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.
  • Awesome Music: Has a sub-page now.
  • Bizarro Episode: "Issac and Ishmael" was written as a preemption of the Season 3 premiere after the September 11th attacks, and opens with the cast members explaining that it's a "storytelling aberration" that doesn't fit into the show's timeline.
  • 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 asks whose idea it was to hold the Inauguration in January. His wife humorously replies that 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.)
    • Any election junkie will tell you that the 2006 map is absolute bullshit. There is no way in hell that, in this era, a Democrat would win South Carolina or Texas, even if they were a Representative, and no way that a Republican would win Vermont or Maine. A lot of people accuse the writers of manipulating the results in order to have Santos win.
      • It's mentioned that Santos made so many trips to South Carolina that he practically lived there, and it has a sizeable minority population who would be willing to vote Democrat. Same for Texas, with its large Hispanic population. As for Vinick, both Vermont and Maine are generally small c conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, and they have a negligible amount of Latino voters. It's still a stretch, but not completely impossible.
    • Language. It is true that Indonesia has many different ethnicities and therefore many different languages, including Balinese and Batak. However, Indonesia does have a national language, Indonesian, which is spoken by the majority of the country (with mutually-intelligible dialects spoken in different regions). So there would be no need to find a translator who spoke Batak (the Indonesian president's native tongue), simply one who spoke Indonesian.
    • In Season 2's fifth episode "And It's Surely To His Credit", there is a subplot involving Josh's health insurance refusing to pay more than 20% of the hospital's bill for his inpatient stay after being shot in the Season 1 finale. The grounds were that it was an out-of-network hospital and that Josh had failed to get authorization for the admission prior to actually being admitted. Since Josh is a (fictional) federal employee living in the DC metro area, he would have had ten fee-for-service and PPO plans, seven HM Os, and eight high-deductible and consumer-driven plans to choose from as his insurance through the Federal Employees' Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Regardless of which of those plans he chose, Josh would not have been the party responsible to obtain authorization for the inpatient admission. Such admissions are authorized based on the clinical necessity of the care the patient requires, which can only be established by medical practitioners on behalf of the facility; regardless of the facility's participation status with the plan, the insurance carrier would not have expected or required that Josh be the one to call to request authorization. Furthermore, it is a standard for admissions through the emergency department that the admitting facility has approximately 48 hours after the admission takes place to contact the insurance plan and obtain authorization. This is because most insurance plans' medical review departments (the areas that take in and review authorization requests) are not open 24/7 and the facility may not have all of the necessary documentation to prove the clinical necessity of the predicted length of the patient's stay until at least a day after the original admission through the ER.
      • As for the amount of the insurance plan's payment: the terms of the insurance plans offered to federal employees are negotiated between the insurance carriers and the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM). No matter which plan Josh might've been covered by, the plan would've paid the claim submitted by the hospital based upon the terms for that plan as approved by the OPM. If the hospital or Josh were unsatisfied by the insurance carrier's determination on the claim, either party could've requested a review by OPM to determine if the plan should've paid the claim differently. Federal courts do not have jurisdiction over civil suits involving health insurance, and the state-level insurance departments of either Maryland or Virginia would not have had jurisdiction to override a determination by OPM. This means that Josh wouldn't actually have standing to sue the insurance carrier if an OPM review determined that the carrier adjudicated and paid the claim correctly based upon the terms of the insurance plan covering him at the time he was shot.
      • If a facility (or physician for that matter) does not have a participation contract with the insurance carrier for the plan covering a patient, the insurance carrier has no legal authority to circumscribe how much the facility ultimately chooses to bill the patient above and beyond any payments made by the plan. He would potentially have had grounds to enact a state-level civil suit requesting an injunction to prevent the hospital's billing him $50,000 for an urgently needed life-saving medical procedure caused by circumstances that prevented his active selection of rendering physicians or the facility in which it occurred. The writers of the episode apparently didn't think it sounded as good to say he would sue for an injunction against the hospital billing him for the unpaid balance.
  • 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.
  • Fanon:
    • 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).
  • Fanon Discontinuity:
    • 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.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • 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 rose of York was white, the rose of Lancaster was 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.
    • Aaron Sorkin really seems to love making jokes about Alger Hiss and his secret pumpkin.
  • 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.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • 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 re-entry 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.
      • 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 data mining from Google and others, it turns out Sam was right on the money.
    • 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.
  • Heartwarming In Hindsight:
    • 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.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: In the Season 5 episode "The Stormy Present," James Cromwell has a guest role as former President of the United States D. Wire Newman (casually called D.W.), a loose Fictional Counterpart to Jimmy Carter. Cromwell would later go on to play Real Life former president George H.W. Bush in the 2008 George W. Bush biopic W..
    • 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.
  • Less Disturbing in Context
    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?
    Larry: No.
  • 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.
    • Sorkin announced that he wouldn't be making any more TV shows after The Newsroom and focus entirely on films, stating "I've made four shows, and only one was The West Wing."
  • 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.
    • DONNA!
      • MARGARET!
      • GINGER!
    • What's next?
    • Bartlet For President
  • Moe: Donna
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • The first five minutes of The West Wing are even more entertaining after having seen House.
    • Before he became Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Mark Harmon appeared for four episodes as a Secret Service Agent assigned to protect CJ.
    • 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.
    • Cyrus Beene guest stars in a season four episode as a corporate whistleblower.
  • 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.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Mandy. She was set up as a Foil for Josh, but she didn't fit in with the compassionate, quirky, idealistic True Companions of the senior staff—she always argued for doing the political thing over the right thing, had few moments of genuine friendship with the others, and tended to interrupt serious moments with increasingly trivial PR tasks. The character was quietly dropped from the show in between seasons 1 and 2, and few people missed her.
    • 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 . 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 "Isaac 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.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • 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.
  • Tear Jerker: Leo's death. Made even worse considering Spencer died.
  • Viewers Are Morons: In "And Its Surely To His Credit" (Season 2 Episode 5), Lionel Tribbey, the then-White House Chief Counsel, comes blasting into Leo's office shouting that he's going to kill someone with the cricket bat he's carrying. Leo's office door is open and Tribbey's voice does not modulate much lower during the rest of the conversation he and Leo have, clearly indicating that he has not calmed down. And then, upon finding out that President Bartlett has hired a Blonde Republican Sex Kitten to work in the Counsel's Office, Tribbey goes charging through the corridor to the Oval Office to confront the President about it... still wielding the cricket bat. He doesn't go through the unguarded private door between Leo's office and the Oval; he goes through the door that leads into the Oval from the office where Mrs. Landingham and Charlie's desks are. And the viewers are expected to believe that a man who has just openly and vehemently declared his intention to use that cricket bat as a weapon against someone as vent for his anger is going to be allowed into the Oval with it? No matter how histrionic Tribbey's temperament is, or how used to him being verbally bombastic but not physically violent the White House staff might be, there is no way Tribbey gets into the Oval with that cricket bat when he's acting like he was. The Secret Service would've taken it from him and probably wouldn't have let him anywhere near the Oval in the temper he was displaying.
    • This one also comes with a splash of Viewers Are Goldfish. From the camera perspective in the scene, the private door between the Oval and Leo's office was on the right. When Tribbey headed towards the Oval through the exterior corridor, he went to the camera perspective's left... the wrong way if his intention was an immediate confrontation with the president.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: The original Al Bundy has made a couple of guest appearances as the Governor of Pennsylvania, who is the frontrunning candidate for President.
  • What an Idiot:
    • 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 corps, 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 agreement, and Haffley and his team are locked away ignoring the problem - now it's his fault the government has shut down.
      • The latter interpretation also counts as this trope, however, since the shutdown has lasted for three days by this point. This has been plenty of time for Haffley to come up with some ideas for what to do in the (at that point quite likely) event that anyone from the President's office should come looking for a deal — time he's mostly spent sitting around gloating at how the media has turned on the President with a smug look on his face.
    • Toby gets one in "The State Dinner". Let's face it, stubbornly and self-righteously insisting that a rather confrontational denunciation of Indonesia's human rights abuses be added into a toast for the Indonesian President at a state dinner in his honour is rather undiplomatic, however justified. But when you then have to ask a high-ranking Indonesian official — who is unlikely to be very happy with said denunciation and is likely to know who included it — to use his influence to get a friend of yours out of an Indonesian jail, it just looks stupid on top of that.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: During Season 7, after a few episodes the viewer can't really escape the feeling that the Bartlet White House is at best indifferent to the Santos campaign's needs, if not actively hostile. This impression only gets stronger as the season continues. It wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for the fact that it often seems to boil down to nothing more than a superiority complex in the White House for having the responsibility of governing instead of campaigning- with the obvious logical problem being that in order to govern, you first have to campaign and win. Josh does not hesitate to point any of this out.
  • The Woobie:
    • 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.