The West Wing-Season 5 (2004)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
|Year Of Production||2004|
|Running Time||908:07 (Case: 968)|
|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)|
|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|
Everybody would be familiar with the old saying that goes something along the lines of you don't fully appreciate what you have until you lose it. This seems particularly appropriate after watching the complete season five of the acclaimed drama series The West Wing. It is the first full season where original series creator Aaron Sorkin played no part in crafting any of the stories - and it shows.
Aside from The West Wing, Sorkin is best known for his screenplays of intricate wit, sharp intelligence and savvy dialogue including A Few Good Men and The American President. Wordsmith Sorkin decided to pull the pin on The West Wing in the middle of 2003 and though reasons were not cited, it seemed he and primary director Thomas Schlamme, who also quit, had had enough of the pressure of the writing, 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) and a host of writers responsible for the stories. Wells and his team bring less of the savvy political stance to the stories, use significantly less over-arching and continuous plots, and bring a more (dare I say it) melodramatic bent to the goings on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
While most of the production values are unchanged (aside from a definite drop in the lighting levels) and all the key characters make a return for Season Five, there is just something missing. The witty, yet insightful and intelligent dialogue seems to have been dumbed down just a bit. Whether that is intentional to broaden the appeal of the series or simply due to the fact that not everyone can write like Aaron Sorkin is debateable, but the result is obvious. Season Five also reaches few of the high points like those scaled in previous seasons. It could easily be argued that Season Five contains probably the weakest The West Wing episode ever. Access features a storyline created almost as an afterthought as a documentary crew follows CJ Cregg through a normal day in the office. It's dull and lifeless and should never have seen the light of day. Other low points include the demise of some of Josh's political power culminating with him screaming in frustration at the Capitol Building, the ridiculous describing of a recession as a bagel in the early episodes and the season finale which ends with a complete whimper instead of the bang we have come to expect from previous seasons. Highlights include the opening episodes dealing with the kidnapping of Zoey Bartlet and those involving the shutdown of the government due to the blocking of the budget.
As a standalone series, Season Five still offers plenty of drama you can sink your teeth into, but alongside seasons one to four, this is definitely the weakest link by a long way.
Seasons One (Parts One and Two), Three and Four have previously been reviewed and you can check those reviews out at your leisure.
Here is a quick synopsis of each of the 22 episodes in Season Five:
Season Five picks up immediately where Season Four left off. It has now been seven hours since Zoey's kidnapping and since the shock of President Bartlet invoking the 25th Amendment and stepping down. The White House and the country is now in the hands of Republican speaker Glenallen Walken (John Goodman), much to the dismay of Josh. Leo is facing a crisis of conscience as he must decide between what is best for the country and what is best for the Bartlets.
Zoey Bartlet is still missing and stand-in President Walken must decide whether to order military action that may ultimately cost the life of President Bartlet's youngest daughter. Josh is upset that Walken's staff may be trying to make the most of their time in the White House, while Toby and Will work feverishly on the speech that President Bartlet will deliver when Zoey is finally found - dead or alive.
It's a time of celebration for the country with the annual Fourth of July holiday, but the Bartlets are still recovering from Zoey's kidnapping. The hunt is on to fill the recently vacated Vice President role and Josh is startled by the list of candidates put forth by the speaker of the house.
A renowned North Korean pianist puts President Bartlet in a difficult position when he seeks political asylum while on a tour of the country, while the campaign to get the President's choice for VP, Bob Russell (Gary Cole), approved by Congress is facing some mounting resistance.
Josh is the talk of the town and the West Wing when a light and fluffy newspaper article describes him as the "101st Senator", but things get serious very quickly when he embarrasses a conservative Democratic senator who is pushing for funding for his state. The results of Josh's tactics to get the senator to back down are disastrous and will effect the way Josh performs his role as Deputy Chief of Staff for weeks to come.
Josh is still dealing with the fallout of his actions against the Democrat senator when a destructive tornado hits part of Oklahoma, forcing the focus of the President and his staff to disaster relief. When CJ convinces the President to personally visit the victims of the destruction, the West Wing is thrown into chaos when Bartlet takes his visit a little too seriously. Meanwhile back at the White House, Will is looking increasingly likely to change jobs and become the chief of staff for Vice President Russell, much to Toby's chagrin.
When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is taken ill and looks increasingly likely to be unable to resume his duties, Toby sets about trying to have him step down gracefully. But the country is built on the ideal of separation of powers, and as Toby starts to poke around, he is likely to upset a few people. Josh is still in the doghouse from his senator dealings and his ego is further crushed when he learns that Angela Blake is stepping in to help Leo with budget negotiations with the Speaker of the House.
The budget negotiations are going nowhere as President Bartlet refuses to back down against the speaker of the house. As a result the Federal Government is shut down and all employees must go home, since there is no money to pay any of the bills. Probably the best episode of the season as the President, along with a revitalised Josh play a cat and mouse battle with the Republicans.
It's Christmas as the Bartlet family gathers at the White House for the celebration and the traditional lighting of the tree. Josh must deal with a tricky situation when he is approached by President Bartlet's son-in-law, eager for a chance to run as a senator.
It's a time for reflection as all the former living Presidents join Bartlet for the funeral of another ex-President. Meanwhile, CJ is trying to determine if rumours of mind control experiments in the military have any foundation.
The State of the Union address is just two weeks away and for the first time Toby has the speech done and dusted in record time. Of course that's when things go awry as Congress makes changes to a major bill. Donna is left with the horrible task of working out which of the people currently serving time in jail deserve a Presidential pardon, while Charlie feels the heat from his new relationship.
Late one night Toby has an epiphany and realises he knows how he can resolve the social security crisis. He manages to convince the President, who reluctantly agrees to let Toby run with his idea, but things start to come unstuck as first Josh and then the press get wind of the scheme.
There's an international crisis looming when the President is woken early one morning after a satellite detects a nuclear detonation somewhere in the Indian Ocean. No country wants to claim responsibility for the test blast and the White House debates what to do next. Josh gets hassled by NASA representatives who demand more funding, while CJ gets increasingly annoyed by an obnoxious cable news personality who has named her chicken of the week.
Bartlet orders a top secret military operation to rescue some downed Americans inside North Korea. In a series of flashbacks we learn that the crisis is similar to an incident that Leo was part of during the Korean War. Leo is also devastated to learn that one his closest friends may be involved in something less than ethical.
Former Vice President Hoynes is the subject of a tell-all feature article about his time in the White House and the news catches CJ off side when she appears on the Taylor Reid Show. When a reporter lets her see an extract from the article with damning quotes from both Leo and the President, CJ swings into action.
A conservative Republican Congresswoman starts a political storm when she releases a list of controversial medical studies that in her opinion should be denied funding. One of these projects just happens to include work by the President's daughter Ellie. The Bartlets are less than impressed when their daughter is dragged into the spotlight for political gains.
There's major movement on the Supreme Court when a young, conservative member of the bench suddenly dies. The Bartlet Administration sees it as an opportunity to fill the void with the person they have long dreamt of, but the opposition from the Republicans may prove too difficult to overcome. Josh and Toby meet with Justice Evelyn Baker Lang (Glenn Close), a progressive judge who Josh considers just too good to be true.
An episode with a difference as C.J.'s every move is recorded by a TV documentary crew who follows her through a "typical" day at the White House. A fairly lame episode that was obviously inspired by producer John Well's efforts on ER back in Series Four.
Josh is in deep water again when he finalises a free trade deal with India only to learn that several thousand jobs in the programming industry will immediately be lost. CJ is having trouble getting some information on a juicy story to the members of the press.
There's a major incident at the White House after sensors detect a unusual chemical within the confines of the West Wing. The place goes into lockdown with Charlie, Debbie and the President ordered to undergo a full decontamination. Meanwhile all the other staffers are locked in their offices throughout the lockdown, sparking some interesting conversations.
Donna is sent by Josh to Gaza as part of a congressional delegation that includes Admiral Fitzwallace and Congresswoman Wyatt. A tragedy strikes the group that sees the President willing to unleash all manner of retribution to find those responsible.
As those injured in the attack in Gaza recover, the President must decide what level of military response is appropriate to avenge the deaths of US citizens and whether it is appropriate to take part in the annual Memorial Day celebrations including throwing the first pitch in the baseball season. Meanwhile Josh makes a mercy dash to Germany to be with a recovering Donna and seems close to revealing his true feelings for her.
Just like season four, the fifth season of The West Wing comes blessed with a proper 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer and benefits from only being a couple of years old. This is a very nice looking transfer that is for some reason a little darker than the previous seasons.
The transfer 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 biggest difference between this season and the previous seasons is the overall brightness level. All 22 episodes here seem to be deliberately lit with a lower intensity of lighting, with this problem being most notable whenever the action takes place in the White House. It's not overly problematic, it just looks like someone has switched a few of the inside lights off to save energy and everything has taken on a quite muted appearance. Despite this drop in lighting intensity, the level of detail and clarity is at least consistent throughout. There isn't a trace of edge enhancement and no problems with shadow detail despite the lack of lighting. 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.
While the video has undergone the full 16x9 enhanced treatment, the same overhaul has not occurred with the audio. Just like the previous four seasons, Season Five contains a functional soundtrack that works well but will not blow you away. There is only one soundtrack available, this being a fairly nondescript English Dolby Digital 2.0 track with the surround flag encoded in the bitstream. The French soundtrack present on the previous seasons is missing this time round.
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|
Sadly, just like it was with Seasons Three and Four there is not a single extra contained on any of these discs.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
As far as I can tell Season Five has not yet been released in Region 1. Rest assured, if they get a set with a bundle of extras, I will be updating this quicker than you can say "Good Morning Mr President".
It's not a patch on the first four seasons, but Season Five of The West Wing is still offering some of the intrigue, wit and political shenanigans the series is renowned for, in amongst a few cringe-inducing moments. While original creator Aaron Sorkin is no longer lending his skills to the script and some of the shine and polish he brought to the writing is obviously missing, it is still enjoyable enough. Of course the real treat is being able to watch the entire season without interruption from the Channel Nine programming experts and without commercials.
The video quality is excellent, if perhaps a little on the dark side, 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.
|DVD||Denon DVD-3910, 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|