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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The West Wing - The Complete Fifth Season
The West Wing - The Complete Fifth Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // December 6, 2005
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Robinson | posted December 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Fifth 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 fifth 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. For more details about this series please refer to DVD Talk's reviews of season one, season two, season three, and season four.

With the end of season four, the show's creator and executive producer Aaron Sorkin left the show. With him, I believe, left the creativity that made this series so enticing. In comparison to past seasons, the fifth season comes off mediocre. The new executive producer John Wells starts off the season very strong, but after the first few episodes, the intrigue and excitement start to go downhill. Still, this season holds some entertainment value, just not nearly as strong as the past seasons.

Season five picks up right where season four left off. In the end of season four, President Bartlet's youngest daughter Zoey was kidnapped from a night club. Several Secret Service Agents were killed in the process and because of the seriousness of the situation, Bartlet stepped down from office (as his constitutional right) and left the speaker of the house Glenallen Walken (John Goodman) in temporary control of the country as Commander and Chief. Goodman's performance is spot on and it is really a shame his role didn't last longer than it did.

With Walken in charge of the country, it becomes a big concern for the senior staff. Since Walken is a stereo-typical Republican who believes in shooting first and asking question later, they become fearful of what will become of Zoey because of the actions Walken wants to make. This includes military incursions against suspected terrorist camps. During the kidnapping and in the aftermath, the story reverts to the United States unofficial involvement in the association of a Qumarian citizen who was a suspected to be a terrorist. One of the big stories of season four involved his assassination.

This story is the most intriguing tale season five has to tell. It becomes overly emotional for the Bartlet family and the senior staff to deal with. For us, the viewers, enticing to watch develop. It's really a shame that when this story ended, the momentum of greatness started to depreciate. The stories that follow just don't compare.

Another story resuming from season four is the senior staff dealing with the vacancy of the vice presidency. In the end of season four Hoynes resigned from the vice presidency after being involved in a sex scandal. This is the reason Walken was next in line to lead the free world and not the vice president. With Hoynes gone, a replacement is needed. This issue becomes a big deal for Bartlet and the senior staff to address because who they want to put in office, the Republicans don't want to see. In the end, a candidate everyone thinks is mediocre gets put into office, Bob Russell (Gary Cole).

Russell turns out to be more a character than everyone had expected. In his effort to better his position to be a candidate as the next president, he recruits Will to be his Chief of Staff. This produces some tension between Will and Toby, because Toby feels Will betrayed his duty to Bartlet. Will also starts to play a smaller role than he did in season four, as we see him slightly less. He comes off even weaker and more unsettled than he did in season four.

Instead other reprised roles come to the fore to balance him out. For instance Ryan Pierce (Jesse Braford) plays a decent role in the season. He appears in several episodes and is an intern working under Josh and his uncle being a powerful senator, Ryan uses his family influence on more than one occasion to benefit the president.

The other stories included in this season involved the Bartlet administration getting into all kinds of trouble. After a few episodes into the season, when Bartlet retakes his role as president, he runs into some problems with the new speaker of the house Haffley. Haffley and his Republican brethren feel the president is weak and they can force him to sign a new federal budget that goes against many of the things the Bartlet administration has fought for. The story gets dicey when Bartlet loses his temper and shut down the federal government as a response.

Later into the season there is a pretty important story about replacing a recently deceased Supreme Court judge. Both the Republicans and the Democrats want to place their own conservative and liberal candidates. There is also an interesting story where Josh makes a big mistake and he tried to strong arm a democratic senator from Idaho. In response the senator denounced his affiliation with the Democratic Party and stated he will be running as a republican in the next election. This turns into some real hot water for Josh and everyone on the hill wants to see him gone. Another big story for the season deals with the United States dealing with other countries acquiring nuclear capabilities, a rescue mission into North Korean territory, and dealing with Hoynes writing a book about the what really goes on in the white house.

Towards the end of the season, the excitement starts to pick back up because one of the characters we have gotten to know well since the show's beginning gets caught in a terrorist attack. Donna is sent to the Middle East on a fact finding mission and the envoy she is attacked by terrorists. This forces Bartlet in an uncanny position to retaliate against potential terrorist sites. This turns into a nasty tie into the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Overall I thought the fifth season failed to achieve the same level of greatness the first four seasons had. Without Sorkin, the stories and the writing just didn't seem as good. We are still given some fairly great performances from the actors, but nothing nearly as amazing as past seasons. Still this is not to say that season five is without any entertainment value. There are some good stories and it does continue to dealer a level of drama you won't find in another series. In the end, it's good, but not quite the same as past seasons.

Episode Guide
1. 7A WF 83429
2. The Dogs Of War
3. Jefferson Lives
4. Han
5. Constituency Of One
6. Disaster Relief
7. Separation Of Powers
8. Shutdown
9. Abu El Banat
10. The Stormy Present
11. The Benign Prerogative
12. Slow News Day
13. The Warfare Of Genghis Khan
14. An Khe
15. Full Disclosure
16. Eppur Si Muove
17. The Supremes
18. Access
19. Talking Points
20. No Exit
21. Gaza
22. Memorial Day

The DVD

Video:
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.

Audio:
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.

Extras:
This season comes with a few audio commentaries, featurettes, and deleted scenes. The commentaries are for episodes "7A WF 83429" with John Wells and Alex Graves, "The Dogs Of War" with John Wells and Christopher Misiano, and "The Supremes" with Alex Graves, Jessica Yu, and Debora Cahn. Like most commentaries these are interesting enough to sit through. I found it disappointing there weren't ones for the last two episodes "Gaza" and "Memorial Day", which I think were some of the stronger episodes of the season (besides the first two episodes). For featurettes, there are two included.

"In Potus We Trust" has cast members Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing, Dule Hill, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford, and crew members Thomas Schlamme and John Wells, talking about Sheen's character Jed Bartlet. It's an interesting featurettes with some facts and opinions fans should hear.

"Gaza: Anatomy Of An Episode" is about the different elements needed to recreate a foreign country and includes various cast members. Finally there are deleted scenes for "Slow News Day", "Memorial Day", and "Eppur Si Muove". Overall the extras have some entertainment. I enjoyed sitting through the commentaries and the deleted scenes made for a decent viewing.

Final Thoughts:
When I first started watching The West Wing I quickly fell in love with the show. It had a wonderful cast and excellently written stories that kept the series at a high paced level of drama. It was easy to follow and hard to stop watching. The first four seasons maintained that enticing entertainment aspect, but with season five the show's quality starts to head downhill. While this season is not outright terrible, it isn't nearly as strong as past seasons. Fans of the series should enjoy watching the Bartlet administration deal with a variety of situations. Newcomers should really take a look at season one.

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