Home News Amy Gardner: Character Analysis, Creation and Role in The West Wing

Amy Gardner: Character Analysis, Creation and Role in The West Wing


Amelia Gardner is a fictional character portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker on The West Wing, an American serial political drama. Created during season three after receiving a voicemail from Parker to its creator, Amy serves as both a feminist voice on the show and Josh Lyman’s love interest. While critics generally agreed with her feminist ideals, they were divided on whether her romance with Josh was better or worse than his relationship with Donna Moss, his former assistant.

Amy Gardner
Amy Gardner

Amy Gardner Creation

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, revealed that Amy’s character was inspired by Mary-Louise Parker calling him with a voicemail that read: “Hi! This is Mary-Louise Parker. Josh Lyman needs to get laid, and I’m the one to do it”. Her first appearance in 2001’s “The Women of Qumar”Author Patrick Webster speculates Sydney Ellen Wade from The American President was an early prototype for Amy; Steve Heisler from The A.V Club however draws comparisons between Amy and Rebecca Wells from Sports Night by Sorkin himself.

Parker was initially intended for just one episode as a feminist activist connected to First Lady Abbey Bartlet. However, producers kept asking her back in more and more episodes until Amy ended up falling in love with Josh Lyman – the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. Bradley Whitford who played Josh told The Washington Post in 2006 that he personally preferred that his character end up with Amy. Parker however felt her character arc became “too soapy” once she started dating Josh despite fan approval.

Parker had to leave her role by October 2003, due to her pregnancy with son William Atticus. Her last appearance was in the fifth-season episode “Constituency of One”, but she returned for a few more episodes before leaving again.

Amy Gardner’s Jobs Role

Amy held multiple jobs throughout the course of the show, such as chief of staff to the first lady, campaign consultant and political operative, and White House Director of Legislative Affairs.

Amy is introduced to the show as a staunch feminist; her first scene features her as an executive from a women’s political action group, asked to meet with Josh Lyman in her office about a United Nations prostitution treaty. Amy repeatedly presses Josh on an issue in the treaty, which may stall any judicial nominations made by President Josiah Bartlet. To reassure Josh, Amy says “I didn’t burn my bras, J.

In fact, I like my bras! I ring your bell when it’s important.” Amy can use this opportunity to soften her appearance and demonstrate that she is part of the system–not some radical feminist to be terrified of–without having to apologize for her views. Patrick Webster noted that Amy was “perhaps the only character in the series with a clear feminist viewpoint and an genuinely militant attitude towards equality between genders”.

Amy’s role as a progressive and idealist is often at odds with, or even countered, by her relationship with Josh.  In the third-season episode “We Killed Yamamoto”, Amy and Josh are spending an evening together watching a baseball game and cooking stew when there is contention over a “marriage incentives” attachment on an otherwise beneficial bill. Amy opposes passing the bill with its attachment, noting that “these old, fat-assed men really believe that if they just pay people to behave like Leave It to Beaver, everything will be just fine”.

She attempts to derail the bill by organizing women’s political groups; Josh, however, remains supportive despite its flaw and reminds Amy that even with all his shortcomings, the president remains far preferable to his opponent. The disagreement poses a threat to their relationship; when Josh attempts to contact the White House to organize a counter push, Amy throws his phone away in frustration.

In the end, both President Barack Obama and his chief of staff, Leo McGarry, reprimand Josh for not being able to “tame” Amy. Ultimately though, Josh gets his bill passed–Josh admitting he bribed Amy’s boss–despite losing both her job and relationship with Josh.

Midway through the fourth season, Amy is hired by the first lady to push for political reforms. However, she resigns her position in “Constituency of One”, explaining to President Bartlet that “I wasn’t made to serve at someone else’s pleasure”.

Webster noted this detachment from any cult-like following other characters could show towards President Bartlet. Authors Simon Philpott and David Mutimer suggested this is because female characters like Amy (along with Joey Lucas, Mandy Hampton and Ainsley Hayes) don’t count as core characters nor do they depend on male senior staff or the president for their jobs.

Reception and Influence

Amy has generally been well received as a character, although critics are divided on whether she was the right match for Josh rather than Donna. The Atlantic ranked Amy fifth out of 144 characters on their list of the best characters on The West Wing.

Vulture ranked Amy 23rd on their list of 38 best characters created by Aaron Sorkin, writing that she was an activist and respectable character “if you can forgive her season-long cockblock of Donna”. The A.V. Club listed Josh and Amy as one of television’s “18 tough-luck couples that should have succeeded”, praising Amy’s beauty, intellect, and confidence; however the article also criticised the show for having an uneventful and on-and-off nature of their relationship given Josh’s already existing chemistry with Donna; which negatively affected Amy’s character arc.

The A.V Club listed them as one of television’s “18 tough luck couples that should have succeeded”. It went on to praise Amy as a strong character, intelligent yet confident]. Nevertheless, given Josh already having preexisting chemistry with Donna beforehand, this might have hindered Amy’s progress throughout season 2.

Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of Amy Gardner earned her a nomination for an Emmy Award, but ultimately went to co-cast member Stockard Channing for her portrayal of Abbey Bartlet.

Freya Gardner, the main character on 2013 British television series The Politician’s Husband, takes her name from Amy as do several other West Wing surnames in the show. Amy and Parker’s onscreen relationship also resonated with viewers; Parker recounted in a 2020 interview that viewers often approached her in public and told her “she’s taking him away from Donna”.

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