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K Street: Complete Series

HBO // Unrated // July 20, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Robert Spuhler | posted July 20, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Existing somewhere in a shadowy place between reality television and fictional drama, K Street was a television show without an audience. The political intrigue and unannounced policy wonks and others that made guest appearances made the show too "inside the Beltway" for most of the country, while the general feeling in Washington was that the show was too staged and mistook verisimilitude for truth.

Neither of those problems can be solved on the DVD release of K Street, a two-disc bare-bones set that just gives viewers the ten episodes as they aired on HBO in the fall of 2003.

The show centers on the fictional "consulting firm" (read: hired-gun lobbyist group) Bergstrom Lowell, whose DC office is headed up by James Carville and Mary Matalin (playing themselves). Each week there are new clients based on the real world news of the time, while the "fictional" side focuses in on company underlings Tommy Flannegan (John Slattery), Maggie Morris (Mary McCormack) and the mysterious Francisco Dupre (Roger Guenveur Smith). Politicians and other "insiders" routinely make guest appearances as themselves, whether it be failed presidential candidates like Howard Dean, journalists like Howard Kurtz or senators like Orrin Hatch and Charles Schumer.

The episodes:

Episode 1: James Carville takes on the task of preparing Howard Dean for a presidential primary debate, while the firm takes on a new employee in Francisco Dupre.
Episode 2: Bergstrom Lowell attempts to pitch its services to the RIAA, Flannegan starts seeing hallucinations involving a woman in red, and Morris can't get someone to answer her phone calls.
Episode 3: Amnesty International protests Bergstrom Lowell's involvement with a Sudi reform group.
Episode 4: Flashback! Everything stops as we back up three months to try and explain what is going on.
Episode 5: Someone has leaked CIA operative Valerie Plume's name to the media – was it Mary Matalin?
Episode 6: More Plume fallout, plus the firm looks to swap a client that provides a conflict of interest.
Episode 7: Bergstrom Lowell takes sides on an energy bill, while the FBI steps up an investigation … but about what?
Episode 8: Carville is called in for questioning regarding something, but no one will tell him what.
Episode 9: More flashing back, this time to August '03.
Episode 10: Season (and series) finale. Bergstrom Lowell's assets have been frozen, and everybody is screwed.

First, credit where credit is due: It is refreshing to see a series about a locale filmed in said location. Washington, DC has a distinctive energy and feel that Hollywood simply can't recreate on its sound stages. Comparing this to, say, CBS' "The District" (shot two miles from my house in Culver City, Calif.) is comparing sugar to Sweet & Low.

Also, the performances of McCormack, Smith and especially Slattery are lost in the confusing shuffle. Thrown in with a group of non-actors with huge egos (note that no politician, even in this quasi-fictional universe, is ever out of campaign mode, giving long-winded meaningless answers to the simplest of questions), they acquit themselves well. Slattery is particularly powerful with a sexual addiction subplot that shows him spiraling further and further out of control as the series weighs on.

But the problems here far outweigh the positives. First, there is no conclusion to anything that happens here. Bills are never passed or defeated, campaigns are never won or lost, and even the overarching storyline of the series is left unexplained and ambiguous. This is the difference between "truth" and "Truth"; the former is more realistic, but the latter is cinematic. Not everything in politics comes to full resolution, but to not resolve anything on a television show is just bad storytelling.

Also, the entire first third of the season makes no sense at all until the fourth episode. In other words, the viewer must invest 90 minutes before being "clued in" to the goings-on. When the audience is let into the plot, it is not through clever revelation in real time but through the lazy device of devoting a full episode to a "flashback."

The DVD
Video:


K Street is presented in matted widescreen, rather than the full-screen listed on the back cover. The show is shot digitally and in faux-documentary style, so take Dramamine first if so inclined. There are some serious problems with white backgrounds and objects in terms of striping, but otherwise the video is clean.

Sound:

A Dolby 2.0 track is provided. There is little music involved in the series; the only tough sound design comes in crowded rooms. But the dialogue is always separated well from the background noise.

Extras:

None.

Final Thoughts:

There have been lots of shows on television that were misunderstood, either by fans or by critics, during the initial run. But, almost a year removed from the intense negative press that met the first episode of K Street, there's nothing misunderstood about the myriad of shortcomings contained in this series.
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