Ben Franklin once said that two things one should never see being made are sausages and laws. So far there haven’t been any pilots occurring in a meat factory. Politics aside, Aaron Sorkin has created a first-rate TV show. The real success here is the casting. I’ve always preached to whoever would listen that its character chemistry that makes for good drama. Star Trek was successful not because of the f/x. The character triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was everything. Sorkin appears to know that lesson. The actors chosen for this show feel like they really have been together for years from the very first episode. Martin Sheen seems to be having the time of his life in what many actors would view as a demotion. As a high school government teacher, I was always impressed with the way subtle facts about American government were blended into the show. It was downright educational at times. The writing is the other star of this powerful drama. It amazes me that a couple of actors walking down halls could be so damn interesting. Truth be told, The West Wing has drifted from its wonderful roots in the last two years. This first year was some of the most compelling TV ever.
Dialogue is everything in this show. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is more than adequate to deliver here. You can hear every word. Walden’s bright and catchy theme music is delivered with plenty of flair. Need you anything more?
More recent seasons of The West Wing have been provided in 16×9. Not so of year 1. It is unfortunate. This season of The West Wing is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. Colors are stable if not a bit saturated at times. Blacks are adequate. Not quite the video quality of The Sopranos, this is still better than average for TV.
There are five audio commentaries on some of the better episodes. Aaron Sorkin dominates most of these insightful glimpses of the show. The episodes are offered on three double-sided discs. I must admit to a preference for more single-sided discs. The surfaces areas are far too fragile. It can also be difficult to read the small ring to identify which disc or side you want to play.
On disc four you will find a great wealth of extras, including four minor deleted scenes which really don’t offer anything to the episodes they were cut from. Most of the other extras can be found under several “presidential” sounding featurettes…
- “The Primaries” deals mostly with how the show was conceived. You get a pretty good look at the casting decisions. It’s also interesting to note that Sheen was not originally intended to be a regular. It was expected that Bartlett would only appear from time to time in the show.
- The Inauguration” is a nice tour of the show’s detailed sets.
- “Capital Beat” offers interviews with the actual political science advisors to the show. Most hail from the Clinton Administration, which should be evident by the show’s political tone.
- “Sheet Music” is an interview with W.G. Snuffy Walden who creates the wonderful theme and incidental music for the show. This score has a theatrical feel to it and Walden is the reason why.
- “The West Wing Suite” is a three minute musical tour of the show.
- “Gag Order” is a funny little sketch of bloopers and humorous edits of some of the show’s funnier moments.
Put aside politics for 45 minutes or so at a time and just enjoy the quality of the show. There’s no doubt that at times the show plays like an ad for the Democratic National Committee (more so in recent years). Most good drama needs villains, and this one-sided presentation does treat Republicans like the guys in the black hats. I would consider this to be the only great flaw in the show. Remember that it’s only pretend, even if Martin Sheen appears to forget himself from time to time. He recently campaigned for a candidate for Governor in Florida with “Bartlett for Reno” signs. I credit the executives of the show for shutting that cross into reality down. It’s just drama, and pretty good drama at that. “Like I didn’t know that.”