At the 2000 Emmy Award the first season of The West Wing won
an unprecedented 9 awards. That first season truly deserved such
high recognition. The show was new and inovative, had excellent actors
and very strong scripts. The day after the awards were handed out,
creator Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme started filming the second
season's first episode. In one of the commentaries included with
this set they admitted that they were a little worried after receiving
so much critical acclaim. Could they continue to produce a quality
show? The answer is "yes." The second season of The West
Wing is just as good as the first.
For those of you who may have missed it, The West Wing concerns
the day-to-day life of the people who work in the west wing of the White
House for the President of the United States. It doesn't focus on policy
decisions and how laws get passed, though there is that aspect. It
concentrates on the lives of those people who work closely with the President:
his speechwriters, the Chief of Staff and his Press Secretary. It
shows what life must be like in a high-pressure job, where every mistake
has the potential to turn into a scandal, and where hardball politics are
a way of life.
The second season starts off moments after the first season's cliffhanger
ending. I have to admit; I thought the weakest part of the first
season was the way that it ended. I'm not a fan of suspenseful endings
when you have to wait six months to find out the resolution in the first
place, and the one that Aaron Sorkin came up with was a little too obvious.
Having said that, the resolution that was presented originally as a two-part
episode was splendid. They managed to take the story in a different
direction than I was expecting and create a strong starting episode.
The series doesn't let up from there either. This season has many
funny, touching, and dramatic moments, some of the best that TV has to
As with the first season, the acting is superb. All of the people
on the show are very talented actors. In this season some of the
secondary characters have a larger role, and they all succeed in not only
playing the part, but in creating three-dimensional people from the scripts.
As Thomas Schlamme said in a commentary "even our 4th string second baseman
is an All-Star."
The writing continues to be very strong. Writer Aaron Sorkin has
an ear for language that is rarely matched in television today. He
can take a small incident, and turn it into either a brief touching moment
or a huge laugh. He peppers his scripts with both humor and drama,
and several times in the series has speeches that are very patriotic and
Aside form the fine acting and writing, I think there is another reason
that West Wing is so popular and well received. It is because
President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is the type of President we would all
like to have in the White House. We want someone with integrity and
honesty, a person who is exceedingly intelligent and yet humble.
We don't want a president that chases interns, falls asleep during briefings,
or is inarticulate in front of the press. We want a Jed Bartlet!
But as someone once said, we may not get the government we want, but we
often get the government we deserve.
On thing that did disappoint me was that the character of Mandy Hampton
(Moira Kelly) was not in the second season. She wasn't referred to
at all in this set, as if she never existed. This is strange since
it would have been very easy to write her out in the first episode without
her even appearing.
Sorkin and Schlamme needn't have worried about the quality of their
show decreasing in the second year. They produced a fine series of
episodes that lived up to expectations. They also won an additional
8 Emmy Awards for this season.
This four DVD set contains all 22 episodes from the first season.
It comes in a cardboard fold out book with a slipcase. I am really
starting to dislike this type of packaging. It is difficult to remove
and replace a single disc if you don't have four feet of counter space
to unfold the book. The episodes are on the first three double-sided
discs, with the fourth DVD being reserved for the extras.
This DVD is presented in Dolby surround sound, as it was originally
broadcast. There are no alternate language tracks, but there are
subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
The audio on this set should please everyone. The orchestra music
is full and rich and the dialog is clear and sharp, even when there is
a lot going on in the background. Since this is a drama that was
made for television, there are not a lot of major sound effects, but the
music during the opening credits is powerful and fills the room.
It is a very good sounding set.
This show is presented with an anamorphically enhanced widescreen picture,
thought the opening credits were window boxed to 1.33:1. The video
quality is very good. The blacks are appropriately dark and rich,
and details can be seen in the shadows. The colors are accurate,
though not overly bright. Being a recent show, there are no print
flaws. Since they crammed four shows onto each disc, and there are
some digital artifacts associated with the image. The lines in the
fence in front of the White House will fluctuate as the camera moves across
it. Still pictures, such as those shown during the ending credits
seem to fare the worst, with curving lines having a stair step effect instead
of being smooth. These defects are very slight though, and are only
evident if you are looking for them.
The fourth disc in this box set is solely devoted to extras. This
Constructing Two Cathedrals:
a very interesting 18-minute featurette where Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme
discuss the plotting and development of the season finale. They talk
about how and why the story was constructed the way that it was.
Access Granted: a blueprint of the
White House where you can use your remote to travel to different rooms.
Some rooms have still pictures, and the lobby has a 15-minute video piece
on the sets that they use for the show, their construction and how they
differ from the real White House. I liked the video tour, but thought
it was a little hokey to have to cursor through the building to get to
Gag Order: A short (1:18)
reel of goofs and missed takes. Pretty funny, but too short.
Deleted scenes: 10 minutes
of deleted scenes.
In addition to these extras, 4 episodes have audio commentaries by writer/creator
Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. The episodes with commentary are:
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen part 1 (joined by Bradley Whitford and
Janel Moloney), In the Shadow of Two Gunmen part 2 (joined by Martin
Sheen,) Noel (joined by Bradley Whitford,) and 18th and Potomac
(joined by Robert Berlinger and Kathryn Joosten, but without Thomas
Like the first season's commentaries, the ones for this season are a
fairly sparse. There are many large (one minute or more) gaps in
the commentary. This was disappointing since I was hoping to get
more information. When they did talk it was generally interesting.
They talked about how certain scenes and shows evolved, and related anecdotes
concerning the episode. The commentaries where Sorkin and Schlamme are
joined by a director are more chatty, but the still a pretty bare.
My main disappointment was with the commentary track with Martin Sheen.
After requesting such a track in my
review of the first season, I was hoping for a more verbose commentary.
As it was, Sheen offered few comments.
The second season of this show was just as good as the first.
The writing was still top notch, and the acting superb. This season
saw the characters backgrounds fleshed out a little more, and produced
many fine episodes. The audio and video were both excellent.
If you enjoyed the first season, get ready for more of the same level of
quality. DVD Talk Collector Series.