The Fourth Season
The West Wing is a television series that has been regarded with extremely high praise, whether it be in the form of a positive review or an award for a series as an outstanding drama series. While it may seem nearly impossible, the fourth season presents material just as gripping and compelling as the earlier seasons. This task is accomplished by continuing to produce excellently written episodes and in-depth and highly versatile characters. For those unfamiliar with the series, The West Wing focuses upon the daily lives the President of the United States and several of his closest aides. The fourth season is made up of twenty-two gripping episodes. With each episode, the stories get more enticing and more gripping.
The fourth season takes place where the third season left off. President Bartlet and the White House Staff are nearing the end of their campaign for reelection. During which, Sam Seaborn is finding himself in a predicament. On a whim, Sam agreed to run as the Democratic candidate in California for a seat in congress. This story is pretty big because it was the way Rob Lowe left the series. An unfortunate part about it is the way it was covered. The story was not fully developed. I was pretty disappointed about it, since Sam Seaborn is such an interesting character. If anything, more attention covering his campaign would have been exciting. Of course, more coverage on Sam and his campaign would be a big distraction from the actual show. Spin-off series?
The story surrounding Sam also introduced his replacement character. Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) eventually takes over Sam's position as Deputy Communications Director. Will is a likeable character, but far from the same as Sam. For the most part, his character feels underplayed. It is slightly odd because when he was first introduced, he was a very strong with a surefire personality. However, as soon as he took his post in the White House, he seemed to turn into jelly. The character became slightly weak and unsettled as he tried to find his way into the cast. Overall, I would prefer to have Sam instead of Will, but Will does offer a new fresh perspective to the series. While most of the time his interactions feel somewhat haphazard, he does have several opportunities to add to the series.
Another very interesting story involving material from the previous season is the war on terrorism. In this season the troubles with the mythical Middle Eastern country Qumar continue to only get worse. This issue is reoccurring throughout the season and probably one of the most gripping parts about it. Another fairly dramatic story encompasses the issue of foreign policy and general ethics. Specifically, when is it right for the United States to interfere with another country. The current power in Kundu has been committing mass genocide, killing several thousand people. The issue becomes should the United States involve itself. The entire ordeal escalates when Will Bailey makes a comment to President Bartlet, which leaves him thinking about the value of life. Who is more important, someone from the United States or Kundu? The issue becomes very heated and emotional.
Towards the end of the season, the stories get really enticing. The first big story is about the Vice President John Hoynes (Tim Matheson). A newly hired staffer Joe Quincy (Matthew Perry) discovered a scandal involving Hoynes and the effects are devastating. Another great story is about the fear of President Bartlet's becoming reality. One of his daughters is kidnapped by terrorists and they make demands that threaten national security. Bartlet gets put in a comprising situation, where his role as the President of the United States and a father conflict. In an extremely emotional state, he temporarily steps down from presidency and allows the most powerful Republican Glenallen Walken (John Goodman) full control of the country. The season ends with a cliffhanger and leaves the United States in the hands of a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy.
Another very interesting aspect of this season is the way it gives its characters more opportunities to develop. While they have had several chances in the earlier seasons, there are now more reasons to feel connected to them. For instance C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) is put through a devastating personal burden when she finds out how badly her father is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) becomes a father and struggles with his fear of being a bad parent, Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) gets a new boyfriend Jack Reese (Christian Slater) and they both get in a little hot water, and Charlie Young (Dule Hill) continues to try to woe the President's daughter, despite her French royalty boyfriend. These personal trails add nice dimensions to the characters.
Overall, I was very happy with the fourth season. The episodes are pure nonstop drama with one enticing moment after the other. However, I thought the content was also slightly cluttered. Several of the smaller nonessential stories that appeared in an episode would not make it into next. In some cases stories were never properly ended and some randomly are revisited later in the season. It makes the continuity of the season feel slightly irregular. Of course, once a new story is introduced it is very easy to forget about the smaller nonessential topics. The bottom line, this season is very gripping, enticing, and filled with entertainment.
The video in this release is given in an enhanced anamorphic widescreen color format. The picture quality is quite good. It suffers from a slight grain, but detail remains to be sharp and clear. However, there are some occasional moments when the picture suffers compression artifacts. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Overall, the video looks much better than its original television broadcast.
The audio track in this release is in English Dolby digital stereo. Overall, the sound quality is very good, providing an audible and clean audio track. Like most TV on DVD releases the majority of the audio track is spoken dialogue and sounds rather flat. However, music does sound very rich and vibrant. This release also has subtitles in the English, French, and Spanish languages.
The extras included three audio commentaries for episodes "Game On" with Aaron Sorkin, Alex Graves, Thomas Schlamme, and Joshua Malina, "Commencement" with Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, and Alex Graves, and "Twenty Five" with Aaron Sorkin, Christopher Misiano, and Thomas Schlamme. There are also three deleted scenes for episodes "Game On", "Arctic Radar", and "Holy Night" and two featurettes. The first featurette is "Behind Every Good Man... Is the First Lady", which is approximately twelve minutes of the cast and crew discussing the development of the Abbey Bartlet character. The second featurette "The Letter of the Word" runs for nearly nineteen minutes and covers the show's writing and the three characters who are speechwriters (Sam Seaborn, Toby Ziegler, and Will Bailey).
Like many other people, I'm a fan of this series. The West Wing is an impressive drama which details the high-paced work environment in the White House. The series itself has progressed very well and this season continues with superb writing, gripping stories, and very well developed characters. It is really easy to find yourself getting lost in their world. This fourth season is a great addition to the series.