I have no real political views. When faced with
a situation I jump to a conclusion based on
gut reaction and not whatever party line there
may or may not be. I also don’t feel the need
to make the time to research all the facts to
find an “educated” stance. I leave that to brighter,
and some cases… insane people who like to live
within that universe. It all seems pointless
to me, cyclical and without any real opportunities
that makes me ignorant, I will enjoy my blissful
that said, politics makes for absolutely engaging
film or television. The funny thing, there is
often one side that will hate a film or show
because it seems to fall on one side of the
equation and that just seems like they’re missing
out on half of the opportunities for good entertainment.
There are few of those to be had, so whether
The West Wing is a wonderfully
Liberal or superlative Conservative show, when
it boils down it’s just. Plain. Excellent.
"Reading Emilio’s diary,
it all makes sense now. I mistreated him as
an infant, and his retaliation was Freejack."
"For the love of all that
is holy, is George Clooney’s Iranian stunt double
staring at me again?"
Sorkin has a style all his own. In my review
of his Sports Night, I felt he
had the gift of gab but sometimes tried a bit
too hard. In The West Wing he
not only solved a few of the problems his earlier
work, but also hit the ball way out of the park.
Awards, ratings, and rehab followed, but this
first year of the show wasted no time in becoming
a powerhouse. The show, in case you’ve been
trapped in the North Carolina mountains by hillfolk
without the Dish Network, focuses on the trials
and tribulations of the President of the United
States and his staff in their everyday interpersonal
dealings as well as their more global affairs.
Taking a fast-paced almost ‘ER’ style
approach in how it bounces from conversation
to conversation, it takes the sometimes dry
and stiff political world and almost makes it
main reason the show crackles is not only the
amazingly consistent humor and drama that Sorkin
and his able cast of directors (including familiar
names like Ken Olin and Thomas Schlamme) deliver,
but a cast that has to be seen to be believed.
There is no coincidence that the show pulls
in tons of nominations and awards during Emmys
season, it has a cast that is the best one on
network television. Period, and that’s including
Saved by the Bell: The Phantasm Years.
"What, you’ve not seen M.A.N.T.I.S?
My good man, then you have not ridden the platinum
chariot of life!"
lot of the cast members are film actors who
connected with the material and took a chance
on the less clamorous television world. Martin
Sheen had won an Emmy for his work in the criminally
overrated Murphy Brown, but was known
for his theatrical work. Here as President Josiah
"Jed" Bartlett (I hope we never actually
have a leader named Jed for fear of a congressional
moonshine act being passed) he gets to show
a different side to both his acting chops as
well as what we’re used to seeing in the presentation
of the Chief Executive. With Sorkin’s dialogue
as well as ample opportunities for light, dark,
and gray moments, Sheen gets one of his best
roles to date. There are honest-to-goodness
relationships here, whether it be Bartlett’s
with his wife (Stockard Channing), his Chief
of Staff (John Spencer), his staff, or his children.
Better yet, when given the chance to flex his
presidential muscles with some of the antagonistic
members of the press and the political world,
he’s wholly convincing as a man in power. While
most of the storylines focus on events that
affect the group, Bartlett has a few key moments
in the first season and though he has less screen
time than most of the others he’s the patriarch
of this slightly askew family in every sense
of the word.
of the Corn survivor Tim Busfield enjoys
a quiet moment in between dogfights against
Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Allison Janney gets
no shortage of funny, dramatic, and even romantic
scenes. She’s an interesting performer, living
on the high-wire of being gawky and awkward
and somehow magnetic and alluring and C.J. really
allows her to showcase both sides. As a woman
still finding her bearings in her job, she’s
often saddled with the task of getting into
hot water and having to get an assist from the
more veteran members of staff. As the central
female on the show, Janney is nothing less than
wonderful. John Spencer, television and film
veteran extraordinaire, is on fire as well.
He’s one of those actors who exude both authority
and working class believability, though it’s
funny to see him on the show now, as he has
more than a passing resemblance to real-life
talking head Donald Rumsfeld. Spencer is one
of the show’s secret weapons, like less prominent
characters like Janel Moloney’s Donna Moss and
Dulé Hill’s Charlie Young. Additionally,
Rob Lowe’s work here is a career best and it’s
funny to think that when the show began he was
the lead, because he’s probably my fifth or
sixth favorite character now.
also nice to see a veritable host of familiar
faces like John Amos, Tim Matheson, Channing,
CSI‘s Jorja Fox, and the like pop up
on the show, because they only illustrate how
good product attracts good talent.
all that said, there are two people who make
this show more than just a solid dramatic television
show, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff.
the two main engines behind the president, Whitford
and Schiff portray the Deputy Chief of Staff
and Communications Director, respectively. Their
confident, sarcastic, and utterly rich personifications
drive the show. Whitford’s the fast-talking
firebrand of the show, sometimes getting in
trouble for his aggression but always radiating
a sense of suave coolness in the role. His semi-condescening,
semi-flirtatious relationship with his assistant
always seems to be reaching a critical mass,
but then something gets in the way (like the
arrival of Marlee Matlin as a potential love
interest). The bottom line is that Whitford
is stunning in the role regardless of what it
demands of him. I was never a fan of the actor
in the past, dismissing him off as a WASPy automaton
to plop into roles like that of the uncaring
relative in Scent of a Woman.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. His work here
showcases that there are few folks in film or
television that can match him.
show would simply not work without him.
The pale white cock of American
freedom stands erect over Washington D.C. as
a beacon of truth for all who pass.
same goes for Schiff. As Toby Ziegler, the stage,
screen, and tube veteran gets to be the Scrooge
of the show. He’s an incorrigible, insanely
genius, and darkly comic character that completely
redefines the actor playing him. Schiff was
always the weasel in movies it seemed. He was
rarely likable, and often downright despicable.
On this show, I found myself missing him when
the plot would stray from Toby. There’s virtually
no backstory for the character, and it’s great
to see the first season slowly peel back little
details about him. First you discover he wasn’t
the first choice for his job, then you find
out he has an ex-wife, and then you find out
he has a brother on the space shuttle. Each
little dramatic nugget gives Schiff another
angle to work his magic, and coupled with the
amazing ensemble (and particularly Bradley Whitford),
he helps smooth over any bumps the show may
are bumps, too. I used to have a crush on Moira
Kelly after The Cutting Edge,
but she’s just a distraction here. Her character
seems like a construct to keep the Josh Lyman
character on his toes, but as I mentioned above,
Whitford has plenty of foils and foibles. Additionally,
she doesn’t have the heart or depth to really
measure up to the others. Additionally, Stockard
Channing’s character arrives mid-season and
doesn’t seem to really have a real point other
than to serve as a catalyst and to give her
husband (el presidente) someone to have to answer
to. It’s a character that seems to get a lot
more to do in later seasons, but as for this
first one she’s a distraction at best.
"Mr. Lowe, I saw your hotel
room videotape of OOOOMMMPPPPPH!"
the "Sorkin Style" can be a little
much at times. Characters are always darting
from room to room, there’s always a sense of
urgency to everything or the interplay all seems
to be building up to a joke… but that’s also
the charm of the show.
the fifth episode, it’s fun to guess what they’re
going to say and who’s going to come under duress
and who’s going to have some sort of a revelation,
what squabbles will be born, and how the whole
group will come together like a family in the
end. It’s the right kind of manipulative show,
one that’ll make you laugh a lot, feel a lot,
and ultimately come out on the other end of
feeling like you spent some quality time. This
show may butter its bread on the Democratic
side of things, but does it really matter as
long as it’s smart, funny, and doesn’t make
the whole political process seem like a meaningless
endeavor? For a guy like me, it’s a spoonful
of the good stuff and a show I plan on ingesting
on DVD in big, messy bites.
out of 10
"Wait a minute, I’m related
to Denise Richards? Cancel my appointments,
I’ll be busy slamming my penis in the refrigerator
it’s in FOOLscreen but there’s not really much
choice. It’s how the show was originally presented.
I expect later seasons to do as most top class
ones do, and be released in widescreen… but
these transfers aren’t bad at all.
aren’t as crisp at they could have been. There’s
a bit of discernible softness, but it’s minor.
The colors come through sharp and the show honestly
has more in common with an Alan J. Pakula (we
miss you, old guy) film than a glitzy Aaron
Spelling program. It’s sufficient, but not much
more. A show like this prides itself on its
material, not how it’s presented.
out of 10
"Withering Heights: The
Autobiography of Billy Barty & Three
Months in the stomach of Daniel Stern, eh?
Sure, I’ll have no problem adding these to the
public school curriculum."
CHUD.com is proud to break the
first glimpse of the centerfold from next month’s
The Economist. That’s why we are the
web site to beat.
same goes for the sound. It’s an unimpressive
a weird animal. On something like a laptop,
it seems like you get a really nice presentation
because everything’s balanced for you (or rather,
the typical TV audience)… but when you see
how well some television shows have utilized
Dolby Surround it just makes you long for more.
again, this is serviceable but little else.
out of 10
Jeffrey McShovecraft (the alter
ego for The Amazing Taster) enjoyed a game of
Advance Wars, oblivious to the fact that
Blur Chef (his arch nemesis) lurked in the background.
are stunning and entertaining commentary tracks
for television shows and there are ones that
leave me cold. The tracks included on this set
fall somewhere in between. There’s a lot of
information here and the involved parties (Sorkin
and Schlamme as well as selected directors)
all know their shit backward and forward but
with a show so full of life and humor I expected
to see more of that bubble out into the tracks.
Granted, Sorkin’s subsequent problems with his
own demons and the show must have something
to do with things being a little more businesslike
but on a television series that’s mostly dialogue
and blocking, there’s not a whole lot of new
stuff to glean here about the process. With
shows like Buffy, The Sopranos,
The Shield, and their ilk all providing
rather energetic commentary tracks this stuff
doesn’t KILL like it could.
it was nice popping them in and relaxing while
they played and there was certainly some inspired
a whole disc of special features, the bulk of
which is two documentaries that run a total
of about 45 minutes. There’s some neat stuff
in there, and it’s especially nice to see the
actors out of character and how obviously jazzed
they are about being a part of the project.
Sheen in particular sticks out, and I seem to
remember there being some clash between his
personal political views and that of his character
but none of that is evident in his enthusiasm
for Sorkin and the show.
a handful of deleted scenes, nothing Earth-shattering.
There’s a thing on the music which is neat but
I find it hard to take anything produced by
a person named Snuffy all too seriously. There’s
semi-entertaining outtakes (why can’t hardly
anybody do these right?) and other assorted
fluff but nothing that’ll redfine the process.
shows have yet to have that DVD release that
changes the way the format is used for all of
them. If you look at the really loaded theatrical
film discs, you’ll notice that they push the
envelope a little and since television is sort
of edited a bit in the writing process you’d
think a network would allow a documentary crew
to cover a show throughout the year and provide
an in-depth look and really peel the curtain
then, this is your typical series release. It’s
tasteful, has enough special features to lure
the folks who have the show taped and memorized
and not too many to keep the others waiting
too long for them to finish getting them finished
and on shelves.
out of 10
Dick Schiff may be the best actor
working in television today…
…but even broadcast thespian
demigods enjoy a little Bacon now and then.
is a relatively attractive set, and while it
doesn’t have the artwork that an X-Files
set would, few do. The cast members are all
presented, and since they’re the reason the
show works it’s a wise decision. It’s tasteful.
That’s almost an insult because tasteful often
equates to boring but it’s apt.
out of 10
THE LOOK: 7.8
THE NOISE: 7.0
THE GOODIES: 6.0
THE ARTWORK: 6.5