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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » West Wing: Complete Second Season
West Wing: Complete Second Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 18, 2004
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted April 27, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

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 offer.

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 moving.

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.
 


The DVD:


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.

Audio:

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.

Video:

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 Extras:

The fourth disc in this box set is solely devoted to extras.  This disc includes:

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.  Very informative.

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 it.

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 Schlamme.)

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.

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