West Wing, The-Season 1-Episodes 1-11 (1999)
Interviews-Cast & Crew-9
|Year Of Production||1999|
|Running Time||460:22 (Case: 447)|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Multi Disc Set (3)
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||
Warner Home Video
|RPI||$79.95||Music||W.G. Snuffy Walden|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Having just finished Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men, which is a startling account of the shenanigans of those in power in The United States, I must say I now have a pretty dim view of US politics and the role that the President plays in the whole affair. In a country where the amount of money you have at your disposal and the number of friends you have in the right places are of equal importance in order to gain power, a television drama series set in The White House should offer plenty of material for a creative writer. And don't even think about mentioning young female Interns, blue dresses or cigars!
From the stylish and intelligent pen of series creator Aaron Sorkin (writer of A Few Good Men and The American President), The West Wing is a behind-the-scenes look into the administration and staff of the world's most powerful leader. Series one was screened on the Nine Network in Australia, although it obviously failed to attract a significant enough audience to warrant a prime-time position and was quickly relegated to the 10:30pm slot on Wednesday nights. A shame really, although I did make the effort to catch as many of the series one episodes as I could, even though it made for a bleary-eyed Thursday morning.
This is a stylish, sophisticated, and savvy drama series that features some of the best scripts going around. Martin Sheen is Democratic President Josiah Bartlett. In his first term as President of The United States, he brings to the Oval Office an air of intelligence coupled with an eager desire to serve his people to the best of his ability. He is a brilliant man, with a vice-like mind, yet he finds difficulty in some of the more taxing decisions expected of him as President of the most powerful nation on Earth. Thankfully, he is ably assisted by a staff of excellent professionals, including Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) who was the brains behind the campaign that saw Bartlett elected and is a much respected member of the administration and close personal friend of the President. Leo is cool and calm under pressure and virtually all the staff look up to him. He is supported by firebrand Deputy Chief-Of-Staff Joshua Lyman (Bradley Whitford), a Fulbright scholar and cunning political strategist. Josh is often in trouble with various lobby groups or the Republicans since his tongue has a habit of getting the better of him. The public face of the President is controlled by Chief Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), a quietly-spoken, tireless and dedicated spin doctor who pens most of the President's best speeches. He is assisted by the Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborne (Rob Lowe), a winner with the ladies as well as the words. The rest of the main cast is rounded out by White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), who feeds the press what they need to know and tiger-like consultant Madeline 'Mandy' Hampton (Moira Kelly), who previously dated Josh, and is now employed on contract to advise the President in all matters political.
It is interesting to note that the initial idea of the series was to focus on the administration staff and not the President himself (President Bartlett was in fact only supposed to appear in four episodes in the first series). From what I can gather, the character of Sam Seaborne, played by Rob Lowe, was targeted as the main character, but once Martin Sheen appeared on-screen it was obvious the series should revolve around him. This apparently caused some angst for Rob Lowe and hastened his desire to leave the series (which he does in series four).
This is a multi-award television series that is currently in its fourth season in the US. It won an unprecedented thirteen Emmy Awards for its first season and has scored several more since. It can be a little jingoistic at times, but if you can get past the American chest beating and sometimes scholarly tone used by many of the characters, it offers sharp, witty, incisive dialogue that will amuse and entertain. If only all workplaces communicated like they do in the West Wing... It sure would be fun to go to work each day.
The first season has been available in Region 4 for some time now as two three-disc boxsets which are sold separately. Each boxset contains eleven episodes:
The Pilot episode begins at dawn on the usually busy day for the administration of President Bartlett with the key staff all paged at dawn to get to the White House as quickly as possible. Summoned to the West Wing by Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry, C.J. Cregg, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborne drop everything and head for the office. Today sees two crises of equal importance dominate the agenda. It seems that several hundred Cubans have hopped on board some makeshift rafts and are heading for Florida. Of even greater importance, the clumsy President has hurt his ankle after crashing his pushbike into a tree.
The staff also have their own problems to deal with. Sam is aghast when he finds out that a sexy law student he spent the previous night with is actually a high-class call girl - something someone in his position should most certainly avoid. Josh has even bigger problems. He made inadvertent remarks about some religious leader on a live television show. He now faces the prospect of being sacked for his remarks with rumours persisting that the President was not impressed by Josh's actions and is about to take steps himself.
It looks like Sam doesn't know when to stop and despite going against his better judgement and the advice of his colleagues, pursues high-class call girl Laurie like an infatuated schoolboy. This relationship is only likely to lead to bad publicity if the media discover it, yet Sam is relentless. Leo stirs a pot of trouble by issuing an ultimatum to Vice-President John Hoynes (Tim Matheson) over his handling of a sensitive issue. It is during this moment that we are given a hint of the distrust and bitterness that exists between the Presidential office and the office of the Vice-President that will flare up again later in series one.
The President also has a visit from a new physician in a Navy Captain named Morris Tolliver, who he is so impressed with that he decides to appoint him full time. Unfortunately, his time with the President is short-lived.
Sam's woes with the call-girl deepen. C.J. finds out about it, and is not particularly impressed that Toby and Josh were told and she wasn't. She might as well get used to this arrangement, as she will often find herself out-of-the-loop on important matters until she and the press need to know. C.J. discovers that a White House reporter, Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield), found out about Sam's relationship, but when offered a sweetener in the form of some head-start information on a story, decides to drop the hunt for gossip. Meanwhile, the President is having a bad day and is decidedly cranky. He is faced with his first international incident when a US plane is shot down over Syria. When he learns his personal physician was on board he summons the Joint Chiefs together and demands to know what is going to be done in retribution. He is less than impressed when he finds out that a 'proportional response' is all that will be offered. One plane and fifty lives is worth the destruction of a couple of radar installations only. Welcome to the harsh realities of global politics, Mr President.
Meanwhile, Josh is interviewing a young man for the job of Personal Aide to the President. Charlie Young (Dule Hill) is considered well suited for the role and is offered the job, even though his first encounter with the President is less than flattering.
It's all hands on deck for the West Wing staff when a bill that will reduce the number of automatic firearms on the streets is in danger of failing to pass through Congress. It seems five members of the house that were going to vote for the bill have changed sides. Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry rallies the troops and with the help of the bulldog-like Josh Lyman, the battle to secure the last five votes is on. Not improving matters is the prospect of needing the help of the Vice President to secure the final vote. It looks like some pride may need to be swallowed to get this one through. Meanwhile, some humour is provided by the annual financial disclosure statements that highlight what gifts and salaries have been given to all the West Wing staff. Josh and Toby are singled out in particular. Leo has some problems for Leo on the home front when his wife confronts him over his long hours spent at the Whitehouse.
It's crackpot day. This is an idea of Leo's that sees small special interest groups that would not normally have access to the Whitehouse granted an audience with one of the senior staffers. Most of the staff see it as a bit of a joke, especially Sam, who meets with a UFO loony (sorry, 'expert') and C.J. who has to deal with some wild animal lobbyists who have some crazy ideas. This is also the first episode that the President's daughter, Zoe (Elisabeth Moss) appears in. She is nineteen and about to head to Georgetown University. She has an immediate effect on young aide Charlie, which will provide many plotlines in future episodes.
The passage of another bill is the main agenda item for the administration this week. A commerce bill needs to be passed, but several congressmen need to be convinced to vote in the affirmative, including the title character, Mr Willis of Ohio, an unassuming schoolteacher who has taken over the seat in congress from his recently deceased wife. The bill includes some changes to the census legislation that are proving difficult for C.J. to grasp properly, and if C.J. doesn't understand them, then just how will she communicate them to the press? Sam steps in and provides some tuition in the finer points of statistics and sampling. Meanwhile, the President's daughter, Zoe, is involved in a dangerous altercation in a local bar when she goes out for the night with Josh, Sam, C.J. and Charlie. Leo also decides to come clean to the President about his marriage breakdown.
A rather formal event is happening in The White House with a formal visit and state dinner for the President of Indonesia. Amid all the festivities of champagne and salmon, the President has a few other problems with which to contend. A hostage drama is unfolding somewhere in the country between a group of militants and the FBI. The President is at loggerheads with the rest of the staff about what to do to resolve the problem without resorting to violence. There is also a rather substantial hurricane bearing down on a navy battle group in the Atlantic Ocean who are stuck right in its path, and a heated debate is getting hotter by the minute as the National Truckers Association and the Unions reach an impasse meaning a national strike is looming. Meanwhile, the charming First Lady, Abigail (Stockard Channing) makes her debut at the state dinner. Sam gets a nasty surprise when a friend of his appears at the State Dinner as a guest of a prominent Congressman.
More bills need passage through the house. This time it is a crucial banking bill that is at risk when a land-use rider is attached to the bill by some rival congressmen. This rider would see mining in a Montana wilderness in exchange for easy passage of the bill. President Bartlett is quite sensitive to environmental issues and charges his staff with the task of finding a way around this ultimatum. Josh comes up with the perfect solution. There is more bitterness exposed between the President and Vice President when Bartlett chastises his deputy during a cabinet meeting. When rumours of the altercation are leaked to a reporter, C.J. must frantically work overtime to head off the story before it breaks. Leo is none-too-keen when his daughter Mallory asks Sam out on a date, and puts a quite humorous obstacle in their way.
A rare event is about to occur. A Supreme Court Judge is about to retire and President Bartlett sees it as a perfect opportunity to get someone on the bench that reflects the ideals of his administration. They believe that they have the perfect candidate in Peyton Cabot Harrison III, but when Josh digs a little deeper into his past and uncovers something they would rather not have seen, the President may have to reconsider.
In a blow for staff of the White House, a congressman with a malicious agenda accuses White House employees of drug abuse, stating that one in three has a substance abuse problem. Unfortunately this rings a little too true for one senior staff member, who may just have to face some pretty serious demons in coming weeks.
It's Christmas and somehow the President manages to sneak out of the White House for a little bit of last minute shopping at a local bookshop. Meanwhile, the quietly spoken Toby is disturbed when a homeless Korean War veteran is found dead on a bench in the Mall wearing a jacket that Toby donated to charity. He feels somehow responsible and tries to make amends, using the President's name to pull some serious strings. Also, Leo's drug and alcohol history is looking likely to escalate to the press, so Sam and Josh make some trouble in an effort to dig up some dirt on those making the accusations.
Another international incident of monumentally-sized proportions has flared up. This time India has invaded Pakistan-held Kashmir territory and with the threat of nuclear weapons flying around, the President seizes the moment to call in an old friend in Lord John Marbury, a wild, drinking and somewhat eccentric English diplomat who is somewhat of an expert on India/Pakistan relations. Meanwhile, in a quite heated moment, a livid Josh is subpoenaed to testify about his investigation into the substance abuse allegations amongst White House staff, and Charlie stuns the President when he reveals to him that Zoe has asked the Presidential aide out on a date.
It was really quite difficult to get excited over this transfer. While there is nothing actually wrong with it, it really is merely functional in its delivery and will hardly knock your socks off. I had just finished watching another recent Warner Home Video release in Band Of Brothers when I started The West Wing, and must say that this transfer does not come anywhere near the quality of that absolutely superb series. Produced on film, rather than video, but made in 1999 when the aspect ratio for television was still the industry standard 1.33:1 it is also not 16x9 enhanced. There are also the noticeable fades to black at various stages throughout each episode that are obviously the spots where the advertisements would have been. It's nice not to have to watch the ads, but the fades still give that lingering impression that you are watching a commercial television series.
Overall, the transfer is probably not as sharp as I would have liked, with a subtle softness to the whole image. As a result there is thankfully no trace of any edge enhancement, although the whole image has sort of flat two-dimensional feel to it, with nothing really leaping out at you. Shadow detail is acceptable. There is minimal grain and no low level noise.
Colours are quite dull, though mostly dominated by the warm colours of the interior sets. I did think that skin tones were perhaps a little red in the early episodes, but this righted itself by Episode 4.
There are no apparent MPEG artefacts. Film-to-video artefacts are pretty much absent, as are film artefacts, which is always pleasing.
There are two subtitle streams available, these both being in English. I sampled them extensively throughout many of the episodes and found them mostly accurate and well placed on screen.
All three discs are dual layered, and since I failed to see any layer changes, I think it is safe to assume that each disc has two episodes on each layer (except disc three obviously since it only contains three episodes).
Much like the video, the audio soundtrack is functional but will certainly not blow you away. There is only one audio soundtrack available, this being a fairly nondescript English Dolby Digital 2.0 with the surround flag encoded in the bitstream. This was naturally my soundtrack of choice. There really isn't a great deal to say about the audio. With this being a hugely dialogue based drama series, most of the action emanates from the centre channel. On occasion (such as Episode 11, 40:32) the dialogue will drift from the centre speaker to the left and right speakers, creating quite an unnatural effect. This is thankfully quite rare. The left and right speakers are dominated by the musical score, some dialogue and other ambient effects.
The rapidly delivered dialogue is occasionally lost in the cacophony of the West Wing. There are no obvious audio sync problems apart from a really bad case of ADR at 23:32 in Episode 2 where Rob Lowe's character Sam Seaborn doesn't move his mouth but actually says something.
The score is credited to W.G. Snuffy Walden. There is, surprisingly, a fair number of times that the score pops up and it has a suitably Presidential feel to it, much like a military brass band with all the trimmings.
There is essentially no surround use and no discrete subwoofer use.
|Surround Channel Use|
Several interviews filmed at what would appear to be just after the pilot episode. There are interviews with cast members Martin Sheen (3:58 minutes), Rob Lowe (4:19), John Spencer (4:08), Allison Janney (2:36), Bradley Whitford (3:58), Richard Schiff (3:04), Moira Kelly (4:30), writer Aaron Sorkin (4:10), and director Thomas Schlamme (2:16). They are asked a series of questions ranging from what their particular character is like, what feedback they have received from the real White House and what their thoughts are on possibly entering politics. Reasonably entertaining and interesting to hear the actors' thoughts so early on in the series.
A 37 second (listed as a 30 second) promo that was obviously an early television advertisement. It makes the series appear much lighter and comical than it actually is and it is quite interesting to see how it has evolved since.
A simple link to the Warner Bros website.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Somewhat amazingly, this series is yet to make an appearance in Region 1. For now, the Region 4 disc is the version of choice.
It was great to catch up with this series from the start again. It really is entertaining and even though current events involving the U.S. government, the White House and in particular the President, serve as a reminder as to how contrived the whole process of representative selection really is, if you treat this as purely a work of fiction, it will surely entertain. The scripts are first-class, offering witty, savvy, and smart dialogue and coupled with the effortless acting from the ensemble cast, you really can't go wrong.
The video quality is certainly nothing to get excited over, but is functional without being startling. Likewise for the audio.
The extras are pretty light, but with nearly eight hours of episodes here, who is complaining?
Break out the cigars!
|DVD||Loewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Front - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10|