West Wing, The-Season 1-Episodes 12-22 (1999)
|Year Of Production||1999|
|Running Time||459:34 (Case: 488)|
|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|
This is a review of Episodes 12-22 of Season One of The West Wing. It is sold as a separate three disc box-set to The West Wing Episodes 1-11 which I reviewed a few days ago. Have a read of the review of the first part by following the link if you like. I won't repeat the background information about the show or the cast which is contained in that review, so if haven't already done so, I suggest you take a look at that review first.
The Bartlett Presidency is about to enter its second year in office and the same challenges, problems, and dramas keep the President (played by Martin Sheen) and his loyal staff on their toes. The staff have begun to find their feet and make less mistakes, but it is still a difficult job. The team are beginning to realise that you really cannot please all of the people, all of the time, and the shift to middle-of-the-road conservatism might just be stifling the Presidency.
The second half of season one saw a couple of characters receive significantly less screen time (most notably Moira Kelly's Mandy Hampton and to a lesser extent the First Lady played by Stockard Channing) and others have their character become central to many of the stories. The President's daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Moss) in particular is featured in many of the episodes. This was primarily due to her starting college and her relationships with her bodyguard Gina, and boyfriend Charlie.
The final episode is the series is a stunner and a worthy conclusion to this set. It is also highly topical given recent events in the Middle East and the tragedy that befell the Space Shuttle Columbia. It left me shaking my head and wanting more. I await season two with eager anticipation.
Like the first box-set, this set contains three discs, with a total of eleven episodes spread across them:
The title of this episode is taken from the line in the US Constitution which states that one of the roles of the President is from time to time to present a report to congress on just how well (or badly) the country is doing. This is known more commonly as The State Of The Union Address. Of course this is television drama so things don't quite go according to plan. President Bartlett is unwell, and while it is first thought he merely has the flu, when he is found laying unconscious on the floor of the Oval Office it is obviously a little bit more serious than that, and the staff are in an uproar. Chief Communications Director Toby Ziegler is frantically applying the finishing touches to the President's first State Of The Union speech, which as a result makes him even grumpier than usual. Meanwhile, the vultures are circling around Chief-Of-Staff Leo McGarry's drug abuse history with the story just about to break to the media. C.J. continues her flirting with reporter Danny Concannon with surprising results.
The President is stuck reading the details of a sex education study and debating with his staff about what should and shouldn't be included as part of educational reform. He is also due to sign some new hate crimes legislation and has invited the parents of a young man who was recently murdered because of his homosexuality to participate. This may cause some discomfort for the parents and C.J. and Mandy are asked to investigate the parents' feelings on the subject. Meanwhile Josh and Sam meet with a committee investigating the problems with Josh's probe into the White House drug use allegations and again this topic provides much heat and anger. Toby is getting quite excited about a pending stoush with some officials who are blocking a couple of appointments to the Public Broadcasting Corporation and C.J. is asked to provide a few trash stories for Friday (hence the title). Any story that the West Wing staff don't want to get too much mileage in the press are released on Friday, since they are likely to get all crammed together in the Saturday paper (which apparently nobody reads!).
The President feels the pressure of the death penalty when a Supreme court dismisses the stay of execution for a Federal prisoner. The prisoner's last hope is that the President will commute his sentence (something that hasn't been done since Lincoln's time). The death penalty issue is pretty much the focus of this episode, with all the members of the staff pausing to consider their position on this most controversial of topics. Toby is particularly touched when the topic is raised by the Rabbi at his local synagogue. Meanwhile, smooth-talking Josh Lyman appears to have met his match when he is bowled over by an aggressive deaf campaign manager named Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin).
Big problems for Sam and Toby as they make a late night cross-state dash to retrieve the President's nomination for the Supreme Court bench, Judge Roberto Mendoza. It seems that the outspoken judge has been jailed for alleged drink driving and resisting arrest. Matters aren't helped when the two communications experts and very intelligent men get lost on the State highway. The story for this episode is told as a series of flashbacks that are presented by Josh Lyman as he addresses a college lecture. He was invited to speak about the diversity of working for The President and what a normal day is like. Normal days are few and far between so he simply recounts what has happened in the last thirty odd hours in the office, and how C.J's teeth can be blamed for the whole sorry affair.
This episode features some of the funniest moments of the series, especially Josh's pathetic attempt to fill in for C.J. at a press briefing after she has emergency root canal surgery and cannot talk properly (which itself leads to some humorous moments).
A whirlwind visit to California for Air Force One and the Bartlett team. A gala fundraising event is the main item on the agenda, hosted by film boss Ted Marcus. He tries to ambush the event by threatening to cancel it and thereby embarrassing the President unless the Chief Executive publicly declares his opposition to a radical bill opposing gays in the military. Josh is also pleasantly surprised to learn that his current nemesis Joey Lucas is in L.A. and will be attending the party. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Leo has to again dance around the Vice President, this time over the VP's reluctance to use his executive powers to break a congress voting deadlock.
The First Lady causes a stir among The President's staff when she appears on breakfast television making statements about child-labour policies. Seems she has inspired a Congresswoman to submit an amendment to an international tariff bill that is just about to be passed after several years of negotiation, and the President's staff are less than amused. Moreover, the President finds himself at further loggerheads with his wife when the incumbent head of the Federal Reserves dies. He is pressured to name a replacement, with the favoured candidate being the current deputy Reserve head whom his wife has publicly voiced approval for. Of course the fact that the First Lady just happened to date this man many years ago is immaterial isn't it? Meanwhile, Zoe is informed that she has been receiving hate letters regarding her relationship with the President's Aide, Charlie Young. As a result, the Secret Service advise her that it wouldn't be a good idea for her to attend a night club opening with Charlie as they are unable to secure the premises. Charlie is less than impressed by this.
It's meetings, meetings and more meetings in the West Wing. Josh is asked to talk with the Bartlett administration's nominee for assistant attorney general for Civil Rights. It seem he made some controversial comments regarding African-American compensation for slavery, and is seeking retribution. Sam and Leo's daughter Mallory have a run in over funding for public schools, while Mandy is trying to secure support to lobby China for another Panda Bear.
Mandy is on the outer after a memo that she wrote when working for the opposition Republicans surfaces. It outlines the supposed weaknesses of the President and his staff. C.J. is less than impressed and must frantically work to find out who has it in their possession now. The subject of gays in the military is raised again, with Sam and Toby in debate with some military officers and congressmen on the touchy subject. Leo has a run-in with the President, where some home truths are finally aired and a new direction for the Bartlett Administration ensues. Meanwhile Josh is getting excited about two recent vacancies in the Federal Election Commission and sees this as an ideal opportunity to press home the desire of the President for some serious campaign finance reform policy. Unfortunately for Josh, he gets more than he bargains for when he raises the issue with the party leadership.
A turning point for the President. It's no more Mr Nice Guy as he issues his nominations for the Federal Election Commission vacancies and goes against both the Democrat and Republican party leadership. Not only keen to press for changes in campaign finance reform, the President pushes some new drug enforcement policy which focuses more on treatment and less on punishment. Leo is asked to run with this policy even though the President knows he has a history of abuse himself. Meanwhile, Josh is again infatuated by Joey Lucas when she arrives to assist with some electoral polling.
It's polling time. Mandy is rather high strung as she organises a nationwide poll to gauge just what the approval rating for the Bartlett Administration is actually like. As a result, all the staff are noticeably on edge as they wait to see if they have fallen even further or remained steady. Also, behind-the-scenes deals are being made by the President and his staff to try and secure a majority vote on the Federal Election Commission. This involves several high-profile staff changes including the ambassadors to several countries. Meanwhile, Sam is again in trouble when is a photographed by a newspaper publicly embracing his friend Laurie, who is also a high-class call-girl.
Wow! Talk about topical. This episode will knock your socks off, as it could have quite easily occurred in the White House just a few days ago. Firstly, a US Air Force Stealth Fighter is shot down over the No-Fly Zone in Iraq, requiring immediate reaction from the President to recover the young pilot. C.J. is put in a tricky position with the press when she must be deliberately misleading about the planned rescue operation. The plot develops even further and becomes even more spooky when we learn there is a problem with the Space Shuttle, currently in orbit and due to land. Moreover, it's the Columbia! Meanwhile, an unfit and sweaty Josh must have a lunchtime jogging meeting with Vice-President Hoynes and try to convince him to change his stance on the campaign finance reform legislation. This episode will certainly leave you shaking your head and wondering about art imitating life, and that's not even mentioning the stunning conclusion which rounds out season one very, very nicely and will leave you gasping for more...
Obviously the video transfer on offer for the second box-set is going to be pretty much exactly the same as the first one. I'll just repeat most of what I wrote there as it applies equally to this set.
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. Shot on film, rather than video, but made in 1999 when the aspect ratio for television was still the industry standard 1.33:1, this transfer is therefore not 16x9 enhanced.
Overall, this 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. Nothing really leaps out at you. Shadow detail is acceptable, though only barely on a couple of occasions. There is minimal grain, most notable on the B roll footage of White House exteriors and other Washington landmarks. There is no low level noise. Colours are quite dull, mostly dominated by the warm colours of the interior sets. Skin tones were again a little red on occasion, most notably when the Cabinet room was used for filming as this is dominated by a reddish interior colour and lighting.
There are also the noticeable fade to blacks 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. There is a particularly obvious one during Episode 17 at 27:40 where Sam Seaborne is talking to the First Lady. The scene fades to black, then immediately fades in back to the same spot - this is quite obvious and instantly smacks of commercial television.
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, both being 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).
The soundtrack available here is exactly the same as was offered in the first box-set. 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 soundtrack with the surround flag encoded in the bitstream. With this being a hugely dialogue-based drama series, most of the action emanates from the centre channel. 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, but otherwise it is clear enough to understand most of what is going on. There are no audio sync problems.
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. The main theme is quite stirring, and doesn't become too annoying, even after watching it twenty-two times in one week.
There is essentially no surround use. There is also no discrete subwoofer use.
|Surround Channel Use|
Labelled as a documentary, but with a running time clocking in at only 8:58 minutes, this can hardly be described as such. What it really is is a quick peek behind-the-scenes with cast interviews and excerpts from the first few episodes. The cast briefly discuss the other cast, the scripts, and the sets. Worth a peek for sure. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Three 30 second promotional television spots advertising the West Wing for NBC.
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.
The West Wing is a well scripted, well acted, and well made drama series that offers a smart, witty, and stylish look at the behind-the-scenes action of the office of the most powerful man in the world. This box-set of eleven episodes on three discs rounds out Series One of this rather impressive drama, with the finale of the season in particular a superb viewing experience. To watch the entire season in just over one week was particularly satisfying - no waiting for next week and no ads. It doesn't get much better than that. I look forward to season two with much anticipation.
The video quality is nothing startling, but it is without major problems and performs the required task well.
The audio is also rather functional with no real concerns to report.
The extras are limited, though the brief making-of featurette is mildly interesting and a welcome addition for fans of the show.
|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|