn't, she would still be Ms. Cregg. I don't mind you not respecting people. I mind you doing it out loud. I mind you doing it in this building.
I think I'm in love. Also sidenote: clearly the woman has proven she can stand up for herself. It's just nice for someone else in the building to have her back once in awhile.
5. There'd Be No One To Stand Up For The Electorate
And C.J. isn't the only one to benefit from Charlie's watchful eye and benevolence. He also looks out for the American people, when they're getting talked down to by fancy politicos. When C.J. quipped, "Everybody's stupid in an election year, Charlie," in Season 2, Episode 9, Charlie shot back, "No, everybody gets treated stupid in an election year, C.J." Can't argue with that.
6. We Wouldn't Have Gotten To See As Much Of Elisabeth Moss
Without Charlie & Zoey's relationship in place to flesh out her storyline, the young Miss Bartlet might have gone the way of other Barlet daughters, Elizabeth and Eleanor, who made only sporadic appearances throughout the series. And what a tragedy that would have been.
7. That Assassination Attempt Would Never Have Taken Place
As you may recall, the shots fired at the Presidential party that injured Josh Lyman and President Bartlet, among others, were not actually an attempt on either of their lives, but on Charlie's, due to his interracial relationship with Zoey Bartlet. This was a huge element of the storyline, and it goes without saying that without Charlie, this powerful and important season finale wouldn't be possible.
8. No One Would've Had Toby's Back After His Betrayal
After Toby Ziegler was fired for leaking confidential information, most of the White House staffers had to distance themselves from him, because of how it would've looked. But, after Leo McGarry's funeral in Season 7, Episode 18, our beautiful Charlie says to Toby, "I'll walk out with you. I don't think a picture of you and me makes the New York Times. Do you?" I could cry right now.
Just looking over this, it's clear to me that Charlie Young was the moral compass of this show, the beating heart at the center of the West Wing, both literal and figurative, and I can't imagine this world without him.
Images: Warner Bros. Television (8); Giphy