The West Wing-Season 4 (2003)

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Released 20-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 959:28 (Case: 958)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (6)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Thomas Schlamme
Paris Barclay
Robert Berlinger
Marc Buckland
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Rob Lowe
Moira Kelly
Dulé Hill
Allison Janney
Richard Schiff
John Spencer
Bradley Whitford
Martin Sheen
Stockard Channing
Janel Moloney
Joshua Malina
Case Brackley-Trans-Lipped
RPI $119.95 Music Georg Brandl Egloff
Roxanne Lippel
W.G. Snuffy Walden


Video Audio
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
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Dutch
Hebrew
Norwegian
Arabic
Swedish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Now that the programming buffoons at Channel Nine have finally seen the light and decided to put Season Five of The West Wing into the schedules (at a 10:30pm Monday timeslot), those that can't wait for a DVD release can finally move on from where Season Four left us all hanging on the edge of our seats.

    For those that are waiting for a DVD release (and let's face it, there is no better way to watch a television series than on DVD), this program scheduling may also mean a release to join the other four seasons might only be six months or so away.

    If you don't want to watch the show ruined by ads, or worse still, shown in a haphazard broken manner with old and new episodes inter-mingled (there should be a law against this peculiar Channel Nine practice), I suggest waiting for the Season Five DVD release next year and instead be content with watching the season that this review is about - Season Four.

    If you are not familiar with The West Wing at all, here is a brief summary of what the acclaimed drama series is about, plus some links to reviews of previous seasons so you can catch up to where we are at.

    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 Bartlet 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 but does 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 Four is known for many things, chiefly among them being that it is the season that Rob Lowe decides he has had enough and pulls the pin. It is interesting to note that when The West Wing was originally conceived, the role of the President was supposed to be quite minor, with him only being seen fleetingly. The main characters were the senior staff that worked for the President, with Lowe's Sam Seaborn among the primary characters. After the success of Martin Sheen in the role as the main man however, the producers decided that they were on to a good thing and made the whole series more of an ensemble piece. Lowe finally decided by Season Four that he had had enough of not being the star and wanted to move on. He is quickly and effectively written out of the story mid-way through the season and replaced by Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) as the new Deputy Communications Director.

    The other thing worth noting with Season Four is that it contains the last episodes to be written by series creator Aaron Sorkin. Famous for screenplays of intricate wit, sharp intelligence, and oozing savvy dialogue including A Few Good Men, The American President, and of course The West Wing, Sorkin decided to pull the pin in the middle of 2003. Reasons were not cited, but it seems he and primary director Thomas Schlamme, who also quit, had had enough of the pressure of the writing and the decreasing budget and ratings the show was experiencing. Picking up the reins in Season Five is long time producer John Wells (he is also heavily involved in ER and Third Watch). From all accounts the results to date have been less than stellar with some fan websites actually pleading for the show to be axed before it continues to spiral downwards into mediocre dramatic tedium. It will be extremely interesting to see how season five stacks up against the previous seasons now we can see it on the television.

    Seasons One (Parts One and Two) and Three have previously been reviewed and you can check those reviews out at your leisure.

    Here is a quick synopsis of each of the 23 episodes in Season Four:


1. 20 Hours In America Part I (42:19)

    The campaign trail is in full swing, and while on a stop in rural Indiana, Toby, Josh and Donna somehow manage to miss the presidential motorcade and get left behind. They spend the next twenty hours (and two episodes) trying to get back to Washington. Along their way they meet some of the real people of America and Toby finds himself reassessing some of the government's priorities. Meanwhile, back at the West Wing, Sam finds himself thrust into the unfamiliar role of deputy chief of staff to fill in for the missing Josh.

2. 20 Hours In America Part II (41:55)

    Toby, Josh, and Donna are still trying to make their way back to Washington, and are still meeting interesting every day Americans. Domestic terrorism strikes when a pipe bomb explodes at a university swimming pool, killing dozens. The President is forced to make a hasty speech, which Sam must write on the run in the car. It turns out to be one of his best efforts ever.

3. College Kids (42:34)

    Leo is beginning to feel the heat over the Qumari assassination and calls in a lawyer friend to provide advice. The presidential debate series is looking like becoming a farce when a legal challenge by a third party succeeds, forcing the debate to be opened to another debater, something Josh is not at all impressed about. Toby's plan to provide tax breaks to parents who send their kids to college is beginning to gather momentum.

4. The Red Mass (42:06)

    The President wants five pre-election televised debates, but his mumbling buffoon of a Republican challenger only wants two. Josh and Amy clash again over her decision to work for another senator and Leo is walking a fine line in international relations by discussing the Qumari incident with the Israelis.

5. Debate Camp (41:46)

    It is game time for the nationally televised debate and all the senior staff, the new campaign staff and the President are bunkered down at the Presidential farm to practice endlessly the debate structure and questions. After much argument between Democrat and Republican, it has been settled that there will be only one televised debate - so it had better be a good one.

6. Game On (41:50)

    It is time for the fun to end and the game begins. "Game on" shouts the President as he heads for the television studio to tackle his opponent in front of the nation. The President most certainly has his game face on tonight, and there isn't a sign of the "aw-shucks" soft touch he is sometimes known for anywhere to be seen. Sam is in California to meet with Will Bailey, a young eager Democrat who is adamant that he will continue to run the campaign for the candidate in the 47th even though the candidate has just died.

7. Election Night (42:00)

    It is election day, and it looks like all the work is about to pay off and the President is going to be re-elected easily. All of the West Wing staff are understandably jubilant, except for poor old Sam Seaborn, who gave a promise to a grieving widow that should her dead husband win the 47th in California, he would nominate to stand for election. It is looking increasingly likely that the unwinnable and staunch Republican district is going to be won by a Democrat and Sam may have a new job.

8. Process Stories (41:49)

     The dead democrat has won the California 47th and somehow the press has got wind of the fact that the President is endorsing Sam as the new replacement candidate. Sam is reluctant to proceed, but the West Wing staff are going to try and talk him into running. Amid all the commotion Donna finds herself smitten with a new officer who has just been appointed as watch commander to the situation room.

9. Swiss Diplomacy (39:50)

    The President is in a bind when the Ayatollah of Iran requests that his son be secretly flown to the United States for some life saving surgery. Much debate occurs between the President, Leo, and other senior staff about the best way to proceed and not upset any political allies. Sam meanwhile is getting organised with his new staff to help with his bid for Congress.

10. Arctic Radar (41:34)

    Sam Seaborn finally leaves the West Wing, packing all his office in a box and heading west to contest the California 47th Congressional bid. Meanwhile he sends Will Bailey to meet with Toby and suggests to the Communications Director that Bailey should be employed to fill his recent vacancy. Toby could use some help at this time, since he is now faced with the daunting task of writing the Inauguration Speech by himself.

11. Holy Night (44:16)

    The President's youngest daughter Zoey arrives home with her new boyfriend, and former flame Charlie is not impressed. Ace reporter Danny Concanon is sniffing around the West Wing, hinting to CJ that he knows what really happened with the Qumari defence minister's death in the supposed plane crash.

12. Guns Not Butter (41:26)

    Charlie throws his weight around just a little too much when he accidentally manages to get the joint chiefs to rewrite a section of the military budget. He was only trying to show off his power to Zoey's new boyfriend, but he gets a bit more than he bargained for.

13. The Long Goodbye (40:42)

    CJ attends her school reunion in Ohio where she is scheduled to deliver a speech. As part of the visit she meets up with her elderly father, who has been suffering more and more from Alzheimer's. This episode is dedicated to the effects that Alzheimer's has on those who suffer from it and those that are forced to watch their loved ones slowly succumb to its cruel ways. Back in Washington, Toby is left with handling CJ's work while she is with her father, and unfortunately something rather big turns up that he is simply not able to deal with.

14. Inauguration Part I (41:30)

    The final plans for the inauguration day ceremony are coming to a close, with Charlie sent on a mission to find a suitable bible for the swearing in. He is not having much luck getting one and things are looking desperate. An international crisis again comes to the fore when reports of genocide in the Republic of Equatorial Kundu are received and the President must decide if American forces will be used to help out. Toby and Will have not got their new working relationship off to a good start when they clash over the wording of the inauguration speech.

15. Inauguration: Over There (42:07)

    Donna is suspended from the Whitehouse after she admits she was the one who gave a reporter a quote that was used to damaging effect. It turns out she is actually protecting someone else and it wasn't her. The inauguration finally goes off with only a few hiccups, even though the President decides on a last minute change to the speech following prompting from Will Bailey.

16. The California 47th (41:35)

    The President is heading to California to kick start Sam's campaign. Unfortunately, the timing is rotten since the Republicans have just announced their new tax plan and the President will not be able to respond, lest it kill any chance Sam had of winning. Will is the only senior staffer who stays in the Whitehouse and he plans on getting all the speech writers together to come up with a good response to the tax plan. Unfortunately, they have all been sacked by Toby, leaving Will with a group of interns to help him. Charlie and Toby have the best of times in California, when they manage to get themselves thrown in jail.

17. Red Haven's On Fire (40:35)

    The problems in Kundu are escalating, with American troops sent in after three of their own are taken hostage. Josh manages to annoy the First Lady to the point where she takes him up on his suggestion to hire a new chief of staff. When he discovers it is Amy Gardner he's not sure it was such a good idea.

18. Privateers (40:39)

    The First Lady's membership of the Daughters of the Revolution comes under question when it is discovered one of her ancestors was a pirate. Amy goes up against the senior West Wing staff and tries to get the major foreign ops bill defeated.

19. Angel Maintenance (40:23)

    Air Force One (aka Angel) is bringing the President home after a trip to the Philippines. But there is a problem when the landing gear doesn't seem to be working correctly, forcing the plane to circle for several hours. Eager to keep the story out of the news, CJ shuts off the communications for the press corps on board, much to their dismay.

20. Evidence Of Things Not Seen (41:51)

    It is the Friday night poker game and a chance to let off a little steam in the normally high tension office environment. The peace of the card game is disturbed when a lone gunman fires at the White House press room, narrowly missing CJ and forcing a crash of the building. Josh uses the lock down time to interview an applicant for the post of White House associate counsel.

21. Life On Mars (41:38)

    It's Joe Quincy's (Matthew Perry) first day on the job as the new White House associate counsel. He gets off to an amazing start in the job after a series of seemingly mundane and trivial questions leads to him uncovering a leak and cover up that reaches almost to the very top job. By the end of the day the second most powerful man in the country could well be looking for alternative employment.

22. Commencement (42:15)

    The senior staff are finally briefed over the assassination of the Qumari defence minister, even though they almost all know about it anyway. After further threats are received against the US, the President orders the country to a higher level of caution. Bigger things are about to go down, when Zoey heads to a nightclub with her new boyfriend to celebrate her graduation. When he slips ecstasy into her drink the night rapidly spirals out of control, and it will have lasting implications on the President and the country.

23. Twenty Five (42:48)

    The President is faced with an enormously difficult decision when faced with a new and very personal crisis in the season finale. He must decide whether to act in the best interests of the country, or the best interests of his family. It is ultimately a decision he is unable to make.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    After the disappointment that was the non-anamorphic widescreen transfer given to the Region 4 Season Three release, it is pleasing to report that Season Four of The West Wing comes blessed with a proper 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer.

    Benefiting from only being a couple of years old, this is a very nice looking transfer.

    It is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is also 16x9 enhanced.

    All the vision is sharp and detailed, though not as finely detailed as many modern feature films might be. The level of detail and clarity is at least consistent throughout. There isn't a trace of edge enhancement and absolutely no problems with shadow detail. There is some grain, but it is well controlled and barely an issue.

    The colours are excellent, with deep saturation and even and consistent shading. Reds and blues come out especially well and the skin tones are perfect.

    There are no compression artefacts and video artefacts are also absent. Film artefacts are also minimal. All up, this is a very, very clean image with no problems to report.

    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.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    While the video has undergone the full 16x9 enhanced treatment, the same overhaul has not occurred with the audio. Just like the previous three seasons, Season Four contains a functional soundtrack that works well but will 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.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Sadly, just like it was with Season Three there is not a single extra contained on any of these discs.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 disc misses out on;

    A clear win to the Region 1 disc.

Summary

   The West Wing Season Four is still offering plenty in the way of intriguing, witty, and savvy intelligent political drama. Get it now while creator Aaron Sorkin is still writing the teleplays and before the slow decline that has been reported in seasons five and six in the US begins.

    The video quality is excellent with a proper 16x9 enhanced transfer the main highlight.

    The audio is functional and performs the task well.

    The complete lack of extras is extremely disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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