Season Four of The West Wing was the series’ final season with the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin. This left quite a bit of trepidation among the show’s faithful followers. What would happen with the series left in the hands of new writers, and without Rob Lowe’s portrayal of Sam Seaborn? After all, Sorkin’s original plans for the show were for it to focus on Sam, and now everything seems to be falling apart.
With one notable exception, I am proud to announce that the show is still rolling along at a s…rong pace in Season Five. It is hard to write about the show without giving away any spoilers, but I can pretty safely say that the cliffhanger from the end of Season Four is resolved within the first few episodes, some appointments are made, some decisions from the President’s past come back to haunt him, and in the end, yet another White House staffer’s life hangs in the balance.
Now about that exception. It seems to me that the new writers are doing a fine job of continuing the story arc of each character, except for that of Leo McGarry. He seems to be making uncharacteristically poor and heartless choices as of late, with no acknowledgement from the rest of the staff of the problem. It seems that he has lost his mojo, and it is not a plot device, but a result of the new writers simply not knowing how to write for him. His poor decision making is becoming a real annoyance, and I hope that this issue is corrected in Season Six.
That one complaint aside, this is still one of the best shows on television, and it has survived the cast and crew changes surprisingly well. It is so very rare for a program to come along that is not only entertaining, but that spurs discussions on real world matters among its audience. As the public begins to care less and less about the actions of its government, the government becomes more and more erratic. It is important for shows like this one to exist, as they can create a very necessary desire among its viewers to learn about and get involved in their government.
I will never understand how a show can be shot in HD, yet be saddled with a stereo soundtrack. If you are going to go to the trouble to go the way of High Def, why not go all the way and finish it off with a 5.1 mix? What makes the video quality more important than that of the audio? The whole of the presentation should be equal in my eye (and ear).
Still, the stereo track that is here is a quality one. It is a little light on the low end during the occasional explosion (have I said too much?), but it does a good job of carrying both the dialog and the all-important music cues. Audiences are used to hearing TV shows in stereo, but when a show looks like a movie, it should sound that way as well. Maybe a change will be made on subsequent seasons.
I just love catching these TV programs that are shot in High Definition on DVD. Nothing adds to the theatrical quality of a show such as this one like a big widescreen presentation. As would be expected from a show this new, the transfer looks fantastic. One of the signature qualities of this show is the lighting, and every nuance is treated with respect on these discs. Meetings in low lit offices are easy to see, yet still convey the weight of the darkness. Nowhere is this more evident than in the scenes shot in the Situation Room. Everything seems to fall into blackness except for the men at the conference table and the monitors on the wall. This is really high quality stuff, and it does the show justice.
This season is pretty light on the extras. There are commentary tracks on three episodes, each featuring a different collective of voice talent. These are the standard commentary offerings that show up on most discs these days (“this was hard to shoot”, “we tried this with the story”, “look at how great we all are”…), but a standard commentary track is better than no commentary at all.
There are also several groups of unaired scenes, which are actually quite informative. The scenes are presented in a finished format, and most add a great deal to the story. On movie DVDs, deleted scenes are usually deleted for a very good reason. On TV DVDs, however, more often than not quality scenes are removed due to time constraints. Lucky for us, that is the case here, as some quality deleted scenes have been left behind.
Two more extras have been added to the final disc of this set. Gaza: Anatomy of an Episode is a featurette that takes a closer look at the work that went into creating this very special episode, including casting, special effects work and location scouting. While these are usually throwaway extras, this one is actually pretty good. As this is a special episode that takes place largely on location, there is quite a bit of unique information to share.
Last but not least is the main event, In POTUS We Trust: Presidential Profile of President Bartlet and His Portrayer, Martin Sheen. This extra is just what it sounds like; an examination of both men. I was pretty excited about this well-produced extra when I started watching it, but I actually became, well… bored… with it. It seemed like they said what they had to say pretty succinctly, then the extra continued to draw out for no reason. Maybe it is just me, but I found the piece entirely too long winded.
It is true that Season Five shows a drop in quality from the first four seasons, but that drop is very slight. This is still one of the best and most important shows on television, and it easily runs circles around ABC’s embarrassingly popular Commander in Chief. No other show in history has been able to take a topic like Social Security reform and make it so darn entertaining. The quality presentation and decent extras make this a must-buy for fans of the show. If you have not seen a few episodes of The West Wing, then you don’t know what you are missing. Start with Season One, and work your way back here.
Special Features List
- Commentary by John Wells and Alex Graves on 7A WF 83429
- Commentary by John Wells and Christopher Misiano on The Dogs of War
- Commentary by Alex Graves, Jessica Yu, and Debora Cahn on The Supremes
- In POTUS We Trust: Presidential Profile of President Bartlet and his Portrayer, Martin Sheen
- Gaza: Anatomy of an Episode
- Unaired scenes on three episodes