STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $59.95
RUNNING TIME: 949 Minutes

  • Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Easter Egg

Originally run on April 27, 2006.

The Pitch

The season of The West Wing that everyone hates. Except me.

This Nurachi’s a really small assistant…

The Humans

Martin Sheen. Bradley Whitford. John Spencer. Jimmy Smits. Josh Malina. Richard Schiff. Allison Janney. Stockard Channing. Janel Moloney. Alan Alda. Gary Cole. Get Him A Blanket.

Christopher Bloat hasn’t had a shite since 1967.

The Nutshell

President Bartlett (Martin Sheen, duh) is nearing the end of his reign and just now realizes he hasn’t done as much as he wants to in terms of securing his legacy and making the free world a better place. To make matters worse, his M.S. (that’s Multiple Sclerosis, a disease which loosely translates to "a few Sclerosises") acts up again and threatens his ability to govern. And play handball. Additionally, the contenders to take his throne pop up in the form of Alan Alda (playing who Devin called "The Dream Republican"), Jimmy Smits (playing who George Lucas called "Bail Organa"), and returning V.P. Gary Cole (playing the Sheriff from American Gothic with cuff links). There’s also Tim Matheson reprising his role as the former Vice President, a man who enjoyed the vice a lot more than the president in his title. The staff is scattered by allegiances, illnesses, and their own ambitions and though the season has not one really stellar episode and the focus is off it’s still compelling enough to qualify as The West Wing. It’s not like the years of X-Files that became lost in the mire or when they replaced K.I.T.T. with a hand grenade in season 11 of Knight Rider. It’s the same old thing, just a little pekid from a lack of Sorkin.

Luckily this show’s fiction or else this’d happen.

The problem with a show like this is that you can only have so many kidnappings, illnesses, attempted murders, and secretaries who get slaughtered in car accidents before it becomes yawn central. The characters in the show are strong enough as to not need that kind of drama to stay interesting. There’s no longer a "Must See TV" requirement for this show. It’s one of the best ever made. The fact it’s coming out with a new episode is all the motivation people should need, the same as is the case for The Sopranos and American Chopper. They’re already deeply embedded in the public’s psyche, like The Hidden. There’s a "been there, done that" feel to this season of ‘Da Wing’ this go around and for some reason it’s a little more glaring than the [better than people give it credit for] season five. John Spencer’s real-life expiration in light of his character’s heart attack on the show here makes it all seem that much more surreal. It’s hard to watch his amazing work on this show now knowing that his character’s arc has been cut short by that most unfair network executive, The Grim Reaper.

Thankfully, the appeal of long walks around buildings with rapid-fire dialogue being delivered by absolutely impeccable actors never goes out of style. The cast, Allison Janney and Martin Sheen especially, are as good as ever and even though the rest of the cast (Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda do fine work, though) is solid with the exception of Josh Malina, whom I feel never seems to not be acting, it never rises to greatness. Thus almost seems like The West Wing – Season 5.5 rather than its own entity and the fact that certain relationships are altered without much concern seems to have rubbed off on the talent.

"You shot starter kits for Chuck and Emilio out of THAT?"

I expected much greater angst and soul searching when it came to Bradley Whitford’s Josh Lyman leaving the office to run a campaign. I expected more than one little scene between he and Richard Schiff, the two most electric characters on the show. I expected more of a reaction to C.J. Cregg (Janney) getting her "promotion". I expected a little actual tension between the candidates. I expected some progress on the relationship between Lyman and his assistant Donna aside from a romantic comedy staple of them waiting outside each other’s hotel room doors, waiting to pounce. I expected more with C.J.’s pet goldfish.

What I didn’t expect? I didn’t expect the President to seemingly go from an invalid to a robust and bouncy gentleman seemingly overnight. I’d invested in that storyline to take us through the season and apparently someone got bored because Mr. Bartlett went from Franklin Roosevelt to Roosevelt Brown in record time. I didn’t expect to see Dule Hill to don a goatee out of thin air and all of a sudden be fist deep in the President’s daughter again. I didn’t expect the media element to be a total non-factor this season.

Of course, expectations are going to haunt you every day of the week on a show like this. One that has already set a rather high bar. It’s still entertaining. It just doesn’t have that pop the show is famous for.

"They’re shooting a Halle Berry film right beneath me?"*

The finish line for The West Wing is upon us, and I experience the show strictly through these boxed sets in two or three marathon sessions. The one thing that’s always been consistent is the desire to press onward. This is the weakest of the first six seasons but it’s still a solid bit of entertainment. It doesn’t make you think like some of the other ones have and there’s no moment that really gets a grip on your heart or spine and gives a yank. It’s just pretty good, which is fine for something like Desperate Housewives. I understand the backlash, but I still love the characters too much to let it bother me all that much.

That said, season seven needs to be amazing.

The Package

The commentaries on this show tend to be very technical and businesslike, but in the best way possible. John Wells and his gang are so tightly wound as a unit, there’s an amazing bit of virtuosity at hand when they are shooting or editing or talking about shooting and editing. This is the one show I’m glad isn’t cast centric on the commentary tracks because they all tend to be self congratulatory or all about handing kudos to everyone else ("No one but no one can deliver a line like "Here’s your document, Leo" better than John Kellogg). These guys have honed their craft beyond science and beyond Thunderdome. I love to start a commentary trap as I veg out off to sleep, letting their words of wisdom joust with the sugarplums dancing in my head.

The featurette on C.J. is fine but fluffy, obviously not geared towards the demographic of sarcastic bearded web personalities but rather well-intentioned housewives and telephone servicemen.

I didn’t find the Easter Egg because I’m not religious.

7.4 out of 10

* – Yes, I know it’s a sailfish but I’m a sucker for Swordfish humor.