These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
YMMV: The West Wing
Alternative Character Interpretation: Regarding Toby's downfall in the final season, (as explained below under Fanon Discontinuity) it is both possible and plausible that he's covering for CJ. She has a history of turning to the press corps when she feels the rest of the administration is being dishonest, and Toby has always had paternal feelings about CJ - after all, he's the one who brought her on board in the first place.
However, this would also rely on CJ's willingness to let her closest friend take the fall for a treasonous offense that would get him sent to federal prison.
There's also those who think Toby leaking it in the first place was in character, but there's no way he would let the scandal fester for so long, to the point that it was compromising Santos' campaign.
Critical Research Failure: In the Season Three episode Stirred, President Bartlet (who is usually a very accurate and learned man), asks Donna's old teacher if when she taught Beowulf to her high school students she "taught it in the original Middle English or in translation." Beowulf was written in Old English and Bartlet should be aware of this.
Not "critical", but the title is referenced by Bartlet mocking James Bond for ordering his drinks "shaken, not stirred" because if you order a Martini and Gin that way, it makes the drink weaker. The problem is that James Bond orders a Vodka martini and shaking it gets rid of the potato oil that vodkas had (at least, at the time the Bond novels were set in); it also chills the drink faster than stirring it.
In a season two episode, a male Icelandic official is mentioned whose name ends in -dottir. Icelandic surnames are patrynoms rather than family names, and -dottir always indicates that the person is female—e.g., "Olafsdottir" means "Olaf's daughter," so the ambassador should have either been female or had a name ending in -sson.
In the Grand Finale, Bartlet aks whose idea was it to hold the Inauguration in January. His wife humorously replies it was the Founding Fathers'. Except that it wasn't. For most of the USA's history, the Inauguration was held in March. The first January Inauguration wasn't until 1936. (Could she be mistaken? Yes. Could notorious pedant Bartlet refrain from correcting her? No.)
Designated Villain: Both of Bartlet's Vice Presidents. Neither Hoynes nor Russell ever seem to do that much wrong to justify the level of contempt and scorn they receive from the main cast (though Hoynes, at least, is smart enough to get in some What the Hell, Hero? digs at the main characters on occasion).
Executive Meddling: Sorkin wanted to get Josh and Donna together. He kept being told "Wait another season!" The chemistry was apparent from the pilot and didn't get fulfilled until the last season.
The unanimously-accepted fact that CJ calls Josh "mi amore" on a regular basis (she does it only once or twice on the actual show.)
Also that Donna calls Josh "pumpkin patch" on a regular basis (happened once on the show).
Sam becomes President in all future-fics that mention him. Exceptions are rare and do not occur without a very significant and compelling reason. This, at least, has its roots in President Bartlet's remark, "You're going to run for President one day. Don't be scared. You can do it."
Fandom seems to unanimously agree that Josh and Donna will have a son together whose name will be Noah (after Josh' father). According to the characters' twitter accounts their kids are named Leo and Jackie (though Donna appears to be pregnant again so maybe Noah will be born in 2013).
For some, the entire post-Sorkin run is something they refuse to acknowledge and instead only watch the first four seasons.
Toby leaking the information about the military shuttle in the last season. Even Richard Schiff said that it was out of character, and acted the episodes as though Toby was taking the fall for someone else.
Santos is talking with Leo about his viability as VP candidate: "I'm not gonna fire you. You want out, you're gonna have to drum up another heart attack or something."
At the end of the Cold Open of the Season 1 episode "The Short List", a piece of the ceiling in Josh's office falls onto his desk (a maintenance crew was working upstairs) while Josh is sitting there, inches away from him. A little later, Josh tells Donna, "You should be nice to me. I could be dead, you know." Donna's reply? "I don't have that kind of luck." Of course, it cuts both ways; earlier in the scene, Josh, amazed the ceiling just missed him, says to Donna, "I really think if big chunks of ceiling are gonna fall on anyone...I don't know...it should be you."
Genius Bonus: Sometimes things happening in the background only have real significance if you already know what's happening. In one episode, Sam takes it upon himself to cut government spending by eliminating pointless reports. One of the "pointless" reports they decide to scrap is about "some mussel in the Great Lakes". This is a real issue Ripped from the Headlines, as the zebra mussel is an invasive species (akin to the rabbits of Australia) that's causing significant problems in North American waterways.
When Simon Donovan is gunned down, the convenience store owner knocks over a display of red and white roses. Simultaneously, the main cast is at a performance of a play about The War of the Roses, so called because the two sides each had roses as the symbol for their houses- the Yorks were white, the Lancasters were red. The House Of Tudor- born out of the end of the war- combined these two symbols to signify the alliance of the two houses.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Despite being a program entirely about American politics (which are confusing even to Americans) and which constantly extols the virtues of a liberal democratic (small L, small D) system of government, the show is extremely popular in China.
It was also popular enough in the UK that when it moved from free-to-air TV to one of the same company's digital channels, there was a noticeable spike in digital TV subscriptions.
Being highly researched by the creative staff, a great number of things that would later become hot-button issues were present in the show from day one, but some things the writers probably never anticipated would mean what they do today.
"[...] at this moment we do not know the whereabouts of about a half-dozen cell leaders, including bin Laden[...]" -Original air date, October 4th 2000
In the Season 4 premier, Leo and Fitz are discussing the assassination of Abdul ibn Shareef, which was carried out by the U.S. Fitz explains, "These were Navy SEALs. These were Special Ops. They know what they're doing."
"There's a situation developing in Port-Au-Prince, I have to get ready to brief." -Original air date, May 9th 2001
The Haiti sub-plot at the beginning of season 4 was a reference to the 1991 Haitian coup and subsequent US diplomatic intervention to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"The government can't be in the business of cosigning loans." -Original air date, May 1st, 2002. Non-interventionist ideals of 2002, meet 2008.
And the first season finale, where the President half-seriously threatens to invade Baghdad; in an episode during which the Space Shuttle Columbia is having reentry problems.
Probably the Most Triumphant Example in the series: Leo has a heart attack in season six shortly after an argument with Bartlet. It's shown in excruciating detail. In season seven, both the character and the actor would die of a heart attack.
In the very first episode of Season 7, Leo offers to resign from the ticket if Santos thinks he's dragging it down. Santos tells him the only way he can get out of it is to have another heart attack.
After Leo's first heart attack, he tells President Bartlet that this is the last chance to get things done, and that they should "leave it all on the field." Spencer did.
In the first-season episode "Mr Willis of Ohio," Zoey Bartlet has a somewhat uncomfortable experience in a bar when a couple of guys hit on her; she gets rescued by the rest of the cast and, ultimately, some Secret Service agents. When she gets back to the White House, her father goes into elaborate detail about how if anything happened to her, it would essentially bring the government to its knees, as "we wouldn't have a commander in chief anymore; we'd have a father who's out of his mind because his little girl is trapped somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head." Seems over the top, right? Not after the end of Season 4, when Zoey's French Jerk boyfriend slips ecstasy into her drink and she ends up being kidnapped, and her father has to invoke the 25th Amendment and temporarily leave office, handing over power to the Republican Speaker of the House. (The only real difference is that she isn't being held in Uganda; she's found somewhere in Virginia if I remember correctly.)
Also in that speech, Zoey and her father talk about how the Secret Service should worry about [her father] getting shot. Guess what happens in the first season finale/second season premiere?
Sam in Season 1: "20s and 30s, it was the role of government; 50s and 60s, it was civil rights; the next two decades, it's going to be privacy. I'm talking about the internet. I'm talking about cell phones." In the wake of the NSA leaks and general concerns over corporate datamining from Google and others, it turns out Sam was right on the money.
The Bartlet administration presiding over the appointment of Roberto Mendoza (a Latino ex-police officer from a working-class Brooklyn family) to the Supreme Court, thus making him the first Latino Supreme Court justice in history. Nine years after Mendoza's first appearance on the show, the Obama administration actually did preside over the appointment of the first Latino Supreme Court justice: Sonia Sotomayor, who came from a working-class immigrant family in the Bronx.
An early episode in Season 1 involved Sam trying (and ultimately failing) to get support from Congressmen in his efforts to get the Army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy repealed. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was officially repealed by the Obama administration in 2011 (11 years after that episode aired), giving homosexuals the right to openly serve in the military for the first time in American history.
In "In God We Trust" (made in 2005), a mini-crisis emerges after Democrats in Congress attach a minimum wage rider to the bill to raise the debt ceiling that Republicans won't pass, threatening to default the United States. Senator Vinick, a Republican, confronts Bartlet about Democrats "playing games" with the debt ceiling. Flash forward to 2011 and 2013, and arguments about Congress raising the debt ceiling suddenly become a lot more relevant — only this time, it's the Republicans who are "playing games" with the debt ceiling.
The race between Santos and Vinick has some quite eerie similarities to the 2008 presidential election, with an young and idealistic minority Democrat beating an elderly, moderate-leaning Republican.
In the aforementioned episode "Stirred," the senior staff floats the idea of replacing Hoynes with Leo as Bartlet's running mate. In the final seasons of the show, Leo was the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Democratic party.
Kathryn Joosten plays Bartlett's secretary, and is then replaced by Lily Tomlin. The two actresses would later play sisters in Desperate Housewives.
Informed Attractiveness: 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. While beautiful, she isn't particularly more mindblowing than many of the other actresses appearing on the show. Luckily, it still works because it's utterly hilarious.
CJ (who has stolen Charlie's Presidential schedule as punishment for his draconian logbook practices): You'll find it in your filing cabinet, under A. For Anal.
Ed: ...I don't really want to know what he's going to find in his filing cabinet, do you?
Magnum Opus: Very likely THE artistic product most closely identified with Aaron Sorkin. At this point, it's probably between this and The Social Network as far as work with the greatest acclaim, though this featured a lot more of his direct creative influence. Hell, the show is likely an opus for everyone involved, including director/producer Thomas Schlamme and star Martin Sheen.
Mary Sue: Kate Harper and Ryan Pierce start this way. One of them gets better, and the other is Put on a Bus. Jed Bartlet himself can be this way on occasion.
Memetic Mutation: You don't tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.
To ensure that you don't you must go outside, turn three times, curse and spit.
Josh drinks from the keg of glory - bring him the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.
Agent Phil Coulson apparently started work as an FBI agent that worked with the White House before SHIELD hired him.
In fact, Clark Gregg himself says this is a perfectly valid theory.
Seasonal Rot: Season Five is not well-regarded. Sorkin had just left, and the new show runner John Wells took a while to adjust. Fans who enjoy the post-Sorkin run consider the switch to the next presidential campaign to be a vast improvement.
Ryan Pierce, the intern foisted on Josh in the fifth season. A self-absorbed, egotistical rich kid who Josh kept around for the one and only reason that he couldn't offend the kid's powerful Senator unclenote although Uncle Pierce was actually a Cool Old Guy. He continually got on Josh's nerves, and Donna's, by namedropping his connections and mixing insights of competence with careless mistakes.
Amy. Her condescension, annoying tone of voice, and tendency to sabotage the main characters' efforts makes her a lot less sympathetic than the writers probably intended her to be.
Shocking Swerve: In the final season, Toby leaked the shuttle story. What really puts it over the top is that there's no attempt at all to explain the various Red Herring clues that pointed to CJ, like her mysterious lengthy phone calls with Greg Brock or Margaret's worry about testifying.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The special episode "Issac and Ishmael" is significantly more ham-handed and message-driven than The West Wing usually is, but it works well enough given the extraordinary circumstances that generated its necessity.
Often. For example, in the episode "18th and Potomac," Josh meets with two House Democrats holding up funds for the anti-Big Tobacco lawsuits. While the audience's sympathies are clearly supposed to be with Josh, the two congressmen make cogent arguments that the tobacco companies' actions, while sleazy, weren't actually criminal. Josh's response is to accuse them of not caring if smokers die or not.
Another example is when a secretary takes offence to Sam telling Ainsley that she's "enough to make a good dog break his leash." Ainsley goes out of her way to tell the secretary that she's not offended and that by complaining she's actually dragging attention away from "real" harassment. However, she seems to miss the point the secretary was trying to make: a sexual comment does not need to be directed at you for you to find it offensive, and in the vast majority of cases Sam's comment would be considered inappropriate in a workplace.
While heartwarming, the resolution of Senator Stackhouse's filibuster only after the staff discovers that he has an autistic grandchild implies that it's okay to ignore the needs of thousands of American children, unless one of them has an "in" with a member of Congress, in which case it's fine to put an entire bill on hold to grant a personal favor for a family member. This is, unfortunately, Truth in Television for Congress.
Sam's offhand rejection of anti-tax cut rhetoric that looks like it was "written by a teenage girl." Because teenage boys are wonderful writers, apparently. (Really, most of the time Sam brings gender into the conversation, though to be fair not every time.)
The US Poet Laureate declaring that the primary job of any artist is just to entertain, and any grand statements about the world they do along the way is just a bonus. Basically, it's Sorkin telling every author that has ever tried to make a statement with their work that they're doing it wrong. It doesn't help that it comes in the same episode where he uses the show as a bully pulpit to insult the people on Internet forums who he didn't think showed him the proper deference, making the statement come off as a cop-out that he's just an entertainer and so can't be criticized for any of this trope he may stumble into.
Amy telling Abbey that she gets turned on by Josh making sexist remarks.
"King Corn" features a highly inflammatory and inaccurate portrayal of Turkey, making them out to be a country of backwards religious extremists who consider sex before marriage "adultery" and behead women for it.
Speaker Haffley in "Shutdown". Bartlet decides to go to the Hill to work out an end to the shutdown, but decides halfway on the way to walk instead, in front of the press. Haffley, to the objection of a couple of his employees, decides to leave the President in the lobby so long that he walks back out. The scene after the commercial opens with political commentators on a TV lambasting the Speaker for making a colossal tactical error.
It felt more like Villainous Breakdown, with Haffley flipping out because the President of the United States is sitting smugly outside his office with half the Washington press corp, and he has no idea why, since Bartlet's visit wasn't announced. He insists on staying inside until he can figure out what the hell he should do, and by the time he pulls himself together, the President has left. The story changes - The public see that President is the one who's honestly trying to reach out an make an agreemeant, and Haffley and his team are locked away ignoring the problem - now it's his fault the government has shut down.
Josh Lyman, specifically when he receives a card that gives him instructions to safety in the case of a nuclear attack, a safety that his friends and future lover, then UST partner, would not be invited to. Later it is revealed that as a child he lost his older sister in a fire while he ran to safety.
It's hard not to feel sympathetic for Hoynes when he is frequently disrespected by the staff and the president.
The same can also be said for his successor, Russell.