STUDIO: Warner Bros.
999 minutes
• Commentaries
Two Cathedrals"

BUY IT! Please?

Originally run on 4-27-04

such a wuss. I spend my days crying out in protest
about the manipulative television and movies
that sink their hooks into an unsuspecting audience
and here I am fully under the charms of Aaron
Sorkin’s The West Wing. Seriously, this
show kicks my ass raw.


"Really, who names their kid Stockard?"..
"RibGate and Fireclaw Channing that’s

first season of this show (my
) was a ferociously entertaining
affair, a breathless and aggressive blend of
ER’s frantic staccato dialogue and the
drama rich world of politics. The West Wing
gave creator Aaron Sorkin a perfect vessel for
his wit and intelligence and provided its cast
some of the best roles of their careers. In
short, it was the stuff of which television
legends are made of.

what’s scary. The second season is better.

last we left the Democratic team surrounding
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlett (Martin Sheen),
a shooting had occurred and potentially endangered
the lives of many of them. As is the case with
most cliffhangers, there’s a considerable learning
curve going into the first episode and chaos
is the order of the day. The fact that a few
members of the staff have been shot gives the
first arc of the season plenty of meat to help
get things rolling. The threads that will provide
the undercurrent for the second term of The
West Wing
are woven almost immediately with
topics ranging from the potentially career ruining
physical ailment the Chief Executive to the
decision about campaigning for reelection to
the interpersonal relationships and fallout
of these matters. It’s quite powerful.

"I could have loved you Head Huge, I could
have loved you real nice…"

show’s bread and butter are the multitudes of
fast paced conversations that happen as the
camera follows the staff of the White House
(racism!) through their days. In the same way
that the Michael Crichton medical show was all
about these type of rapid fire exchanges, The
West Wing
spends a third of its running
time doing the same. It makes sense. This could
easily be a very static and yawn inducing show,
but because the camera’s almost like an extra
character in the scene even the expositional
moments end up being rewarding. At times it’s
too much, and some of the characters are more
suited for these exchanges than others but the
ultimate result adds to the show’s brash charm.
Yes, it’s obvious audience manipulation but
it works.

assume that the show’s content would appeal
to both political parties because of its typically
inoffensive stance, but for someone like me
who has no allegiance it’s a really nice ‘Politics
for Dummies’ show. It’s not easy to create tension
and drama in a show like this, but doubly hard
to make it sexy. This show’s corridor and office
battlefields are easily as fertile as beaches
and jungles when it comes to hard-hitting entertainment
and the cast never misses an emotional beat.
Coupled with Sorkin’s incredible dialogue and
pacing, the performances are on par with anything
film has to offer.

It then dawned on him that perhaps the $1.43
the Penis Fairy left under his pillow wasn’t
such a bargain after all.

there ever was a virtuoso ensemble, it’s this
one. The lack of one central character allows
for the ego factor to not be a factor at all.
Each cast member is given ample opportunities
for conflict, humor, and drama and it’s wonderful
to watch these professionals do their thing.
What’s even better is how the revolving door
of amazing supporting and guest roles mesh with
the stars. People like Daniel von Bargen, John
Laroquette, John Amos, Ted McGinley, David Graf,
Corbin Bernsen, Felicity Huffman, Marlee Matlin,
Ed Begley, Jr., Mary Kay Place, Nina Siemaszko,
Zakes Mokae, and Clark Gregg provide enough
"Oh, I know that person" recognition
without distracting the focus and regular supporting
members like Tim Matheson, Emily Proctor, and
John Amos always contribute mightily. Honestly,
only Stockard Channing as the First Lady doesn’t
manage to connect with me out of the whole bunch.

whether the show feels like a glorified soap
opera or something that actually transcends
its medium, it’s always rooted in quality and
intelligence. I personally feel that the show
as judged by the first two seasons is one of
the high water mark creations in any medium
as far as the balance of entertainment and freshness
is concerned. It’s very easy to make politics
boring or shamelessly melodramatic. It’s very
hard to inspire or teach without getting overtly
preachy. The West Wing is in a class
by itself, something I’ve been told loses its
luster after Sorkin left the show but that’s
several box sets away as far as I’m concerned.

"So, you’re saying your herald did most
of the damage with his surfboard while you innocently
devoured a small world? I can probably get you
a slap on the wrist and some community service."

acting of the show is the stuff of which yearly
Emmy nominations and wins are made of, but there’s
a reason. Sometimes a show will become a critic’s
darling and garner awards as if the whole process
is on autopilot. Murphy Brown was a good
example. This show earns them in spades.

funny, looking over Martin Sheen’s career you’d
expect tons and tons of great movies but there
really aren’t. He’s worked consistently throughout
the past four decades but there’s not a lot
of stuff on par with a Badlands
or Apocalypse Now in there. In
this show, he’s given a role that allows him
to utilize the tools he’s built over the years
and President Bartlett really comes alive in
his skin. As good as Sheen was in the first
season of the show, he blows the doors off here.
There’s an unpredictable streak this time around.
There’s serious highs and lows throughout the
year with him having to deal with his health,
a fading relationship with his wife, the loss
of those he loves, and some military situations
that don’t come off cleanly. He’s a leader worth
following, a human being with flaws but one
who represents a Chief Executive America deserves
and needs these days but will never have. Even
better, he’s a leader worth watching for dozens
and dozens of episodes. His best moment comes
in the final episode of the season, an electric
moment where he attacks back as his God in a
cathedral as his entire fabric is frayed to
the breaking point. It’s his season to shine
and boy does he.

"Oh how sweet of you to think I was a government
agent. No, I’m here promoting my new product,
Fire Breathing Infant™."

Whitford and Richard Schiff blew me away in
the first season and they do nothing but continue
the trend here. These are two completely unbelievable
performers who somehow haven’t managed to get
the really choice film roles but do the bulk
of the heavy lifting on The West Wing. This
year also showcased John Spencer as more of
a consigliore for President Bartlett than before
and though there’s no "B" plot centered
around the character like season one’s addiction
storyline, I think he’s even stronger this year.
The same goes for Dulé Hill in what could
have easily been the token black role. The first
year’s interracial romantic plot with the President’s
daughter was a bit forced and this year finds
the character growing as both a presence and
voice in the White House. The shoe fits a lot
better. The ladies of the are also wonderful
and are never used for eye candy purposes, a
rarity on television. The only shame is that
the terrific Ainsley Hayes (Proctor) character
wasn’t used more.

…and for the third time that evening the Washington
portrait stunned the President with its rapid
licks to the back of the head.

two is a sharper and more rewarding session
than the first was. That’s pretty incredible,
but par for the course…

The West Wing itself is pretty
damned incredible.

out of 10


"I must ask you to refrain from asking
any questions about the Vice President’s recent
transformation into La Magra."

me a woods-dwelling Shoggoth, but I thought
the first DVD looked pretty solid. This one
looks better, though I did notice the second-to-last
disc having a substantial hiccup and resulting
pixellation after the layer change (I chose
the "watch all episodes" function
rather than individually navigating from one
to the next and perhaps that’s the problem).
These are really attractive episodes, and though
the stock footage they use for the "Washington
D.C." shots look a bit grainy, the interiors
are really warm and crisp to the naked eye.
Toss some clothes on your eye and they’re even

shows are a mixed bag when it comes to DVD transfers.
A lot of the time they’re arbitrarily slapped
into digital form and that’s all she wrote.
This is a really nice looking set and there’s
very little to gripe about.

it’s widescreen!

out of 10

"Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Amputee
slithers into a bar…"


I forget, I want to mention the score. I like
"Snuffy" Walden’s score, but I don’t
like how they tinkered with it during the credits
of the show from time to time. It’s a good,
if not gooey main theme and it really doesn’t
hit home when reworked like they do it. Small

the audio portion of our show is serviceable
but nothing all that wondrous. It’s a 2.0 mix,
so there’s that limitation but when all the
checks and balances are weighed there’s a pretty
robust presentation. Since it’s a dialogue driven
show, there’s not much in the way of atmospheric
stuff other than phones and office ambiance
but it does the job and every once in a while
you’ll get surprised by an effect or usage of
the soundstage.

can’t really complain.

out of 10

His vote would determine whether the United
Nations would watch Creepshow
or Zone Troopers that evening,
a monumental decision that weighed heavily on


a television series, this is a pretty hearty
set of special features based on the back of
the DVD case. When you dig a little deeper,
it’s not quite as much a slam dunk as you’d

the commentary tracks alone make the DVD a smart
purchase judging from features alone. I don’t
know the behind-the-scenes stuff about Aaron
Sorkin’s personal problems that helped cost
him in the career department, but the cast and
crew commentary tracks are astonishingly packed
with info and entertaining. Sorkin, producer/director
Thomas Schlamme, and various other members appear
on four of the pivotal episodes to share vignettes
and behind-the-scenes information, and for the
most part they’re all worth a listen. Of the
cast, I wish they’d included more than just
Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, and Janel Moloney
but life goes on. As an aside, Moloney has and
incredible sense of comic timing and it’d be
a shame if she didn’t convert that to big screen
success down the line.

Stephen King’s prequel The Sit
featured some magnificent insight into the Nick
Andros character.

outtakes are fine, but nothing worth getting
psyched for. In fact, aside from the Bruckheimer
criterion editions of The Rock
and Armageddon have the outtakes
for a film been all that worthwhile. I expected
more. I didn’t get it.

deleted scenes are also good, but lumped together
outside the continuity of the episodes they’re
culled from they’re only neat little curiosities.
Plus, they’re not of great quality, something
that has gotten to be a gripe of mine lately.
I understand why they’re in the raw format…
they weren’t "produced", I just find
it harder to enjoy.

also a look at the set of the show, something
that might be fun for more leisurely fans but
more like glorified fluff in the grand scheme.
I also found the navigation a bit awkward, something
that may haunt DVD until the next format comes

a pretty nice documentary about the making of
the last episode, but it’s rare that a documentary
of one episode has the capability to really
compare to a feature length film’s depth in
terms of actual content. This is no exception,
although it’s more than just a quick little

pretty much it, a decent but unspectacular array
of special features.

out of 10

BUY IT! Please?The


really like the packaging for these discs, with
the second season getting a regal gold chassis
to the last one’s blue. It’s smart, conservative
stuff. The cast is prominent and there’s a few
presidential flourishes scattered about. The
end result is a really nice and effortless package
that shows that Warner Bros. seems to be really
maturing with their approach to DVD packaging.

out of 10

FLICK: 9.2