There's a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why? Will:
It's the only thing that ever has.
Multiple-Emmy-award-winning political drama (1999-2006) created by Aaron Sorkin
, starring Martin Sheen
as the idealized President of the United States, nerdily intellectual Democrat Jed Bartlet. The real focus, however, is on his smart and dedicated staff, who roam the White House endlessly discussing the pressing political issues of the moment
. In fact, the President wasn't even originally intended to appear very often, but Sheen was so impressive in the pilot that he was made a regular instead of the original four-episodes-a-season plan.
The rest of the cast includes Stockard Channing as the President's wife Abbey, John Spencer as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Allison Janney
as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, Rob Lowe as Deputy Director of Communications Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as the President's assistant Charlie, Janel Moloney as Josh's secretary Donna, and Richard Schiff as Director of Communications Toby Ziegler. Additional cast includes Marlee Matlin, who plays political consultant Joey Lucas, and is one of the few times an actual deaf person
is cast in a major television program, and Mary-Louise Parker
as feminist spokesperson/First Lady's Chief of Staff Amy Gardner.
As per Sorkin's style, the show is wall-to-wall dialogue. The characters spend the entirety of every episode having lengthy, pointed arguments about real concerns such as public education, foreign aid and gun control, in a style of patter which carefully balances sober and didactic with nutty and didactic. All sides of an issue are covered (the show even gave the reason for the US Navy's infamous four-hundred-dollar ashtrays), although the show still has a distinctly liberal bias, with more than a few Republicans being portrayed as arrogant and out of touch. It did get a fair bit of criticism from conservatives for this, but many saw it as the best attempt to date to try to be a truly fair and balanced drama about Washington, DC
. The show is notorious for the Walk and Talk
— to create the illusion of activity in the midst of all this discussion, the characters constantly walk around the White House as they talk, despite the fact that they rarely have any place to go. Its nickname on Television Without Pity
was "pedeconferencing", which was also picked up by Sorkin and Schlamme, among others.
It's also notorious for its vanishing characters. The characters played by Rob Lowe and Moira Kelly never officially left, they merely were never seen again, despite the fact that Lowe in particular was an integral part of the White House social order (and had just had a running plot which gave him a perfect way out). This is just a quirk of Sorkin's which even his most ardent fans find irritating and inexplicable. Lowe, it should be noted, returned close to the finale
and had his resignation and intermezzo period explained. Mandy is still on her bus to Mandyville.
The first four seasons were written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. They left at the end of the fourth season, to be replaced by John Wells (of ER
fame). Rather than trying to emulate Sorkin's style, Wells decided to emphasize the personal lives of the characters over the politics, and the show moved more to the middle of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
and dealing with many current events issues. The last two season also shifted the plot out of the White House and into the next presidential race, adding Alan Alda
and Jimmy Smits as the Republican and Democratic frontrunners (Alda's Emmy would tie the show with Hill Street Blues
as the most honored drama in Emmy history). Despite lacking even one mention of superdelegates
, the Santos-vs-Vinick campaign is noted for its stunning accuracy and is possibly the single most realistic fictional depiction of an American presidential political campaign anywhere
. It's also notable for the fact that the presidential race, written and aired in 2005/06, has a more-than-passing resemblance to the 2008 presidential campaign, with a charismatic young minority (Santos/Obama) facing off against a moderate "straight talking" Republican (Vinick/McCain). The writers have said they based Santos on then-Senator Obama after the latter's speech at the 2004 National Democratic Convention.
After NBC moved the show up against the inexplicable ratings juggernaut Extreme Makeover
, ratings declined to the point where, in 2006, it was cancelled. The re-election arc did give a perfect out for its Grand Finale
Sorkin was fond of making homages to and referencing musical theatre, most impressively from 1776
. It could be argued that there are references in every single episode due to one character being a descendant of a character in 1776
(Pres. Bartlet, and his three daughters as well, of course) and through Sorkin's taking Josh's last name from a minor 1776
character (Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia).
A small, but interesting point: a political ploy tried by House Democrats in one episode (involving hiding in the Capitol building so the Republicans would think they'd gone home and organise a vote they would otherwise lose, then turning up and voting) was tried by the British Conservatives a while ago. And worked.
In 2012 an impressive selection of the main cast reunited for a PSA that endorsed Mary McCormick's (Kate Harper) sister Bridget for Michigan
state supreme court, as well as encouraging voters to vote in nonpartisan elections in general. It can be seen here
Is now featured, in its entirety, on Netflix Instant.
Here is a Character Sheet
, as well as a Best Episode crowner
and an episode recap page
that needs love.
This show provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc:
- Charlie talks to the President about marrying Zoey towards the end of season 6. The Charlie and Zoey relationship is never brought up again after this.
- Also, Joey Lucas originally showed up as a campaign manager for a congressional candidate in California whose funding got cut off. The President says that he doesn't like her candidate, and then has Josh tell her that he thinks she should run for office. In every other appearance, she is a pollster, and there is never any mention of her as a potential candidate for anything.
- Also, Leo warns Abby Bartlet about abusing medication to cope with her emotions after Zoe's kidnapping. This is dropped a few episodes later.
- In "The Leadership Breakfast," Toby gets played by a Congressman's new, ultra-competent, ultra-ruthless Chief of Staff, and the White House is made to look foolish. The implication at the end of the episode is that the White House will be tangling with her throughout the next couple years. However, the Chief of Staff is played by Felicity Huffman, and she got her role on Desperate Housewives soon after. The Chief of Staff is never mentioned again.
- Accidental Misnaming: Ed & Larry, Leo aka "Gerald", Josh's names for Donna. Donna's full name is usually mistaken for one of these; Ms. Moss's full first name really is Donnatella.
- It is, however, hinted at in Season Six that Lord John Marbury's misnaming of Leo as "Gerald" might not be as accidental as all that. The first time Lord John runs into CJ Craig after her promotion to White House Chief of Staff, he wryly notes that her promotion makes her "the new Gerald."
- Absentee Actor: Rob Lowe during the middle of Season 4, right before he left. During seasons 6 and 7 large sections of the cast were left out as the focus shifted between the campaign and the West Wing. Most notably episode 7 of season 7, where none of the original cast feature (the cast was Alan Alda (added in season 6), Jimmy Smits (also added in season 6), Janeane Garaofolo (special guest), Teri Polo (special guest), Ron Silver (special guest), Patricia Richardson (special guest) and Forrest Sawyer as himself). Richard Schiff also managed to have his episode count in season 7 reduced to 11 but got paid for 22.
- The Alcoholic: Leo. Vice President Hoynes is an interesting example. His father was an alcoholic and Hoynes himself frequently attends AA meetings (in fact, he hosts his own, attended by various congressmen and politicians and disguised as a card game to avoid attracting attention from the press), but only had a very few drinks in his life. He got drunk a couple times in college (haven't we all?) and, showing an insane degree of self-awareness, realized that getting drunk was a bit too easy for him and cut himself off entirely.
- The Alleged Boss: Type 4. Within True Companions, hierarchy and rank tend to get blurred.
Josh: Well... technically, I outrank you.
C.J.: So far up your ass!
- But ALWAYS Averted with President Bartlett.
- Alternate Universe: A lot of shows of political nature implicitly take place in these but West Wing's case is notable for the fact that Richard Nixon is the last president from our universe in the show's timeline.
- Ambition Is Evil:
- Maybe not evil, but certainly very bad. Bartlet, Santos, and Leo have to be talked into running for national office, and Walken confides to Debbie that he never wanted to be President. Hoynes and Russell, on the other hand, have their desire to be President as their defining character trait, and are treated as generally bad people, while "ambitious" congressmen looking to move up are the enemy of just about every third episode. Basically, the only politician who actively seeks out higher office and doesn't come off badly is Vinick.
- In the episode "Undecideds," Toby delivers an eloquent rebuttal to this trope, arguing that the presidency requires someone who sees himself as a "man of destiny," and will therefore be comfortable making the hard and earth-shaking decisions the post requires. Which is either extremely ironic or hypocritical on Toby's part, given that Bartlet had to be talked into running for office, although once he was President, Bartlet proved to be the kind of leader Toby was talking about.
- America Saves the Day: America solves the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Also, after Bartlet learns the valuable lesson of a proportionate response in S1 by way of Leo going What the Hell, Hero?, he teaches it to the British P.M. in Season 6, since apparently her staff can't do the same. And conveniently, the strike that brings down a British civilian plane was an accident, so they can't do anything, even a "proportionate response."
- Answer Cut:
- At the end of "Things Fall Apart", an extremely sensitive news story is leaked to the press, and Annabeth worriedly comments that whoever did it would have had to be very high up. The camera cuts to CJ (watching another plot thread wrap up on television) as ominous music plays out the episode. We later find out that it was a Red Herring; Toby did it.
- A "Jeopardy!" version with the answer preceding the question: Bruno (working for the Vinick campaign) finds a briefcase. Cut to Santos asking for his briefcase and his staff quickly realizing nobody knows where it is.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- Sam Seaborn and Pres. Bartlet, as trained rhetoricians, have a talent for them, as does Danny Concannon the reporter.
- Central to the second-season episode "Noel" is a trauma counselor asking Josh "how did you cut your hand?" over and over until he tells the truth.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking
Danny: I have covered the White House for 8 years and I've done it with the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the Dallas Morning News! And I'm telling you, you can't mess me around like this!
C.J.: Danny, I gotta tell you, that was, seriously, that was a turn on when you said that, although I don't know why you decided the be your most haughty on the "Dallas Morning News" in that sentence...
- Also when the NIH is under attack:
Josh: Penicillin, human genetics and Rogaine were all discovered without a practical goal in mind.
- Artistic License: **The staff members last longer in their gigs than their real life counterparts tend to. For example, Chief of Staff is pretty much a one-and-a-half to two year job, and Leo's there for five or six years. And White Houses run through press secretaries like they come five to a nickel from a gumball machine, but CJ was at that podium... until Leo's heart attack prompted her switch to his job.
- As Himself: The Barenaked Ladies play at a Rock The Vote event.
- James Taylor sings "A Change Is Gonna Come" during a tribute to Sam Cooke.
- Yo-Yo Ma performs at the Congressional Christmas Party.
- Foo Fighters plays the Santos election party.
- Keb' Mo' performs "America the Beautiful" in the series finale.
- Averted once, when Lawrence Lessig was played by Christopher Lloyd. Lessig is the only real person to not be played by himself in his appearance.
- Ass in Ambassador: Lord John Marbury takes it to a hilarious level: "Abigail! May I grasp your breasts?" Abigail, of course, is the First Lady of the United States and standing right next to her husband.
- As the Good Book Says: Religion is frequently central to the political conflicts and many characters are fond of quoting the Bible. President Bartlet, with his thoroughgoing Catholicism is fond of this.
- Audience Surrogate: Donna often has Josh explain an issue to her in the early seasons.
- The cop in "Somebody's Going to Emergency ..." has Toby explain the WTO protests to her.
- CJ asks Sam to explain the census to her.
- Bartlett has to have the phrase "wetwork" explained to him.
- Author Catch Phrase: "What Kind of Day Has It Been", used as a finale episode in four of Aaron Sorkin's shows''.
- Back for the Finale: A number of characters who were Put on a Bus early in the series' run, such as Ainsley Hayes and Sam Seaborn.
- Badass Bookworm: All of the cast. They're smart, they're driven, and if you piss them off, they will make you regret it.
- Badass Grandpa: President Bartlet and Leo for sure (even though Leo didn't actually become a grandpa until much later), but there are older people still serving in the highest offices of the land, sometimes with decades more experience than the rest of the staff combined, and they're not afraid to give even the President a good talking to. As an ancient Chief Justice with failing health and spotty memory says:
- Badass Pacifist: The cast barely engage in any physical activity throughout the series and always struggle for a peaceful compromise, but they also engage in intellectual and emotional battles of the highest level on a constant basis, and if you think something like physical violence is going to scare them, you'd be sorely mistaken.
- Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Speaker Walken, later President Walken. Bartlet's staff worries that Walken will use the opportunity to push a Republican agenda, but he turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sam and Ainsley, CJ and Danny, Josh and Amy.
- Benevolent Boss: Both the President and Leo, although both are certainly capable of calling down fire and brimstone when necessary. Bartlet's summary dismissal of Toby in the final season was about as cold a decision as he was ever shown making.
- Berserk Button: Almost everyone in the cast has at least one:
- Josh very much doesn't like it when you say anything bad about someone he cares about. Sam had to stop him from beating up an investigator who was trying to use Leo's drug-addict past against him.
- Charlie pushed a punk kid against the wall and gave him an elbow to the throat when the kid called CJ a bitch.
- Toby warns a hostile congressman about his own version of the trope: "I'm told that on my sunniest days I'm not that fun to be around. I wonder what's gonna happen when you make my children a part of your life." Bonus points for his chillingly calm, matter-of-fact delivery.
- Sam tracking down the Jerk Ass staffers who sent Ainsley the bouquet of dead flowers (with a note that says "Bitch") and promptly ripping them a new one (and then firing them).
- Betty and Veronica: The relationship between Josh, Amy (Veronica), and Donna (Betty).
- Bilingual Bonus: Bartlet speaks untranslated Latin in "Two Cathedrals."
- Blatant Lies: Sam's description of the White House and Roosevelt Room in the pilot is hilariously wrong, and he's winging it the whole while. Also, Josh trying to explain how he didn't say there was a "secret plan to fight inflation" to the Press Corps.
Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear, I did not do that. Except, yes, I did that.
- Blown Across the Room: Averted in the couple of episodes where there is a shooting.
- Bodyguard Crush: C.J. and Secret Service agent Simon Donovan after she gets death threats.
- Bottle Episode: "17 People", which was actually the result of the show spiralling over budget and needing to do an entire episode on the regular set without any guest stars. This would happen at least once a season, though 6 and 7 had more because of the election campaign, which demanded more location shooting.
- Break the Cutie: The process of telling Donna that Josh has been shot and is in critical condition. It's made all the worse by the fact that she was so relieved that the President was safe mere moments before.
- Brick Joke: The President is introduced in the Pilot episode after having ridden into a tree on a bicycle (that Leo lent him) with a cane. At the end of the series, upon leaving office, he mentions that with his free time he'd like to ride a bicycle some more and he once again requires a cane to walk.
- Brooklyn Rage: Toby.
- Buffy Speak: A favorite of many senior staffers. Sometimes justified; Toby will name every punctuation mark in the English language from memory in another and then warn against "The wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing!" since he just finished writing both the acceptance and concession speeches. More than once he was shown to become mentally frazzled after big speeches or high stress moments.
- Bulungi : Equatorial Kundu.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
- Dear lord, Lionel Tribbey... for one, he's the page quote for the trope.
- Oliver Babish, whose first episode was pretty clearly written to be Lionel Tribbey, but John Larroquette wasn't available, so they recast and renamed the character.
- At the time of the President's second inaugural, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court begins writing opinions... in verse. After having proposed that the court wear powdered wigs.
- Bartlet himself.
- Lord John Marbury is probably the most overtly buffoonish character in the series (and that's saying something), yet he is an extremely insightful international diplomat whose advice is invaluable to the Bartlett administration.
- Burning the Flag: Penn & Teller "burn" a flag at Zoe's birthday party after stuffing it into a rolled-up copy of the Constitution as an example of the rights given by the First Amendment: the flag is gone, but the Constitution is unharmed. Naturally, this causes something of a PR stir.
- Call Back:
- In the fourth season, Sam's running for Congressman in California, and Toby is helping with his campaign. Toby gets into a fight with a guy at a restaurant when the man gets physically threatening towards Andrea, and after he's booked, he calls in to Air Force One about it, using a cell phone that apparently belongs to a hooker.
Sam: So on a call girl's phone bill, there's going to be a call to Air Force One?
Toby: You're really going to be teaching the seminar on call girl caution? Really?
- In season 6 Josh has trouble with his hotel keycard and Donna has to help him, just like in Season 1's "20 Hours in L.A."
- The series finale has a callback to the very first episode. The First Lady suggests the president may have "re-entry" problem after leaving office, rhetorically asking when the last time was he drove a car. He suggests that it's "just like riding a bike, only more horsepower." Of course, in the pilot, a major plot point is the president having ridden his bicycle into a tree.
- Josh gives a lovely Meaningful Echo in Bartlet for America to Leo's heartwarming speech from Noel:
Josh: I'm gonna help you out and you know why?
Leo: Because you're so obsessed with everyone you love dying that you're a compulsive fixer?
Josh: No, because there's this guy walking down the street and he falls into a hole, see.
- In addition to the above, there's the president's Cane in the first episode.
- The Cameo:
- Jon Bon Jovi appears as himself campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee in "Welcome to Wherever You Are", titled after his single.
- David Hasselhoff appears at a Hollywood party in "20 Hours in L.A."
- As does Jay Leno.
- There were, in fact, dozens of small supporting parts which were filled by well-known actors and actresses, including William Devane, Kristin Chenoweth, Mark Feuerstein, Mary-Louise Parker, Danica Mc Kellar, Jesse Bradford, John Laroquette, Gerald Mc Raney, Daniel Van Bargen, David Graf, Hal Holbrook, Mark Harmon, Jorja Fox, Taye Diggs, Clark Gregg, Ron Silver, Marlee Matlin, Patrick Breen, Janeane Garofalo, Patricia Richardson, Mitch Pileggi, Stephen Root, Ted Mc Ginley, Jay Mohr, George Coe, Annabeth Gish, Lawrence O'Donnell, Evan Rachel Wood, Donald Moffat, John de Lancie, Felicity Huffman, Adam Arkin, Joanna Gleason, Jason Isaacs, Mary Kay Place, Don S. Davis, Ray Wise, J. K. Simmons, and Noah Emmerich. At its height, the West Wing was the show to be on in much the same way as Batman was in the 1960s, and just like Batman, stars were clamoring to make cameos.
- Canon Discontinuity: A unique example where an episode is intended to be this in production: "Isaac and Ishmael" was produced as a Very Special Episode in response to 9/11, and held up the return of the series proper for a week: Bradley Whitford states a disclaimer before the episode starts that the episode is a "play" and viewers shouldn't try to wrack their heads about where it takes place in the timeline, because it doesn't. It has the characters acting like they would generally, but not specific to any point in time. It can be considered to have happened in Season 2 if you have to place it somewhere, as Mandy is absent and the cliffhanger of Season 1 is referenced.
- The episode "Access" was quietly dropped from continuity, easy to do since it features CJ's staff who appear nowhere else, and she's said to have completed two full terms as press secretary.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Poor, poor, Josh. CJ and Bartlet as well, although that's only because its in their job descriptions.
- Career Building Blunder:
- The pilot episode of has Josh get this treatment from Pres. Bartlet.
- Leo does it to Paris after she leaks his former drug habit.
- Captain Obvious: "CJ, you fell into the pool there."
- Catch Phrase:
- The phrase "What's next?" floats around the White House, apparently started by Bartlet during their first campaign. Pretty much everyone's said it by the end of the series.
- Also, "I serve at the pleasure of the President."
- Anytime someone does not want to tell an outsider what is going on, they claim "It's about the trade deficit."
- Code to get someone to immediately stop whatever they're doing, come quickly, and don't ask questions, a character would make a casual reference to an "old friend from home."
- And Josh wouldn't be Josh without "DONNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
- And Leo wouldn't be Leo without "MAR-GARET!" Some fans actually started a "Leo yells for Margaret" drinking game.
- Celebrity Paradox: In "20 Hours in L.A." Donna gushes "ooh, Matt Perry" at a Hollywood Party. Matthew Perry later has a guest role as an associate attorney for the White House.
- Character Development: Between seasons 1 and 4, Donna gains self-worth, self-confidence, and political savvy after starting as a naive, insecure, Cloud Cuckoolander Audience Surrogate. Her final path ends up taking her from being someone who conned her way into an assistant position to Chief of Staff of the First Lady. Other characters exhibit development too, but hers is the most dramatic.
- Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The British curator of art in the White House quips that the French "promptly surrendered" after a phone call from C.J. regarding art stolen by Vichy Nazis.
- Chess Motifs: Bartlet is an excellent chess player. He plays his staff and occasionally other members of government, foreign and domestic.
- The Chew Toy: Both played straight and subverted in the case of Josh. He always bounces back like a charm from all his misfortunes, because he's so used to them happening all the time. This very trait of his becomes the reason no one pays enough attention to him after he gets shot to realize he's headed for a full scale mental breakdown, and the fact that he's also a Woobie due to some exceptionally sadistic past uses of this trope cause some misfortunes to veer straight into Tear Jerker territory when they hit the wrong spot.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Martin Sheen mentioned that he asked his character to be made Catholic because he is. This becomes some minor plot seasoning on more than one occasion, most significantly after Bartlet fails (or chooses not to) to stay an execution. It also evokes JFK nicely. Averted otherwise; when religious leaders come to the White House, more often than not they're of Protestant denominations. This includes the fundamentalist radio show host that Bartlet verbally smacks down.
Bartlet: Catholics don't believe man is saved through faith alone. Catholics believe faith has to be joined with good works.
Bartlet's father: You're the only one who seems to mind the service.
Bartlet: I'm the only one who's Catholic.
Bartlet's father: You're Catholic because your mother is and you're at this school because I'm the headmaster.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: The entire senior staff (especially Bartlet), who can't for the life of them concede that anything is someone else's problem.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The trope could be renamed Mandy-ville.
- Certain one-off guest roles were in positions where we should've reasonably expected to see the characters again from time to time, particularly Senate Majority Leader Ann Stark and White House attorney Joseph 'Joe' Quincy.
- Anthony, the kid Charlie took over as big brother for in the beginning of season 4, was never mentioned again, but we can probably assume Charlie continued working with him offscreen.
- Cliff Caley looks like he's going to be an Ascended Extra when C.J. hires him for Josh's old job, but after a few episodes he vanishes.
- Cliff Hanger: "Who's been hit?! Who's been hit?!"
- Season 2 subverts this for those who paid attention to Mrs. Landingham's commentary on Jed's body language, but otherwise plays it straight by ending on, "Mr. President, can you tell us right now if you'll be seeking a second term?"
- Sorkin's departure episode in Season Four left the next writing team with a (temporary) Republican president, no VP, and Bartlet's daughter kidnapped.
- Also, Donna goes back into surgery after Fitzwallace is killed.
- Cloud Cuckoolander:
- Lord John Marbury, who sort of oscillates between a legit Cloud Cuckoolander -ism and the Obfuscating version.
- In the early episodes, Donna was written as an clever but very flighty Cuckoolander, until Character Development kicked in around third season.
- Margaret, Leo's secretary, is a deadpan one of these.
- Clown School: In one episode, Penn Jillette makes an insightful defense of his flag burning trick. He's asked if he had gone to law school. He responds, "No, clown school."
- Comes Great Responsibility: President Bartlet. He gets screwed by this on ironic and/or sadistic levels more than once. As an added bonus Martin Sheen would later go on to play the Trope Namer in The Amazing Spiderman (though ironically in that version he never actually utters the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility").
- Comically Missing the Point: Josh tries to give a thank you speech at the end of the Santos campaign at Lou's insistence, but quickly derails himself into a rant about stupid amateur mistakes and insists everyone call their families to report on conditions at the polls, without ever getting around to the phrase "thank you".
- Completely Unnecessary Translator: The Portuguese/Batak-speaking cook in "The State Dinner". Indonesian deputy Bambang spoke Batak, but the official interpreter from Indonesia only knew Javanese and Portuguese. The cook translated what Bambang said into Portuguese for the interpreter to relay in English. In the midst of this journey to Babel, Bambang says "Why don't we just speak English?" Nobody had bothered to ask him if he knew it.
Father Cavanaugh: [damningly] Jed. Would you like me to hear your confession?
President Bartlet: Yes. Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Sam has recurring run-ins with a conspiracy theorist of the "there really were aliens at Roswell and the government is covering it up" variety. He got it from his father.
- Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Landingham, who is disinclined to take any guff from anyone, including the President.
- Crossword Puzzle: Leo gives the New York Times crossword hotline an earful for spelling "Qaddafi" (a name often spelled in a number of different ways) incorrectly.
- Crushing Handshake: This happens so often to presidential candidate Arnold Vinick that he ends up with a fractured hand, making handshakes of any firmness agonizing.
- Curse Cut Short
First Staffer: We're gonna get to social security, Josh! It's a long campaign. For now, we focus on the tax cuts.
Second Staff: It's what magicians call "misdirection."
Josh: Really? 'Cause it's what the rest of us call bullsh-
Hoynes: Knock it off.
Doug: He's gotta stand up, and he's gotta declare, and he's gotta apologize... In Oregon, we like to see a man stand up and say he's sorry. Where are you from?
Toby: Me? I'm from the United States of suck my —
Josh: All right! Let's take lunch.
- Dating Catwoman:
- CJ and Danny. Although they're not supposed to be exactly enemies, their interests do conflict directly almost all the time, and they're both deeply committed to defending them from each other, so it boils down to the same problem.
- Donna and Cliff Calley, the Republican lawyer who turns out to be part of the team investigating the President for hiding his MS.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: President Bartlet can't stand Jean Paul or Doug Westin.
- Deadpan Snarker: Various characters at different points in the series, including Pres. Bartlet, Josh and Amy Gardner, Toby and Will, CJ and Danny Concannon, Leo, Margaret, Mrs. Landingham, Kate, Charlie, Zoey... let's just say that "deadpan snark" is practically the default emotive state for anyone associated with the Bartlet administration. Heck, even Donna got in on the act by the end of the series as she gained in self-confidence.
- Dead Guy Junior: Toby and Andy's daughter, named for the Secret Service agent who was killed during Zoey's kidnapping.
- Dead Person Conversation: Pres. Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham.
- Delayed Reaction: Ainsley so caught up in explaining how awful the Bartlet White House is that she doesn't realize Leo just offered her employment in it.
- Department of Redundancy Department: "I'm on hold. I'm on hold. I'm on hold. *bangs phone on table repeatedly* I'm in some kind of hellish hold-world of holding....."
- Death Glare: The President and Leo gave a few of these.
(Margaret), look at my face, right now.
- Determinator: When President Bartlett is on his way to his last summit in China and his MS leaves him paralyzed he still insists that they are going to China. Then he negotiates a North Korea talk while sitting more than twice as long as the Surgeon General recommends and sweating through his suit.
- Diabolus Ex Machina:
- The episode "18th and Potomac"; Mrs. Landingham spends the entire episode excited about buying her first new car, being hassled by Charlie and President Bartlet about paying the full sticker price, only to be hit and killed by a drunk driver at the end of the episode.
- The nuclear power plant catastrophe that occurs out of nowhere and completely derails Senator Vinick's presidential campaign halfway through season seven occurs solely to provide a credible way for the election race to suddenly become more or less even after an entire half-season of Vinick being the clear frontrunner and Santos lagging way behind.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: During the teaser of "Enemies", Bartlet goes on and on about national parks while he has Josh as a (literally) captive audience.
Jed: Shenandoah National Park. Right here in Virginia. We should organize a staff field trip to Shenandoah. I can even act as the guide. What do you think?
Josh [under his breath but still audible]: Good a place as any to dump your body.
Jed: What was that?
Josh: Did I say that out loud?
Jed: See? And I was going to let you go home.
- Did Not Do the Bloody Research: A weird example, but in the Season 3 episode Dead Irish Writers, Lord John Marbury refers to Lagavulin as a 16 year old Islay single malt. The problem is that he pronounces it "Iz-lay", where the proper pronunciation would be "Aye-lah". As a member of the British aristocracy, he really should know better.
- Diplomatic Impunity:
- Part of a very important arc (A terrorist hiding behind diplomatic immunity) and a minor plot points (traffic tickets at the UN).
- Diplomats in NYC claiming "diplomatic immunity" for their parking tickets.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The issue is debated in "A Proportional Response."
- Dramatic Drop/Slow Motion Drop: Bartlet after hearing that his daughter has been kidnapped.
- Dumb Is Good: Subverted at length. Beaten to a pulp, in fact.
Bartlet: In the future, if you're wondering, "Crime. Boy, I don't know" is when I decided to kick your ass.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Some of the first season writing makes the characters and tone a little less sophisticated than they turn out to be. Of course, it doesn't make it any less satisfying.
- The president tells some representatives of the Christian right to "get your fat asses out of my White House."
- An agent of the secret service, ever after portrayed as an agency with the utmost professionalism and cool in action, tells a guy harrassing Zoe at a bar "don't move! Swear to God I'll blow your head off" as he arrests him.
- Election Day Episode: Naturally a big deal is made of the re-election of President Bartlett in season 4, and the election of his successor in the final season, with election-day episodes ending long campaign-trail story arcs.
- Embarrassing First Name: People rarely use C.J.'s full name, which is Claudia Jean.
- Bartlet, of course, does so on several occasions, likely just to bug her.
- There's also Admiral Percy Fitzwallace. No wonder everyone calls him "Fitz" instead.
- "Jed" Bartlet. His real name is Josiah Edward Bartlet.
- Epic Fail:
- Sam has to give "Leo's daughter's fourth-grade class" a tour of the White House. He tries to bluff his way through and tells the kids that the Roosevelt Room—the one with the giant picture of Theodore Roosevelt—is named for F.D.R. who is apparently now the eighteenth president.note When the teacher pulls him aside and he relates his terrible bad day, including "accidentally slept with a call girl", he asks who Leo's daughter is so he can at least try to make her smile.
- "Celestial Navigation." Josh filling in for C.J. after she has an emergency root canal, trying to be smug and superior to people who are really good at twisting words. Here are a few of the reactions:
Bartlet: Are you telling me that not only did you invent a secret plan to fight inflation, but now you don't support it?
Toby: Have you fallen on your head? Have you fallen down and hit your head on something hard?
CJ: What the heww happened in thewe? You compwetewy impwoded! You wewe vague, you wewe howstiwe, you wewe bewwigewent!
- Epiphany Therapy: There's a scene near the end of "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" that's very similar to this trope. Although it doesn't involve a deep-seated psychological hangup and it's the President who's repeating his newfound mantra while Leo coaches him along rather than a psychologist with an Armor-Piercing Question, it does have the distinct feel of a personal epiphany that will change Bartlet's approach to governing for the rest of his Presidency.
President Bartlet: I want to speak.
Leo McGarry: Say it out loud, say it to me.
President Bartlet: This is more important than re-election; I want to speak now.
Leo McGarry: Say it again.
President Bartlet: This is more important than re-election; I want to speak now.
- Josh's therapist in Noel leads him to acknowledge that he has PTSD from his being shot.
- Episode Title Card
- Episode on a Plane: Several episodes take place partially or entirely on Air Force One.
- Escalating War: Charlie & C.J. battle over Charlie's attitude regarding a copy of the President's schedule.
- Establishing Character Moment: The first episode has several:
- Even the Girls Want Her: In season six, Toby gets a meeting with the Miss World winner and everyone is dropping by his office with painfully transparent excuses just to drop by. Then Margaret shows up with absolutely no excuse.
- Eureka Moment: Josh is trying to find a way to remove an anti-environmental amendment from a hard-fought banking bill, when Donna calls the computer files on the subject antiquated. He brings the President the solution - declare the land in question a National Park by the Antiquities Act.
- Everybody is Single: Literally everybody who isn't actually President of the U.S.A, i.e. the Bartlet and Santos families (the latter of whom are consistently shown to be young and vital).
- Evil Gloating: An inversion. Secret Service agent Donovan is so busy gloating about how stupid a hood is to try to rob a store within a few blocks of where the President is that he never notices that the guy he's caught has a partner.
- The Exit Is That Way: Ainsley, who finds a closet is not a bathroom.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Happens a lot. One of the most notable is when Charlie mentions filling out a family medical history form for entering college and realizes that Zoey may have left Bartlet's MS off her paperwork at Georgetown, which would be the key to a possible criminal indictment against the President.
- Expospeak Gag: Dr. Abbey Bartlet gets to do these with medicine.
- Admiral Fitwallace for Colin Powell.
- Josh Lyman for Rahm Emanuel.
- Leo McGarry for Leon Panetta.
- Matt Santos for Barack Obama.
- Arnold Vinick for John McCain.
- CJ Cregg, initially, for Dee Dee Myers, though Myers never became Chief of Staff.
- Sam Seaborn for George Stephanopolos.
- John Hoynes for John Edwards. (This is actually a better example of Life Imitates Art. Many of the things that happened to Hoynes in the series (running for Vice President, a failed Presidential campaign, a career-destroying sex scandal) actually happened to John Edwards in real life only after they happened to John Hoynes on TV. Hoynes' character was actually modeled at least partly on Lyndon Baines Johnson.)
- Governor Robert Ritchie for George W. Bush.
- In one specific episode exploring US foreign policy, two expys for former US presidents are temporarily introduced (though neither are ever referenced thereafter). Bartlet travels to the state funeral of Owen Lassiter, seemingly based on Ronald Reagan (Lassiter was a right-wing two-term Republican from southern California, who controversially propped up foreign dictatorial regimes - the episode aired about 6 months before Reagan's actual death). Joining him for the trip is D.W. Newman, a Jimmy Carter expy (Newman is a Democrat, spent his one term in office dealing with problems in the Middle East, and has become outspokenly liberal in retirement)
- Failed Attempt at Drama:
- After the President's complete smackdown of homophobic radio host Jenna Jacobs, everyone silently turns and follows him out of the room... except Sam, who steals one of her crab puffs.
- In Season Two, Sam lampshades this trope with Ainsley Hayes, who undercut an eloquent destruction of some Republican opponents by asking for a muffin.
- Fangirl: Josh Lyman's "hos" on lemonlyman.com. In fact, he has college girls asking for his autograph and telling him how awesome he is as early as the third episode.
- Fatal Family Photo: The President's Doctor shows him the photo of his wife and newborn daughter in episode 2. At the end of the episode we learn that the plane he was flying on with other soldiers to a peace mission has been gunned down by enemy army, sending President Bartlet on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge that almost starts a war.
- Faux Documentary: One Season 6 episode is a Frontline episode profiling C.J. as the Press Secretary.
- Felony Misdemeanor: In the pilot, although there are many things occupying Leo's time - including whether Josh will be fired for his remarks towards Mary Marsh, Cuban refugees heading towards the U.S., and a poll showing the President's popularity has sunk - he's also very concerned The New York Times crossword puzzle misspelled Khaddafi's name:
Leo: (on phone) Seventeen across. Yes. Seventeen across is wrong. You're spelling his name wrong. Who am I? My name doesn't matter. I'm just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I'm telling you that I've met the man twice, and I've recommended a preemptive Exocet Missile attack against his air force, so I think I know how to...
Leo: (stares at receiver) They hang up on me. Every time.
- Lampshaded by Margaret earlier in the episode, when Leo tells her to call the Times:
Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
Leo: Apparently, it's neither.
- Fiction 500: Franklin Hollis is an extremely rich celebrity philanthropist businessman, probably a fictional counterpart to Bill Gates.
Margaret: He just bought an island. And Montana!
C.J.: He didn't buy Montana, he just bought...most of Montana.
- Finding Judas: A particularly awesome subversion with Leo's debate preparation.
- Flashback: Several episodes intercut a past event with the present storyline.
- Flash Forward: The start of season 7 begins with a look at Bartlet's presidential library being dedicated.
- Foreigner for a Day: Donna, in "Dead Irish Writers," hilariously capped off by Bartlet coming into the White House Ballroom to find the Canadian national anthem being played and bellowing "What the hell is going on!? I was gone for forty-five minutes, they were all Americans when I left!"
- Season 1's President Bartlet foreshadows the season 4 finale when he goes on a rant to Zoey in "Mr. Willis of Ohio", about how terrified they are that she will be kidnapped on the way to the bathroom in some bar and nobody will realize she's gone as she's being dragged away so terrified that she doesn't even notice the secret service agents lying on the ground with bullets in their heads. In "Commencement" she's kidnapped on the way to the bathroom in a club and the leader of her protection team doesn't realize what's happened until he finds an agent on the ground out back with a bullet in her head. It probably wasn't planned to be so on-the-money at the time.
- In the "20 Hours in America" two parter, Josh mentions it's Monday, and Donna relates the story of the song "I Don't Like Mondays" being written after a school shooter gave that as her explanation. At the end of the episode, Tori Amos' cover of the song is played over the aftermath of the news of a bombing at a university.
- In the episode "A Proportional Response", Charlie's first episode, he mentions about having come to the White House to apply for the bike messenger job, instead of the one he was interviewing for (aide to the President), and Sam responds, "Debbie's got an eye for personnel." This, of course, is Debbie Fiderer, who Charlie lobbies on behalf of to replace Mrs. Landingham in "Posse Comitatus" and the two-part episode "20 Hours in America".
- In season 4's "Swiss Diplomacy" Hoynes tells Josh he would have been great in Leo's job. Four seasons later Santos makes Josh his chief of staff.
- Season 6's "The Birnam Wood", when Leo first shows up at Camp David, he asks for an antacid. At the end of the episode, he collapses in the woods of a heart attack. And a few episodes before that, Abby strongly urges him to get a physical after describing in detail exactly what being under constant stress—like Leo is in his job—does to the body.
- Forgotten Anniversary: Leo forgets his wife's anniversary, which is the final straw for their marriage.
- It's his anniversary too...
- Fox News Liberal: Subverted: both Ainsley Hayes and Arnold Vinnick retain and fight for their conservative views throughout the series, and Ainsley Hayes even changes the minds of the liberals around her from time to time.
- Framing Device: "Celestial Navigation" has Josh as a guest lecturer somewhere telling a story about the last 36 hours, while waiting to hear from Toby and Sam on the success of the A-plot.
- French Jerk: Jean Paul, the Prince O' Jerk, who ends up drugging Zoey.
- Freudian Excuse: Inverted all over the place (in a series this idealistic, no one is actually a villain. Except Hafley.).
- President Bartlet — His father was an abusive prick.
- Toby — His father was a murderer.
- Josh — His sister died in a fire while he ran outside.
- Freudian Slip: A number of examples.
- From Bad to Worse: A staple of the show. Any problem (and sometimes not even a problem) introduced and joked over in the teaser has a 80% chance of worsening to a point somewhere between "huge tangled mess" and "soul-destroying tragedy".
Toby: Look, it's not going to be a big deal.
- Gay Conservative: Josh tries and fails to talk a gay Republican into voting against a Defense of Marriage Act Expy.
- Geeky Turn-On:
- The President showing off for the First Lady on election night, which she calls "hot nerd talk".
- Leo is then shown to be using the exact same lines on Jordan.
- In Season 7, when Kate tells CIA analyst Charles Frost about her theory that the Russians are behind the international assassinations he had linked to al Qaeda, Frost, who had previously shown only minimal interest in her very existence, lights up and immediately asks her out for coffee.
- Genius Ditz: Josh. Poor, poor Josh. Sam and C.J. on occasion as well, but ultimately all three are geniuses much more than they are ditzes.
- Genre Savvy: Oliver Babbish is introduced asking for a new dictaphone because it won't stop recording citing previous scandals involving recording devices. Then he smashes it with a gavel when the President walks in to consult on if he's committed fraud by concealing his MS
- Gentleman Snarker: Bernard Thatch, the English head of the White House visitor's office telling C.J. about a disturbance involving a painting.
Bernard: Cayou was a contemporary of Corbet, who was considerably more gifted. This is a painting of the cliffs at Etritat, cleverly titled "The Cliffs at Etritat"; it is a minor work. It was on loan from the Musée D'Orsay to the National Gallery. The President, on a visit to the National Gallery, and possessing even less taste in fine art than you have in accessories, announced that he liked the painting. The French government offered it as a gift to the White House, I suppose as retribution for Euro Disney, so here it hangs, like a gym sock on a shower rod.
C.J.: [amused] You're a snob.
- Genre Shift: The thirteenth episode of the sixth season switches to a mockumentary style to emphasize the shift in focus from the Bartlet administration to the Vinnick and Santos campaigns.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Gilligan Cut:
- West Wing likes the variant without an actual cut.
Josh Lyman: Hey, lunatic lady, trust me when I tell you there is absolutely no way you are going to see the President!
President Bartlet: [walks in] Hey, Josh.
- Toby claims "nobody here is checking out!" after CJ accuses them of senioritis-like behavior. Cue Josh walking in and announcing his run flipping tails on a nickel 16 times in a row.
- Girl Friday: Donna until she quits working for Josh.
- Glasses Pull: Josh (also Cool Shades). Bartlet does this with his reading glasses.
- A Glass in the Hand: Josh's story in the episode "Noel." It's to cover for the fact that he put his hand through the window during a PTSD episode.
- Golden Mean Fallacy: Subverted. Democratic moderates are portrayed as weak and ineffective, stalling their party back. Republican moderates are portrayed as benevolent, though.
- Good Ol' Boy: Robert Ritchie.
- Government Procedural
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Toby Ziegler is very easy to annoy/anger/enrage. As the man himself once said, "There is literally no one in the world I don't hate right now."
Toby: Why do you call her my wife?
Leo: It bothers you.
Toby: Everything bothers me. But you pick that?
- Hannibal Lecture: In an antagonistic rather than villainous example, Leo gets one of these from black Congressman Richardson when he tries to tell him how many young black men will be saved by signing a gun control bill. Richardson responds that Leo cares more about the White House's political capital than gun control, the bill is ineffective, meaningless, and not worth the paper it's printed on, and...
Congressman Richardson: In the meantime, please don't tell me how to be a leader of black men. You look like an idiot.
- Happily Married: Jed and Abbey, which is impressive considering they go through (Jed went back on their MS deal and ran for a second term, she thought he got their daughter kidnapped, etc.) Matt and Helen Santos as well.
- Head Desk: President Bartlet does this on The Resolute Desk after being tormented for hours by the thrilling tales of an Old Soldier-esque retired diplomat while stuck in the Oval Office waiting on the phone during an international crisis.
Bartlet: Oh, God, I'm sorry, am I still here?
- Heroic BSOD: The second season episode "Noel" has Josh undergoing something like this, as it's revealed that he's been suffering from PTSD for three weeks.
- Sam has a less dramatic one after he discovers his father's infidelities in "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail."
- Heterosexual Life-Partners:
- Ed and Larry (who are also Those Two Guys).
- The President and Leo.
- Josh and Sam.
- He's Back: "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet": "This is more important than reelection. I want to speak now."
- He Who Fights Monsters: Leo warns Bartlet about this on a few occasions, most notably after Bartlet is coming apart at the seams over a terrorist attack in "A Proportional Response".
- High-Class Call Girl: The series opens with Sam's (unpaid!) dalliance with one, and he keeps up a friendship with her through the first season. See also Retroactive Recognition.
- Holding the Floor: In "The Stackhouse Filibuster" a senator filibusters a health care bill for seven hours.
- Hollywood Atheist: Averted with Arnold Vinick, who initially appears to have become an atheist because his wife died but who later explains that he was horrified at certain passages in the Old Testament to the point where he couldn't believe in the Judeo-Christian God any more.
- Hot Reporter: Danny Concannon.
- How We Got Here:
- "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" shows us how everyone came onboard with the Bartlet campaign.
- Numerous episodes use this device, starting off with a dramatic scene before the opening titles and coming in with "x days earlier" after the break to explain how things came to that.
- Hypocritical Humor: Conflicting opinion polls. From Progress Stories:
Amy: This is what you do; you bounce off the subject.
A waiter passes by with a platter
Amy: Ooh! Shrimp!
- I Am the Trope:
- Twice in Constituency of One: Josh tells Amy 'I am the Principal's office'. Later, Leo tells CJ 'we are the country'.
- From "Life on Mars":
Donna: You don't practice law, is all I was saying.
Josh: I don't practice law, I help write the laws. I write the laws, I make the laws, I am the law.
- Iconic Item:
- A bar napkin. A dinky little bar napkin. A dinky little bar napkin that has "Bartlet For America" in Leo's handwriting on it, highlighting who Leo felt should run for President. And it has a nice frame now.
- Bartlet's pen. Placed in his pocket every morning by Mrs. Landingham in all the years she worked with him. When he cannot understand why he doesn't have a pen in his pocket after her death, it's Charlie who has to gently point it out to him. He has to get his own pen out of her desk. Now he's really on his own.
- Idiot Ball: It's the only explanation for why Sam and Josh thought it would be fine to light a fire in a White House fireplace using some spruce logs that were just lying around the White House and some kerosene.
- Josh and Toby both grab it hard after Leo's heart attack, to explain why neither of them are getting his job.
- If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Pres. Bartlet regarding his daughter, Zoey.
Bartlet: Just remember these two things: she's nineteen years old, and the 82nd Airborne works for me.
- I Have Nothing to Say to That: Sam Seaborn gets his ass verbally handed to him by Blonde Republican Sex Kitten Ainsley Hayes.
- Informed Ability: Josh's status as a Genius Ditz very often makes light of his political genius whenever he grabs hold of the Idiot Ball for the sake of funny. Like his secret plan to fight inflation.
- Informed Attractiveness:
- C.J. Many men on the show fall all over themselves singing paeans to the character's sexiness. This could potentially be explained by exceptional charisma.
- Josh Lyman. Far more than C.J., by the way; he's shown to have fangirls and and a fan website devoted to him where members report "sightings," on top of the multiple love interests he gets across the series.
- It's particularly interesting that Josh is generally portrayed as the most attractive male member of the crew, in a group that includes Sam, played by heart-throb Rob Lowe. While this can be explained by the fact that Josh is a bit more extroverted and charismatic than the often nerdy and awkward Sam, there's still a stark disparity between the amount of time spent on Josh's love life and the amount spent on Sam's.
- In The Wake Up Call, Miss World visits the White House and brings to a standstill the business of every male that crosses her path. Mainly because it's utterly hilarious.
- In Medias Res: It's common for episodes to start in the middle of the story and work back to How We Got Here.
- Insistent Terminology: Political maneuvering involves a lot of this.
- Episode 2x11, "The Leadership Breakfast":
Josh: I see won't be talking about the 993 tax cut.
Leo: We won't be. But we've agreed to call it "tax relief" instead of a tax cut.
Josh: We're calling it tax relief?
Josh: But we won't be talking about it.
Josh: Leo, the Patient's Bill of Rights...
Leo: Which we'll be referring to as the "Comprehensive Access and Responsibility Act."
Sam: What's the Comprehensive Access and Responsibility Act?
Leo: It's the Patient's Bill of Rights, but the CARA was introduced in 1999. It's fundamentally the same thing and the Republicans have agreed to discuss changing the name back.
Josh: In exchange for calling tax breaks "tax relief."
Leo: Or "income enhancement."
Toby: Sick people, not getting proper medical care... because they can't afford it... probably don't care that we've agreed to change the name of the bill.
Leo: We've agreed to discuss changing the name of the bill.
- In a more serious context, when Bartlet is getting ready to admit that he hid his multiple sclerosis from the voters, he insist that Abbey be referred to as "Mrs. Bartlet" or "the First Lady," not "your wife." Later, Abbey takes it a step farther by telling Babish to call her "Dr. Bartlet," emphasizing her medical credentials.
- Sam's not writing a birthday card, it's a birthday message.
- Overlapping with You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious below, do not refer to the President by anything other than his title unless you want a fight:
Hoynes: Leo, I have had it up to here, with you and your pal! I've been shoved into a broom closet—
Leo: Excuse me! Me and my "pal"?
Leo: You are referring to President Bartlet?
Leo: Refer to him that way.
- One of the aversions that can be counted throughout the series on one hand occurs when the President and Toby are playing a game of chess in the Oval Office while waiting for news on the crisis du jour. Throughout the game, Bartlet teases Toby good-naturedly about his game until Toby comes back with, "You know, old man, the minute they swear the next guy in, you and me are gonna go 'round and 'round."
- Early in the first season, Sam insists that people refer to Laurie as a "call girl", not a "hooker". He also gets annoyed when people call her "this girl" or "your friend" instead of using her name.
- Discussed and subverted for drama in "Take This Sabbath Day", in which Bartlet invites his old parish priest to the White House and, in giving him a tour of the Oval Office, makes a particular point of insisting that while it's okay to refer to him informally as 'Jed' outside the Oval Office, within the Oval Office he's 'Mr. President', explaining that he is forced to make certain decisions within the office as the President that he might not otherwise be able to make as a man, and that using the title helps distinguish this. When the reasons for the President inviting the priest over become clear — Bartlet's guilt over his failure to stay the execution of a convicted murderer despite his personal opposition to the death penalty for political reasons — there's a certain pointedness in the priest's response:
Priest: Jed, would you like me to hear your confession?
- Inspector Javert: Danny Concannon, a sweetheart of a reporter for the Washington Post who's crushing on CJ - but still wants to get to the bottom of this "who was in charge after the President was shot?" thing, and the "how did that foreign leader die?" thing.
- Insufferable Genius: President Bartlet tries not to be this too much. For instance, when C.J. is making him practice handing off Mars questions to NASA scientists instead of answering with all the trivia he may have memorized:
President Bartlet: Well Stevie, if one of our expert panelists were here, they would tell you the average temperature ranges from 15 degrees to -140.
C.J. Cregg: That happens to be wrong, it ranges from 60 to -225.
President Bartlet: I converted it to Celsius in my head.
- Ironic Echo: In "Requiem", Amy Gardner corners President-Elect Santos at Leo's wake over his noncommittal response to nominating a woman as his replacement Vice President and, in a barely veiled manner, accuses him of being a coward for going for the safe option rather than the better one. Santos then notes that she's refused an offer of a place in his administration; when she replies that she has her own agenda to pursue, he rather pointedly notes that it's easier to fire potshots from the outside than work to meaningfully improve things from the inside. Amy thus finds herself in the position of having to face the same accusation of cowardice / fear she basically levelled at Santos moments before.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: Or, to be more exact, Ironic Christmas Carol. In "Noel," it turns out that Josh's PTSD is triggered by the sound of music being played, as it sounds like sirens in his head. As the episode ends, Josh and Donna leave the White House to find a group of people singing "Carol of the Bells" a cappella outside the main gate. It's sung in a clipped, discordant way, with the carolers loudly ringing the bells they're holding and sounding almost robotic.
- Irrevocable Message: Toby and Will's very sarcastic first draft lambasting the choice of Bob Russell as veep makes it onto the teleprompter. (Fortunately, Russell has a sense of humor about it.)
- Is This Thing Still On?: Bartlet insults Ritchie while his mic is hot. His staff realizes it was intentional when they note how strange it was for him to use a gun metaphor.
- Ivy League for Everyone:
- Not so much everyone, but Josh and Sam both went to Ivy League schools for their undergraduate education. Those who didn't attend Ivy League schools generally went to elite non-Ivy institutions; Bartlet attended Notre Dame and did graduate work at the London School of Economics, while CJ went to Cal-Berkeley and Donna went to Wisconsin-Madison. This is addressed in a first season episode comparing two candidates for the Supreme Court. One attended Princeton and Harvard Law, the other took law classes at night from City University of New York. They go with the CUNY grad.
- Toby's the vaguest educationally, but we know he went to CCNY (City College of New York) when a Supreme Court justice gave a speech there and he mentions he was a student.
- Played with in the third season. Ainsley complains that the White House is full of Ivy League elitist Democrats, before Sam points out that Notre Dame, Bartlet's alma mater, isn't in the Ivy League. He then points out that Ainsley herself attended Harvard Law. We also learn that she attended Smith College.
- I Want My Jetpack: Leo invokes the trope name almost word-for-word in response to a request by NASA for more funding.
- I Was Beaten by a Girl
"Toby, come quick! Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl!"
- Jerk Ass: While the show took pains to paint most political figures as complex and sympathetic and meaning well, some achieve jerk status:
- Speaker Haffley. As close to a Strawman Political as the show gets.
- Vice President Hoynes for his personal failings such as infidelity, but also because he's so calculating he rarely stands for anything (why former aide Josh defected to Bartlet). During the 2006 campaigns he still thinks he can wrangle the Democratic nomination from either Russell or Santos when the convention is deadlocked but Hoynes foolishly schemes his way out of contention.
- Secretary of Defense Miles Hutchinson is another good example. The number of times he's mentioned or acts as an antagonist far outweigh the times he is helpful.
- And of course, the French Jerk Jean Paul.
- Conservative Christian pundit Mary Marsh.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Toby starts out like this. He softens up a bit over the course of the show. Josh to some extent as well.
- Vice President Hoynes was usually portrayed as a scheming backstabber, but occasionally revealed a more likable side, such as sympathetically inviting Leo to his AA meetings when Leo's pill addiction was about to break the news, and admitting to the President that, despite the tension between them, he'd always liked Bartlet more than he let on.
- Landslide Election: Bartlet wins his second election quite handily, although his own party denigrates it as a "lonely landslide" because Bartlet has no coattails. Averted for Santos and Vinick, who are both waiting tensely to make a concession call as their election comes down to the last few electoral votes.
- Last Minute Reprieve: A season 1 episode has Bartlet debate whether or not to stay the execution of a death row inmate who has a credible justification for it. Bartlet lets the execution happen.
- Last Name Basis: Mrs. Landingham.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- In the episode Debate Camp, when Josh and Sam are trying to find a room where a meeting is being held, Sam suggests they talk while they walk, Josh comments that they "may as well get used to having meetings in the corridors, it may be our only hope."
- Lampshaded in the fifth season when Josh and Donna are being followed by Ryan, who asks "do you always walk this fast" before falling over.
- Left Hanging: About a dozen subplots were simply and unceremoniously dropped when Sorkin left the show, the most notable being the fate of Sam Seaborn, last seen waging a losing campaign for Congress. Although Sam eventually did come back for the last few episodes, it never was explained why his promotion to Senior Counselor (decided on in the two-parter "Inauguration") never happened.
- Leno Device: Jay appears in an episode that takes place at a Hollywood fundraiser.
- Like Parent, Like Spouse: Mallory tells Sam "you are so exactly like him" when Sam insists on perfecting an assignment Leo gave him to sabotage their date, rather than going out for coffee with the two of them. Any potential squickiness is avoided when Sam sincerely calls that the nicest thing she's ever said to him.
- Little "No": Leo, to Will Bailey when the three campaign managers can't stop bickering and maneuvering.
Will: Well I'd like a day to go over this.
. Everyone gets to work.]
- Live Episode: "The Debate." It was done twice for east coast and west coast. The west coast version is the one usually used on re-runs and streaming, since Jimmy Smits' performance is better on the second run.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Particularly as the series would progress. There are 15 characters who at some point in time appear in the credits sequence. Taking into account regularly recurring and secondary characters, the cast numbers dozens and dozens. (For fun: The 15 credits characters are Bartlet, Leo, Josh, Sam, Toby, CJ, Mandy, Charlie, Donna, Abbey, Will, Santos, Vinick, Kate, and Annabeth.)
- Logical Fallacies: Specifically, CJ thinks Bartlet lost Texas because he made a joke about their "big hats" before the primaries, an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Bartlet was doomed in Texas since the day he learned Latin.
- Ma'am Shock: Mrs. Santos suffers and discusses this with Donna at the end of the campaign.
- Mamet Speak: Minus the swearing, since it was network television.
- Manly Tears: A great many times. "That was a nice thing you did," certainly comes to mind.
- Almost every major character has a moment of this after Leo's death.
- Married to the Job: Basically everybody, some worse than others. Quite a bit of Truth in Television; working at the White House is known to consume every ounce of a person's attention, skills, and often passion, leaving very little time or energy for anything else, like family. Notable examples:
- Leo, to the point where it breaks up his actual marriage in Season 1, and nearly kills him with a heart attack in Season 6. There's a particularly compelling moment where Leo defends himself by saying that "this is the most important thing I'll ever do," his wife says that it's not more important than his marriage and he shoots back that, "yes, it is....right now, for these few years, yes, this is more important than my marriage."
- C.J. by the end of the show; she has to be beaten over the head with a stick to even consider that she may want to not keep doing this forever, and make some time to learn to let other people into her life.
- Mathematician's Answer:
- Depending on your reading of the line, Hutchinson when CJ asks about the military space shuttle.
C.J. Cregg: Is that the argument in favor of building it, or is that the argument in favor of not building it? Or is that the argument in favor of building it and not telling anyone?
Secretary Hutchinson: The answer to that would be yes.
- Subverted in the pilot, when Leo asks Margaret to call the New York Times crossword section to complain about how they spelled Khaddafi's name:
Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
Leo: Apparently it's neither.
- Mauve Shirt: Named Secret Service agents. Two of them die; Simon Donovan and Molly, Zoe's second personal agent.
- Meaningful Funeral: A scene in "Two Cathedrals" for Mrs. Landingham and the opening of "Requiem" for Leo.
- Meaningful Echo:
- Repetition of lines within a conversation is used a lot for dramatic impact, especially in the Sorkin seasons. The common formula is for Joe to suddenly throw out something profound as if just realizing it, Bob to say "what was that?", and Joe to repeat the line more dramatically/reflectively. An alternate version has Joe make some statement and Bob repeat it solemnly as if the impact of the situation has just sunk in.
Josh Lyman: We talk about enemies more than we used to.
President Bartlet: What?
Josh Lyman: [sounding sadder] We talk about enemies more than we used to. I wanted to mention that.
- A week before the election, Santos is on a rapid fire tour of several states a day. The press keeps asking him "who do you like in the game this weekend?" and he answers "Philly and New York both strong teams, should be a great game." After the first time he asks "we are in Pennsylvania, right?" After the third time, Donna tells him "we're in Ohio" (he covers with a quick "go Buckeyes!").
- Meaningful Name: Lampshaded
"His name is really Mr. Cravenly?"
- Meaningless Meaningful Words: 'the watchword of all mankind.' When Toby says it doesn't mean anything, Will says it doesn't matter because it sounds noble.
- Mood Whiplash: The ending theme music (originally planned to be the opening theme music before they decided to go with something more "dignified") is a jaunty little tune. It was almost never actually heard by the broadcast audience, as the end credits tended to be covered by NBC's promo of some other show. Still, given how most episodes end, it can be quite jarring to hear it after a dramatic ending on DVD or in syndication.
- Mr. Exposition: Mentioned in the special features as a necessary evil in order for the audience to even understand what happens.
- Musical Trigger: Josh's PTSD reaches critical during the Christmas season because of all the bands playing in the White House.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Seems to be default stance of almost every character: Republicans and Democrats most often treat each other as a Worthy Opponent, at least to each other's faces. Notably the case between Vinick and Santos in the last two seasons, but there are plenty of other examples.
President Josiah Bartlet: We agree on nothing, Max.
Senator Lobell: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: Education, guns, drugs, school prayer, gays, defense spending, taxes - you name it, we disagree.
Senator Lobell: You know why?
President Josiah Bartlet: Because I'm a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist.
Senator Lobell: Yes, sir. And I'm a gun-toting, redneck son-of-a-bitch.
President Josiah Bartlet: Yes, you are.
Senator Lobell: We agree on that.
- My God, You Are Serious: It takes a little back and forth for Bruno to convince Vinick that yes, this is not a joke, the briefcase he just slapped on the table really does belong to their opponent in the presidential election two weeks away.
- Naïve Newcomer: Donna's first day in the White House.
- The Nicknamer: CJ, in spades. Especially towards Charlie.
- Nobody Poops: Averted in "The Ticket", when Josh interrupts a Walk and Talk to point out a bathroom to extremely busy presidential candidate Matt Santos.
Helen Santos: You don't think that's micromanaging?
Josh Lyman: He went, didn't he?
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Okay, so the show took place before Obama vs. Mc Cain in 2008. But it's possible that Bartlet was based on Bill Clinton, House Speaker Haffley was based on Newt Gingrich, and his Senate counterpart on Bob Dole.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The NBC character bio of Vinick said that he was born in New York before moving to California as a kid. This was probably a Hand Wave to explain why Alan Alda makes no attempt to tone down his thick New York accent, despite his character hailing from Southern California.
- No, Except Yes:
- Done a couple of times in "Celestial Navigation":
Toby: She called him a racist.
Josh: She didn't use that word.
Toby: What word did she use?
Josh: Well, yes, she used that word.
- And then later, Josh does it again:
President Bartlet: You told the press I have a secret plan to fight inflation?
Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear, I did not do that. Except, yes, I did that.
- Noodle Incident:
- "We already have enough trouble as it is with the First Lady and her Ouija Board."
- In "Bartlet's Third State Of The Union", there's a running subplot about a cop invited to the speech at the last minute (who it turns out has a brutality citation on his record) for an act of heroism that is never explicated, apart from being "the thing at the elementary school".
- In "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics," Charlie's conversation with the soon-to-be former ambassador to Bulgaria causes the imperiled man to say defensively that he resigned his membership in a country club where Charlie used to work, based on their exclusionary policies — implied to mean that they did not accept blacks as members — at which point Charlie notes wryly that these supposed objections did not keep the man from joining the club in the first place (and hence implying that the withdrawal was more for show than out of genuine offense at racism).
- In Gone Quiet, Josh is dictating a note, in which he apologizes to a congressman for an incident whose details are never made clear. What we know is that Donna felt it necessary to call the Park Police. On a group of 50 seniors. One of whom poured Wheatina on her keyboard.
- Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: The President stops short before entering his private dining room with Leo, with whom he's planning to enjoy the work of a famous French chef.
Jed: They thought I was gonna be eating with Abby, so, we'll just, you know, pretend there's no candlelight.
Leo: [dryly] And that we're not paranoid homophobes in any way.
- Now You Tell Me: Toby has a meeting with an Indonesian official in "The State Dinner", and Donna arranges a state department translator. Unfortunately there are 742 languages and dialects spoken in Indonesia, and the translator's and official's are incompatible. At this discovery, they go to great lengths to find someone who can speak to the man, eventually finding a cook, who sadly does not speak English but does know Portuguese, which the translator speaks. They're several minutes into a double-translated conversation before the official finally suggests they just speak in English. One wonders why he didn't just tell the translator he knew it in the first place, but he was pretty pissed at Toby so perhaps he just enjoyed seeing White House staff running around cluelessly.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Surprisingly, the Nobel-prize winning President Bartlett himself. He makes a remark deprecating his opponent's intellect seemingly unaware that his camera is still hot, simply because he knows that the other side will handle the inevitable flap badly, and he can steer the public discourse towards intellect as a precondition for public office for the low price of a basic apology. It works so well that later, when he casually accepts a gift of a flag of the Taiwanese independence movement, his chief of staff immediately wonders whether he wants to engineer a reversal on the point, and whether to bring in the secretary of state.
- Obstructive Bureaucracy: While the show has an idealistic image of those public servants who are individually important, it does not shy away from lampooning the hell out of the entrenched, glacial, irrational bureaucracy of the federal departments.
- Off the Rails: During the final election arc, a recurring plot point are near-impossible debate negotiations between the two campaigns (eventually solved by Santos and Vinick themselves in a private moment). Then, the campaigns draw up a complicated set of debate rules—and, at Vinick's instigation, he and Santos promptly abandon them less than a minute in to have a spirited, hour-long argument about their policies.
- Oh, Crap:
- Charlie upon hearing "evening, Charlie". From the President. After leaving the first daughter's room. In the middle of the night, with his shirt unbuttoned.
- Leo goes through most of “Bad Moon Rising” making the case that the President never withheld information about his MS in any way that would constitute a crime. But Charlie points out that the President's daughter Zoey was a minor when she filled out a college medical form, and so required a parent's legally binding signature as to the accuracy of the information, including her family medical history. Cue Leo's oh crap moment.
- Old Soldier: Albie Duncan from the State Department. His first appearance is during a maybe-crisis where a submarine has gone quiet in the South China Sea, recounting numerous horror stories of submarines that have met with disaster.
- The Oner: Many examples of the Walk and Talk variety.
- Only Sane Woman: Donna several times, perhaps most notably in "20 Hours in America", having to deal with Toby and Josh while they're making their way through Indiana.
Jed: Three hundred IQ points between them, they can't find their way home. I swear to God, if Donna wasn't there, they'd have to buy a house.
- OOC Is Serious Business:
- The normally grumpy Toby is positively giddy after Mendoza gets confirmed in the episode "Six Meetings Before Lunch":
Margaret: Hey, Toby.
Toby: Hey there, Margaret.
Margaret: Are you okay?
Toby: Yeah. Why wouldn't I be okay.
Margaret: You don't usually say, "Hey there, Margaret."
Toby: (giggles) What do I usually say?
Margaret: You usually growl something inaudible.
Toby: Not today.
Margaret: I see.
Toby: You, on the other hand, should turn that frown upside down.
Margaret: I'm sorry.
Toby: Let a smile be your umbrella, Margaret.
Margaret: Okay, now you're scaring the crap out of me, Toby.
- It's only because it's his "Day of Jubilee". It doesn't last.
- Orbital Kiss: Josh and Donna.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Obviously. Bartlet is President Personable, occasionally President Iron and frequently President Geek. Matt Santos is President Minority.
- Overprotective Dad: "Just remember these two things: She's nineteen years old, and the 82nd Airborne works for me." And that's the suitor for his daughters that the President likes best!
- Pants-Positive Safety: Agent Simon Donovan and C.J. Craig are at the Secret Service firing range. Donovan has recently fired his gun and unthinkingly sticks it into his waistband. He immediately pulls it out again because the barrel was hot.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish:
- Those in the know about MS use the password "Sagittarius."
- Santos's little scheme to outvote Haffley uses Shave And A Haircut.
- Leo leaks his tape using someone else's email; the password was her cat's name.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word
Sam: You're not calm, Leo, you're acting like a nervous hoolelia.
Sam: ...may not be a word; may just be somethin' my mother used to say.
- Pet the Dog:
- Toby is so irritable and easily angered all the time that it's easy to forget he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, not a Jerk Ass. One of the earliest indicators of this was the episode "In Excelsis Deo," in which he goes to great lengths in order to get a homeless veteran he didn't know a proper burial, complete with military honor guard.
Toby, if we start pulling strings like this, you don't think every homeless veteran would come out of the woodwork? Toby:
I can only hope, sir.
This is widely regarded as one of the greatest lines in the entire series.
Never mind that since the homeless veterans in question would be coming out of the woodwork subsequent to their deaths, it would invoke a very different kind of program.
- Vice President Hoynes has a few moments that prove he isn't purely a scummy politician. The first is his constant support of Leo when he learns of his alcoholism. Another is dropping his name from a bill, meaning he can't campaign on it, because he wants it to pass as it will help rural Americans. Congressional leaders consider him a threat and will stall the bill if he doesn't take his name off it. This is something big considering it has been clear from the start that he really wants to be President.
- Pet's Homage Name: Mathematics professor Talmidge Cregg has a cat named Nicodemus.
- Phrase Catcher: Just about everyone calls someone a "jackass" at some point over the series.
- Platonic Life Partners:
- CJ and Toby, who never show any hint of being anything but very old friends.
- Josh and Donna fit the trope very well for six and a half seasons. Then they stopped being platonic.
- Poirot Speak: Inverted in "Enemies Foreign and Domestic." The Russian representatives are very good at English (one even knows "onomatopoeia") but they get confused at slang and idioms, like "frumpy." This becomes a plot point when Sam gets a request for a statement that is clearly written by someone who is more familiar with the language.
- The President's Daughter
- Bartlet has three daughters (no sons), and all three receive some form of harassment by his political opponents at some point during the show. Zoey exemplifies this trope to a tee, however, by being the kidnap victim during the cliffhanger arc between Seasons 4 and 5.
- One episode had Bartlet explain that during a trip to Egypt his guide kept describing him as "Abu el Banat" to Bedouins who would laugh at him but serve him tea. He finds out "Abu el Banat" means "Father of daughters" and that the Bedouins were giving him tea out of sympathy.
- Previously On:
- Played with, a few of them are just intercut scenes from various episodes announcing the characters names and jobs in a humorous fashion.
- "Mr. Frost" ends with such a Wham Line that the entire scene is replayed at the beginning of the next episode, after the normal previouslies.
- Privateer: First Lady Abbey Bartlet's status as a "daughter of the American revolution" is contested, as her "revolutionary" ancestor was in fact a privateer helping the revolutionaries for money. She's very insistent that he was a privateer, and not a pirate.
- Profiling: Of the federal judge Roberto Mendoza in the first-season episode "Celestial Navigation." Also in backstory, President Bartlet's first nominee for Attorney General fell through because he approved of profiling.
- Promotion Not Punishment: When the White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn gets his ass handed to him by Ainsley Hayes on a debate show, Leo, the Chief of Staff, summons Ainsley to his office. She thinks she's there to be reprimanded and starts in on a long-winding speech about how wrong that is, when Leo interrupts her to offer her a job in the White House Counsel's office.
Leo: The President likes smart people who disagree with him.
- Put on a Bus: Aaron Sorkin loves this trope. Ainsley Hayes, Sam Seaborn, and Danny Concannon are notable examples. The Bus Came Back for all of them.
- Quiet Cry for Help: A coal company's scientist and acquaintance of Toby visits the White House with a colleague and takes a moment to ask Toby about his forthcoming twins. Once he's out of immediate earshot of the colleague, he whispers that he needs whistleblower protection. Toby then starts talking loudly about prospective girls' names in order to alert his assistants (all women), and passes them a note of his own — "Get Josh."
- Quote-to-Quote Combat: A fundie quotes The Bible (Leviticus, in particular) to support her stance against homosexuality. President Bartlet then produces even more quotes from Leviticus, demonstrating how cruel and inapplicable those particular commandments are.
- Qurac: Qumar (Iran/Iraq) and Equatorial Kundu (any despotic African country).
- Radio Silence: In one episode, Washington loses track of a submarine off the coast of North Korea and is uncertain as to whether it's been destroyed or is just keeping silent.
- Real Award, Fictional Character: President Bartlet's a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
- Real Life Writes the Plot:
- Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. claims (contradicted by John Wells) that the outcome of the election was changed due to the death of John Spencer; it was thought that having both Leo die and Santos lose the election would be too much of a downer for the audience.
- The reason the awesomely wonderful Sam Seaborne got Put on a Bus is because Rob Lowe was leaving to star in his own show. Which sucks, Because Sam rocked.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: When Charlie takes a little too much amusement from President Bartlet's transparent attempts to get some afternoon delight from his wife, Bartlet suggests that he should wipe that smirk off his face or he'll send him on special assignment to the Yukon.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Donna to Toby and Josh in "20 Hours in America, Part II", after being driven nuts all day by their incessant talking about the election:
Donna: I have such an impulse to knock your heads together. I can't remember the last time I heard you two talk about anything other than how a campaign was playing in Washington. Cathy needed to take a second job so her dad could be covered by her insurance. She tried to tell you how bad things were for family farmers. You told her we already lost Indiana. You made fun of the fair but you didn't see they have livestock exhibitions and give prizes for the biggest tomato and the best heirloom apple. They're proud of what they grow. Eight modes of transportation, the kindness of six strangers, random conversations with twelve more, and nobody brought up Bartlet versus Ritchie but you. I'm writing letters, on your behalf to the parents of the kids who were killed today. Can I have the table, please?
You're an academic elitist, and a snob. You're, uh, Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted.
- The ultimate example would have to be President Bartlet giving one to God in Latin after the death of Mrs. Landingham.
- Cliff Calley gives one to some Republican Congressmen who want to bring up Leo falling off the wagon just to embarrass him during the MS trial:
This is why good people hate us, this, right here, this thing... And if you proceed with this line of questioning, I will resign this committee and wait in the tall grass for you Congressman, because you are killing the party.
- Retiring Supreme Court Justice Crouch gives one to Bartlet in season 1:
You ran great guns in the campaign. ... And then you drove to the middle of the road the moment after you took the Oath. ... I wanted a Democrat, and instead I got you.
- Redemption in the Rain: Bartlet decides he's going to run for re-election despite all the awful things that have happened, from the shooting to Mrs. Landingham's death, and walks through a heavy downpour to the pressroom to announce.
- Relationship Reveal / Relationship Upgrade: In the cold open of "Election Day", every recurring Santos campaign staffer reveals who they "came on board" with (except for Bram, but he was mentioned to have hooked up with some "campaign groupies" in a previous episode). It's practically a parody of Shipping in general, and though it's all played very dramatically, the cut to the triumphant theme music of the credits after all the sex in the air is pretty hilarious.
- The show was continually quietly Retcon -ed to keep it in line with current events - while the 9/11 attacks never officially happened in the show and are never referred to, it was quickly apparent that the show was occurring in a post-9/11 environment from Season 3 on.
- The crew taped a special episode named "Isaac and Ishmael" (that wasn't in continuity) that aired prior to the normal Season 3 starter.
- In the first season, Zoey Bartlet is said to be 19 years old multiple times; in the second and third season, she's said to be 17 during that time which is key to a criminal investigation of fraud in Bartlet's MS scandal. She would have had to fill out a medical history form when entering college, and since she was a minor, a parent would have had to sign off on it namely, her mother.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder
- More of a "rhetorical joke" - Margaret tells a half-paying-attention Toby about some issues with the White House e-mail when he runs into Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Fitzwallace, to whom he quips that there may be a major security breach.
Toby Ziegler: Well, *ehm* that, uh, explains that.
- Josh demonstrates his character wonderfully after joking about some group Leo brought up. (Although it ends up backfiring on him, in that Leo's so annoyed by Josh's glib remark that he assigns the pointless-but-excruciating busywork he was about to give to Toby to Josh instead.)
Leo: You wanna mock people, or you wanna let me talk to Toby?
Josh: I wanna mock people.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Lowell Lydell is an expy of Matthew Shepard, and the genocide in Equatorial Kundu is uncannily similar to the one in Rwanda (use of ID cards, use of machetes, propaganda on the radio directing mobs about where to attack, the forced incest, the West's reluctance to get involved, etc.)
- Rousseau Was Right:
- Even Bartlet's Republican opponents are portrayed as having America's best interests in mind, and are at worst portrayed as Well Intentioned Extremists. They are usually portrayed even better. The exception to this is Republican Speaker Haffley, who, while getting an occasional scene that portrayed him reasonably well, was petty, spiteful and obsessed with his own self-image. However, he was balanced out by his Senate counterpart, who was a decent man who wanted to make peace between Congress and the White House and who was disgusted at some of Haffley's more extreme political maneuvering. Karmic Retribution has it where Haffley loses most of his battles against Bartlet and even loses a few fights to Santos in the House, and on Election night during the final season Haffley is seen losing House seats to Democrats, knocking him out of the Speaker's office while his Republican Senate Majority counterpart keeps his GOP majority intact.
- A recurring device was Republican characters taking exception to the at-times self-righteous attitudes of the Democratic characters and either explaining at-length how it actually was possible to be a decent person and a Republican or puncturing their moralistic arguments by suggesting more practical arguments that they should be making instead of getting hung up on self-righteousness.
- Running Gag / Couch Gag: Gail the goldfish and her many, many, many change in fishbowl decorations, which always fit the episode theme.
- Sanctuary of Solitude:
- Its most epic episode features President Bartlet giving God himself a chewing out in the National Cathedral after the funeral of Mrs. Landingham.
You're a son of a bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What, was that supposed to be funny? "You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," says Graham Greene. I don't know whose ass he was kissin' there, 'cause I think you're just vindictive.
- He tops it off by cursing at God in Latin.
Bartlet: Eas in crucem!Translation
- Sassy Secretary: Mrs. Landingham, Debbie Fiderer, Donna, Margaret, and Ginger, among others.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Laid-back, easygoing reporter Danny Concannon and hypercapable, on-the-go CJ Cregg.
- Say My Name: The various men (and CJ) of the Bartlet administration usually solve their problems by bellowing for their secretaries.
- The President: Mrs. Landingham! (or, depending on what he needs, "Charlie!!")
- Leo: Margaret!
- After Leo semi-retires and CJ becomes Chief of Staff, she starts yelling for Margaret.
- Toby: Ginger!
- CJ: Carol!
- And, most famous of all, Josh: DONNNAAAAA!!!
- Secret Test of Character: Will's start in the West Wing.
- Sesame Street Cred: Abby went on the show.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
Bartlet: In my family anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn't trying hard.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: Josh and Donna had a couple of these moments.
- The Shrink: Stanley the trauma therapist.
- President Bartlet draws a pretty convincing parallel between Leo getting his hopes up every time the military wants to test their missile defense system only for something to go wrong, and Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy's football only to have it pulled away.
- There are of course numerous references to Gilbert and Sullivan.
- There are also a few references to The Lion in Winter. The first is somewhat subtle, when Lord John Marbury advises the White House on a near-war between India and Pakistan. He says that bribing India not to go to war is the price you pay for being "rich, free, and alive all at the same time". A few seasons later, Bartlet similarly misquotes the play when discussing it with Toby, "My god I'm fifty, alive, and king, all at the same time". The line is "There's no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once." It is also apparently Bartlet's favorite movie: Toby tells him that "your favorite movie was on last night," and they discuss the film in some detail- but never actually name the film.
- In a flashback in "Two Cathedrals," a young Jed Bartlet quotes Ray Bradbury in an article about censorship in his school's newspaper.
- Towards the end of "Ellie," when Bartlet realizes that his daughter Ellie's rare public comment about how he won't fire the Surgeon General demonstrates how much faith she has in his judgment, he says, "My God, King Lear 's a good play!" (In Lear, the daughter whom the king thinks is least loyal is actually the most loyal.) Doubles as a Genius Bonus.
- Shown Their Work: "he show had a number of actual ex (and future) White House staffers available to advise them how things went, and the writers usually stuck very close to what they said, only making alterations where necessary for the sake of drama, or hilarity. The show was justly praised for its accuracy in how it portrayed the workings of the White House, although it definitely occupies the brighter end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: CJ and Danny.
- Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 4, arc-based episodic. Each season has a few major arcs and things from the past often affect what's going on in the present, but segments from the arc are usually wrapped up within individual episodes.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very idealistic.
- Smart People Play Chess: President Bartlet plays chess, even during international crises. Later, Leo insists that he continue to play weekly to make sure his multiple sclerosis isn't affecting his reasoning. Both Sam and Toby play chess with Bartlet throughout the series as does Leo.
- Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: President Bartlet shouting at God, in untranslated Latin, in the middle of the National Cathedral.
- Smooch of Victory: Josh and Donna
- Smug Snake: Speaker of the House Haffley is the epitome of this, thinking himself to be smarter and gutsier than he actually is.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Happens pretty frequently.
- Sam's description of the Boston Tea Party:
"We jumped out from behind bushes, while the British came down the road in their bright red jackets, but never has a war been so courteously declared. It was on parchment with calligraphy and "Your highness, we beseech you on this day in Philadelphia to bite me, if you please."
- Sorkin Relationship Moment
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- At the end of "Dead Irish Writers", where a rousing rendition of "O Canada" is being performed as Abbey tells Jed that she's going to forfeit her medical license.
- Made into an ironic (and very dark) example of Suspiciously Apropos Music in "Posse Comitatus": as Bartlet is informed that Shareef has been killed, the triumphant, joyful "Patriotic Chorus" is performed loudly right below the balcony. "Evermore upon our country God will pour His great increase / And victorious in war shall be made glorious in peace."
- Speech-Centric Work: As you'd expect from something largely written by Aaron Sorkin.
- Spiritual Successor: To The American President. Notably, some cast members were also transferred; Anna Deavere Smith moved fron White House Press Secretary (CJ's role) to National Security Advisor, and Joshua Malina was originally an unimportant coworker of the heroine, and Leo's role was originally played by Martin Sheen! This makes re-watching the movie almost indescribably eerie, as one expects Sheen-as-Leo to just kick Michael Douglas out of the Oval Office. Not only did they recycle most of the cast, they also recycled most of the situations, and even several of the lines of dialogue.
- Spy Speak: "Leo Mc Garry would like you to meet an old friend from home." ("Bartlet's Third State of the Union")
- Standard Female Grab Area: Charlie uses this in order to show CJ that her new office has a door to the Oval.
- Statuesque Stunner: C.J., as portrayed by Allison Janney.
- Straw Affiliation: Used to great effect in an early episode, where Josh is arguing with a Republican congressman, Matt Skinner, over provisions in a proposed anti-gay marriage law. He is baffled by the congressman's refusal to vote against it, even though Skinner himself is gay. When Josh finally breaks down and asks why he doesn't vote against the bill, and why he's even a member of the party when the Republicans always have an anti-gay message, Skinner replies that yes, he is gay. But he is also for lower taxes, less government, and most other Republican positions, and he simply chooses not to let his sexuality, rather than his principles, decide how he should vote.
- Strawman Ball: Most often conservatives, although Josh tends to suffer his share of humiliations as well.
- Strawman Political:
- It's clear on several occasions that the writers are making a genuine effort to not simply demonize their opponents as one-dimensional strawmen; there were many decent Republicans on the show, most notably Arnold Vinick and Ainsley Hayes, who were designed as standing members of the cast and thus people for us to like. But there's even examples of more throwaway Republican roles who are portrayed more rationally and positively than some of their colleagues, such as Robert Royce and Joseph Bruno.
- Nicely averted by the recurring character of Al Caldwell, a very reasonable Christian minister who serves as a foil to the much more militant Mary Marsh. Sorkin does know how to write both the good and bad of his religion.
- But played pretty straight with presidential candidate Rob Ritchie, who's a fairly transparent stand-in for George W. Bush.
- Also played mostly straight with anyone to the left of the main cast. Seth Gillette, for example.
- Straw Traitor: Josh accuses Congressman Matt Skinner of being this, wondering how he could be gay and also be a Republican.
- Strongly Worded Letter: How Sam describes the Declaration of Independence in "Issac and Ishmael".
"We jumped out from behind bushes while the British came down the road in their bright red jackets, but never has a war been so courteously declared. It was on parchment with calligraphy and "Your Highness, we beseech you on this day in Philadelphia to bite me, if you please."
- Sublime Rhyme:
Bruno: "That's the brunette named Annette."
CJ: "Wouldn't you just give anything if she was from Tibet?"
- Suspiciously Apropos Music: When Toby, Josh, and Donna stop at a club while roadtripping from Indiana to Washington D.C., "The Wanderer" is playing on the jukebox.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Will Bailey. Joshua Malina even described himself as a less handsome, cheaper Sam.
- Suspiciously Specific Sermon: Toby's at temple on Friday evening, listening to his Rabbi say "Vengeance is not Jewish". He gets a phone call from Sam, who asks "By any chance, is your Rabbi giving a sermon on the death penalty?" Toby listens to another sonorous phrase demonizing the death penalty. "... yes?" This is not an accident.
- Take a Third Option: Subverted when Santos is elected president and has to choose between letting a political opponent become Speaker of the House (which would hurt his agenda) or trying to influence the election in favor of one of his friends (which would look bad politically). They come up with the third option of convincing his friend to drop out and back a dark horse candidate, who would then be loyal to Santos... but Santos decides that wouldn't be ethical, and ends up just staying out of it.
- Take Five:
- The phrase is, "Everyone, can we have the room for a minute?" And since it's the president asking, everyone leaves...
- In the congressional hearing where Leo is testifying, the committee chairman says, "Let's take a five minute break. Please, everybody, let's keep it to ten minutes."
- Take That:
- At one point, Democratic leadership requests that Bartlet say "the era of big government is over" in his State of the Union speech. The whole cast, but Toby especially, rants against that phrase, saying government should be big, and it should be a place where smart people come together to solve problems. Doesn't seem like anything but a slight against the small-government Republicans. But in 1996, then-President Clinton said the exact phrase in his State of the Union speech because the political winds changed after Democrats lost control of Congress.
- Vinick is trying to convince Bruno that scandalous information they have on Santos shouldn't be a factor in the election, and should not be leaked, by saying if he had made up his mind to vote for someone, the scandal wouldn't change it:
Bruno: Good. That's you. And that's maybe most Santos voters. And it is every voter in France.
- A throwaway one in "The State Dinner" has Josh toss in "The Redskins suck!" while looking for new business in his briefing papers before concluding the meeting. Somewhat odd given that the Redskins were leading the division with a 5-3 record at air time (and went on to take third in the NFC at 10-6).
- Tempting Fate: Toby is constantly on the warpath to prevent this when they're about to celebrate a political victory before the votes are actually cast, as he explains in "Six Meetings Before Lunch" and demonstrates numerous times thereafter.
- Sam's speech for the President includes an opening line about the magnificent vista, which Toby recommends being ready to change in case it rains. Sam goes on and on about how much faith he has in the forecast given to him by the Coast Guard, which is when the thunderstorm breaks, complete with well-timed lightning flash. (Naturally, the line change doesn't make it in.)
- Test Kiss: C.J. and Danny.
- They Fight Crime: Sam jokingly discusses this in "Shibboleth" - "...a small band of pilgrims sought out a new land of liberty, where they could worship according to their own beliefs...and solve crimes." "Sam..." "It'd be good!"
- Those Two Guys: Ed & Larry, two minor staffers who are present in all seasons.
- Throwing Out The Script: A few examples.
- Time Skip:
- The show misses a year between Christmas 2003, as shown in the middle of season 5, and C.J.'s first day as Chief of Staff in early season 6. This gives the show more ease in fitting the 2006 presidential primaries into season 6 and the election into season 7. The most popular place for the lost year is after the episode "Access" (C.J.'s A Day In The Life episode), as the episodes after it are pretty close together.
- The gaps between seasons 1 and 2, and 5 and 6, are quietly skipped, keeping Josh in hospital in the former and Germany in the latter for months.
- To Absent Friends: Combined very effectively with the Meaningful Funeral in "Requiem". The first half of the episode, the funeral, mourns Leo's death. The second half, the wake, celebrates Leo's life and how much his friends loved him.
- Too Soon: In-universe. Toby is being prosecuted for leaking state secrets to the press. Josh says they'll talk again in six weeks. "That's election day." "I forget, in D.C, they let felons vote? [Beat] Too soon?"
- Trigger: Josh's post-shooting PTSD is triggered by music.
- Trigger Phrase: Apparently nobody in Washington can stand up against Leo telling them "the President is asking you to serve" regardless of any reservations about working at the White House.
- Troll: A few times, people mess with others just for giggles.
- Truth in Television: White House staffers do work incredibly long hours, sometimes 16-20 hour days, six and sometimes seven days a week (even if they aren't physically in The White House doing it). To the point that it's somewhat unrealistic that so many people stayed as long as they did.
- True Companions: A fairly direct example, with Jed and Leo as the parents, Sam, Josh, and C.J. as the elder children, Toby as the funny uncle, Donna as the girl who keeps coming around, and Charlie as the kid everyone looks out for.
- Truth in Television:
- The show was painstakingly researched, especially when Sorkin was in charge, and the political Techno Babble is pretty much all accurate. Several Clinton White House staffers, most notably Dee Dee Myers, were consulted to create a White House as real as possible (while still sitting on Sorkin's preferred end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism). Many political professionals said the final, campaign-centric seasons accurately reflected their lives.
- Of note is that the real "Leo" was Leon Panetta, and the real "Josh" was Rahm Emmanuel; when Obama won he appointed Panetta to the CIA and Emmanuel as Chief of Staff, meaning Rahm succeeded Leon, just like Josh succeeding Leo.
- Talk About That Thing: One of the fan websites had The Page About The Thing, translating "thing" for each time it appears in the dialogue.
- Three-Wall Set
- TV Genius: Subverted, President Jed Bartlet, Rhodes scholar and Nobel Prize winner.
- Twenty Fifth Amendment: Invoked at the start of Season 5. Bartlet can't run the country because he's severely emotionally compromised, Hoynes just resigned as V.P., which means that the Republican Speaker of the House becomes President.
- Twisting the Words: Toby in "The Leadership Breakfast."
- Two Lines, No Waiting
- Ultimate Job Security: Secretary of Defense Miles Hutchinson. Despite being a Jerk Ass from the word go (his first onscreen appearance involved using leaks to impede presidential foreign policy decisions he disagreed with, and nearly coming to blows with Leo in the Situation Room), he, for no adequately-explained reason, kept his job through the entire Administration.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Josh and Donna (eventually resolved, after about 150 episodes); Sam and several women; C.J. and Danny (although they acknowledge it and kiss a lot, also resolved just prior to the Grand Finale); Annabeth seems to feel this toward Toby at first, then Leo, to his bemusement.
- Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Toby and Andy's twins, Molly and Huck.
- The Usual Adversaries: Often Republicans. Or really, just Congress.
"You know, I'm so sick of Congress I could vomit."
- Verbal Tic: Not for nothing, but, you know, we're gonna have to get into the thing at some point. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
- "Donna." "Josh." "Donna!" "JOSH!"
- "MARGARET!" "*appears from behind the door* What, Leo?"
- In the first couple seasons, Danny responds to C.J.'s various "NO, I won't go out with you"-type lines with a simple "ok." He then tries again five minutes later.
- Very Special Episode: Several examples, actually:
- "Isaac and Ishmael" was written and filmed two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. It's explicitly stated to be outside of the continuity and takes place in a universe where 9/11 happened, whereas in the regular West Wing continuity it never did.
- There was also a documentary special in season 2 that was a clip show combined with interviews of people from the real West Wing.
- The episode The Debate was filmed and broadcast live, as if it was a real debate.
- Vice President Who: Both of President Bartlet's veeps. Bartlet and Hoynes personally dislike each other from their competition in the primaries and Bartlet barely involves Hoynes in anything important, which Hoynes resents. Bob Russell is widely known as a bland political hack and was the only VP nominee that could get through a hostile Congress, but he tries to make himself more notable for his inevitable presidential campaign.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Heaven help you if you didn't pay attention in the episode, or knew nothing about American poltics.
- Vomit Discretion Shot:
- Santos' son does the "duck offscreen" version in the doorway of their last trick-or-treat destination.
- Mandy does this after she learns that a negotiator in a hostage situation, that she pushed for to avoid the bad press a raid would bring, has been shot and is in critical condition.
- Walk and Talk: Trope Codifier, the show even parodied it at one point with a new White House Intern tripping during the scene. This also lampshaded by Will, who comments that it's as good as an aerobic workout.
- The War Room: The White House Situation Room. The show ran long enough that, during its first appearance, the West Wing Situation Room was far more advanced than the real location. By the end of the show the reverse was true.
- The Watson: Donna, whose role in the early years was to badger Josh with questions like, "Josh, why is policy X important?" and "Josh, why should we spend millions to bail out Mexico?"
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Jed Bartlet is still desperately seeking his abusive father's approval, and is called out on this by both Toby and by Stanley Keyworth.
- Wham Episode: Season One's "What Kind of Day Has It Been", Season Two's "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" and "18th and Potomac", and Season Four's "Commencement".
- Wham Line:
- "Commencement": "Did you put ecstasy in my drink?"
- "Things Fall Apart": "Now that's the civilian shuttle." "...sorry?"
- "Mr. Frost": "I did it", obviously.
- A minor one, from "Take This Sabbath Day," but still effective: Bartlet, in a moral quandary over the death penalty, asks Charlie if he'd want to see the man who killed his mother be executed:
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Quite a few, particularly since there are Loads and Loads of Characters and a similar situation with plots.
- Ainsley Hayes has a minor character arc, gets another appearance during the election, then vanishes. She's then replaced by
- Joe Quincy, the Spear Counterpart to Miss Hayes, who shows up for three episodes. Since he was played by Matthew Perry, who was still on Friends at the time, this is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. Both he and Hayes worked for
- The chief counsel of the White House. Two different men played two different roles, and apparently there was a third off-screen.
- Any number of plots, such as Josh dealing with the monetary cost of his shooting.
- Also Charlie wanting to marry Zoey at the end of season 6.
- What the Hell, Hero?: a lot of these come up over the course of the show, especially among the senior staff.
- What You Are in the Dark: Vinick faces this when Bruno brings him Santos' briefcase with devastating information inside, having found it completely accidentally with nobody else's knowledge.
- Who's on First?: Donna meets Santos staffer Ronna and they spend half a minute correcting what they think is are Accidental Misnamings on the other's part before Josh clears it up.
- Will They or Won't They?: Josh and Donna.
- Worf Had the Flu: The only explanation for C.J. not appearing in the episode where the cast try to write a comedic speech for the 'White House Correspondents Dinner'... which C.J. likely is organizing.
- Josh - he's introduced in the pilot sleeping at his desk as the cleaning staff vacuums around him and he doesn't take a vacation until the last season of the series. (And he has to be coerced / blackmailed into taking that one by Sam.) He does try several times to take a holiday, but each time something happens.
- Leo, too.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Inverted. After Josh spends half the episode mocking NASA and questioning why the space program is even needed, one of the NASA representatives completely reverses his opinion by showing him the rest of the solar system and nebulae through a high-powered telescope. Because outer space is really, really awesome.
- Writer on Board: Sorkin was so upset at Television Without Pity for finding flaws in his writing. 3x13 "Night Five" has him say, through Ainsley, that anyone irritated by the way he writes female characters or the "it's-a-joke" type of sexism displayed by the male cast is a bad feminist busybody prude. 3x16 "The US Poet Laureate" has the titular poet claim that "an artist's job is not to speak the truth" which must have been news to the artists who have been doing that since... oh, the invention of art.note And from the same episode, internet fora are full of loonies with Skewed Priorities and must be avoided at all costs (or they'll be mean about your show)! Although there is some Truth in Television to that one...
- You Are Number Six: When Will finds that he has several speechwriting interns named Lauren, he gives them numbered sports jerseys and calls them "Lauren 4, Lauren 6," etc.
- You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious: Excluding family members and pre-election flashbacks, only five characters in the entire seven-season run ever called President Bartlet by his nickname "Jed." And only Leo did it twice.
- Logical Fallacies: many, many, many occurrences, almost always at the expense of enemies.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame:
- In a flashback, the first sign that there's something wrong with Bartlet's first nominee for Attorney General comes when a leader of the Christian right confides to C.J. that the nominee is the first black man he's ever heard "make sense" on racial profiling.
- In the fifth season episode "Talking Points," Josh has only just realized that the free trade deal he helped to make is going to destroy jobs he'd promised to protect, when Republican Speaker Haffley praises him in a meeting for doing such a bang-up job on the trade deal.