The West Wing-Season 3 (2001)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
|Year Of Production||2001|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Multi Disc Set (6)
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||
Warner Home Video
Georg Brandl Egloff
W.G. Snuffy Walden
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
A couple of years ago Season One of The West Wing was released as two separate three-disc box sets. They were sold individually as Episodes 1-11 and Episodes 12-22. Season Two was released not long after Season One in a similar style of packaging. Now, to coincide with the recent release of Seasons Three and Four, both of the first two seasons have been repackaged in single case six-disc box sets. All the seasons now at least follow a consistent packaging standard and make quite an attractive collection.
So now with the first four seasons of the acclaimed and multi-award winning The West Wing released on DVD, we are able get stuck right into the middle of this fine series with a look at Season Three. For those that aren't aware of what the series is at all about, here is a quick summary.
The West Wing is the area of the Whitehouse that houses the Presidential Staff. It is currently home to the staff of Democratic President Josiah Bartlet. Martin Sheen plays the President, who is now deep into 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, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, and possesses 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.
As always 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, even though he is an admitted alcoholic.
Leo is supported by 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. He also makes his lovely assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) suffer with his constant demands and banter.
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 - who is still around for season three but will eventually leave during season four). Other main characters include CJ Cregg, the White House Press Secretary played by Allison Janney, the president's personal aide, Charlie Young (Dulé Hill), and the First Lady Abigail Bartlet (Stockard Channing).
Season Three of The West Wing sees the Bartlet administration encounter more challenges, more controversies, and plenty more drama, even though the President is becoming an old hand in the job. Series creator and writer Aaron Sorkin is in fine form during season three. As always this is a stylish, sophisticated, and savvy drama series that features some of the best scripts going around. After the drama of the shooting in season one and the dramatic and probably best episode ever that was the season two finale, this new season kicks off with the special episode made in the wake of September 11. From then on, much of the season is dedicated to the President dealing with the now public disclosure of his multiple sclerosis illness, his re-election campaign, and a multitude of international crises.
Here is a quick synopsis of each of the 23 episodes in Season Three:
This is the special episode made in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. Aaron Sorkin wrote it just days after the attack and it went to air in the States only a few weeks later. It is a simple episode that is opened by the actors out of character, explaining what the episode is about. It does not fit in to the normal timeline of episodes in any way and can be viewed at any point in the series. A group of college students are being shown through the White House when a lock down occurs. This is in response to some form of terrorist alert and means the students and all the staff must remain where they are. To pass the time the west wing staff come and talk to the students, explaining various topics such as terrorism, religious differences, prejudices, and persecution and try to explain why Americans are hated by many in the world.
Everyone is surprised when President Bartlet announces he will be seeking re-election even though the public is now aware of his MS. The First Lady is none-too-impressed by this announcement but the pending legal battle about the illness cover-up is likely to keep everyone distracted, as is the trip to Manchester where the re-election campaign is about to get into full swing.
With the President and his advisors working on the campaign announcement speech, a clash of egos between the West Wing staff and the consultants called in to help is escalating out of control. After CJ makes a huge gaffe at a press conference, the President refuses to accept her resignation.
The investigation into the President's illness cover-up has begun with the issuing of subpoenas by the special prosecutor. CJ thinks the current prosecutor is too fair and sets about having him replaced with someone who is considered completely against the Bartlet administration. Donna is set-up on a blind date with a cute republican who turns out to be involved just a little too deeply with the other side.
The President performs his first ever veto against the death tax bill. When his fellow democrats come running to offer their support in getting the vote overridden in Congress, Josh must deal with many who seek favours large and small. Charlie is meanwhile getting lots of advice about how to handle things when he is called before the special prosecution investigation.
The gun debate is brought to the fore when a shooting in a church in Texas of a nine year-old girl causes outrage. The President asks a reluctant vice-president to attend an anti-gun rally and speak on his behalf. Donna is in the firing line when she is deposed for the special prosecution and things get a little sticky when she cracks under the pressure. Leo meets with an old friend who is also an Air Force officer about the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. He is aghast to learn that his own missions in Vietnam may be classified as war crimes.
An American submarine has gone quiet in North Korean waters, and the President has to decide on a course of action. Despite the best advice from all around him, the President is unsure of the course of action. Meanwhile, the First Lady learns she may be the one who takes the full blame and all of the consequences for concealing her husband's illness.
CJ has a small problem at the Whitehouse when two native Americans stage a sit-in protest in the lobby, refusing to move unless their grievances against a land claim are heard by the President. The President meanwhile has his own problems when he reluctantly has to agree to have Thanksgiving at Camp David and not at the Bartlet farm in New Hampshire - all because it will sit better with the pollsters.
Women's rights are the focus when the First Lady asks to meet with a representative of a powerful women's lobby over a U.N. treaty banning only forced prostitution. Josh is also getting an ear bashing from Amy Gardner about women and prostitution, while CJ is less than impressed when she learns that the President has signed an arms deal with the country of Qumar. Qumari women are among the most oppressed in the world and CJ must put aside personal opinions when she announces the deal to the press corps.
It is Leo's turn to testify at the special prosecution into the cover-up of the President's illness. Leo is placed in a difficult situation when a series of flashbacks reveal that just before the President was elected he became drunk during a critical moment and now a Republican seems intent on exposing him. Leo is also finding he has feelings for his lawyer, Jordan Kendall.
A critical moment for the Bartlet Administration is reached when Leo is offered a deal by the Congressional Oversight Committee that will see the President receive a Congressional Censure for his part in his illness cover-up. Leo rejects this even though it would mean an immediate end to the tiring investigation. When the President learns of the possible deal he agrees to accept the censure and save Leo public embarrassment over his drinking.
One of the highlights of the Presidential year is the State Of The Union address, and Sam and Toby have been working on it for weeks - and it's still not right. The President, meanwhile, is considering some last minute changes to the speech in order to make a lasting impression on the country. He's been toying with the idea of stating he will fund a national challenge to find a cure for cancer within ten years - but the staff are not too sure about such a difficult task and fear the president may look foolish.
A Presidential challenger sets off a series of debates about affirmative action and the President is forced to respond. Unfortunately, the staff cannot agree about exactly how the President should respond, with some in favour and others dead against the process. The President is also coming to grips with two perceived views of him, with many feeling his moods swing around too violently. When Toby touches a raw nerve about his father the President chastises him for going too far. Donna is having her own problems when she is called for jury duty and pleads with Josh to get her out of it. He of course is aghast that someone should shirk their public duty and goads her along for some time.
After the discussion with Toby, the President has been having trouble sleeping and after five straight nights of insomnia, Leo calls in psychologist Stanley Keyworth to help. Stanley is the doctor who helped Josh after the shooting and speaks with the President on several occasions and believes he has pinpointed the problem.
More international problems take centre stage when the Chinese crank up their testing of new missiles that could easily reach Taiwan. The Taiwanese are not sitting still, boosting their war game exercises in the Straight of Taiwan, leaving the President to decide where he will sit in the situation. Meanwhile, Josh is fretting over the votes from Hartfield Landing, a small New Hampshire town that always votes first in any national poll.
It is the First Lady's birthday and the party promises to be the event of the year. Unfortunately, Abby is not feeling all that happy because it looks like she will have to forfeit her medical licence due to her husband's illness cover-up.
The President makes a massive slip-up when he accidentally mocks his Republican opponent live on air, thinking the cameras were off. CJ goes into damage control mode but is forced to admit to the nation that the President did indeed call his opponent an idiot. Meanwhile, Toby is having to deal with the latest poet laureate, who is having grave misgivings about attending a dinner in her honour. Josh is getting a little too obsessed with a fan web site that has been created all about him.
When a truck loaded with spent uranium fuel rods goes missing after a crash in a remote part of Idaho, the White House fears the possibility of a terrorist attack. This is compounded when whisperings of other imminent attack are heard. On a lighter note, Charlie is having problems with his taxes and seeks the President's help - he is an economist after all.
The President is due to travel to Finland for a meeting with the new Russian President, but when a spy plane crashes inside Russia, he must decide the best way to ask for it back without causing an international crisis. CJ is having problems of her own when she publicly condemns the deaths of some girls in Saudi Arabia. She even starts to get some rather serious hate mail and death threats over the outburst. As a result, she is assigned her own secret service agent as protection.
As terrorist threats build, the President and Leo try to keep abreast of things, but the threats are quite general and give no idea about where they will occur. CJ is having to deal with her constant companion - Simon Donovan the secret service agent. Toby is having problems with the television networks who do not want to broadcast the Democratic convention live for days on end.
The Qumari defence minister is visiting, much to the anger of the President, because he has received intelligence that this very man is at the heart of recent terrorist threats against the US. Donna is sent on a special mission to North Dakota to present a memo from the White House offering their position on the proposal to drop the North from North Dakota.
The season finale does not quite pack the punch the way season one and two ended, but it will still leave you wanting more. The President finally meets Republican challenger Ritchie and is not impressed with what he sees. Leo finally manages to convince the President to approve the assassination of the Qumari minister linked with terrorist activities, and CJ is attracted to the secret service agent who has been assigned to her, but unfortunately the romance is short-lived.
The most obvious thing you will first notice about season three on DVD compared with the first two seasons is the widescreen aspect ratio. Made in 2001, this was the time when many television shows were being switched over to the preferred widescreen aspect.
This one is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but unfortunately it is not 16x9 enhanced.
The transfer does not suffer too much from the lack of 16x9 enhancement, but this is still a major disappointment. It is further compounded when you learn that the Region 1 discs are 16x9 enhanced. I have no idea why the Region 4 transfer is not enhanced, when the Region 1 version is. Overall, the transfer is probably not as sharp as I would have liked, but it is not bad. 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. The commercial television origins are still here with regular fade-to-blacks for ad spots.
Colours are really quite good though mostly dominated by the warm colours of the interior sets.
There are no apparent MPEG artefacts. Film-to-video artefacts are pretty much absent, as are film artefacts, which is always pleasing.
There are several subtitle streams available. I sampled them extensively throughout many of the episodes and found them around 80 per cent accurate and well placed on screen.
All six discs are dual layered, and since I failed to see any layer changes, I think it is safe to assume that each disc has at least two episodes on each layer.
Much like the video, the audio soundtrack is functional but will certainly not blow you away. There are two soundtracks available, these being fairly nondescript English and French Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks with the surround flag encoded in the bitstream.
There really is not 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. 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 apart from a little dodgy ADR you should be able to work out what is going on most of the time.
The score is as always credited to W.G. Snuffy Walden. It is a score that pops up quite a bit and it has a suitably Presidential feel to it.
Despite the surround tag, the rear channels get a little bit of the score and perhaps a few sounds whenever the action moves outside.
There is no discrete subwoofer use.
|Surround Channel Use|
Unfortunately the Region 4 disc does not contain a single extra.
Oh dear what has happened here. Up until season two (at least the old style packaging version anyway), the Region 4 discs contained a few extras. They were nothing flash but at least we got something. Now it seems we have lost the lot. The Region 1 set is a four disc set (presumably double-sided and dual layered like the Six Feet Under and ER series released here), while ours is a six disc set which I must admit is nicely packaged. The lack of extras though is inexcusable.
The Region 4 release misses out on;
The Region 1 disc misses out on;
The West Wing is still at the peak of its powers during seasons two and three. As always the script is first-class, offering witty, savvy, and smart dialogue and coupled with the effortless acting from the ensemble cast, you can't go wrong.
The video quality is certainly nothing to get excited over, with the lack of 16x9 enhancement when compared to the Region 1 title the biggest negative.
The audio is functional and performs the task well.
The complete lack of extras is extremely disappointing.
|DVD||Loewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).|
|Speakers||Front - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10|