Telling the story of the 40 days after a plane crash leaves 40 odd people stranded on an island it touches upon many genres but is best described as a character drama. Each episode focuses on one of the character’s backstory told in flashbacks but for every piece of information revealed, two more questions are presented. The lives of these characters are linked before they ever get on a plane, and the shifting alliances on the island keep everyone moving. Life on the island covers everything from the mundane of water and censuses to the bizarre of polar bears and mysterious transmissions. Nothing is as it seems and no answer is simple. Once you’ve watched the whole season, you’ll want to watch it all again to pick up all the hints of things to come.
Oh. I knew that with the departure of Aaron Sorkin many said that The West Wing had just died, with some despondent fans going so far as to start Don’t Save Our Show but I hoped on. having watched the season through I understand where they’re coming from. It’s lost a great deal of what made the earlier seasons great, much of which I couldn’t even begin to describe. However, even West Wing at it’s worst, without the Sorkin shine, is still a great deal better than most of the other stuff on TV.
My primary criticisms would be that the new show-runner John Wells (he who kept causing issues with helicopters on ER) lost track of the fact that people watched and loved TWW despite there not being something to fuss about every week. We don’t need to have social security saved, or the government being shut down, or gimmicky mock-documentary episodes. Those sorts of spectacles were limited to ends of season while regular episodes comprised of nothing more exciting than filibusters, broken space probes or discussion of a census. And we *were* excited, and enthralled, and uplifted. Add to that the fact that some of the characters appear to wander off the plot and it’s just..not the same. I miss the proper West Wing, but I’ll take what I can get.
What is there that can possibly be said that I haven’t said about the last 3 seasons? I was worried during the first (two part) episodes as I really didn’t think they were particularly strong, but from then on I don’t think there was a moment I wasn’t engrossed in. The regular cast shuffles a bit with the addition of Stockard Channing to the main cast (although she really doesn’t appear any more often sadly) and Rob Lowe’s departure (or rather gradually disappearance). Joshua Malina joins the cast as Sam’s replacement Will Bailey and brings some much needed fresh air to the Wing. Past guest appearances contiinue with Amy, Admiral Fitz, Nancy, Andy Wyatt, Ed, Larry, Mike Casper and even Danny popping up bringin confusion, hilarity, chaos and strength, often at the same time.
I think one of the most outstanding things about this season is that nothing lingers too long, whereas I found myself getting a little tired by the MS scandal and various other storylines I thought season 4 kept moving really well even through the re-election, never getting bogged down in something that the audience already knows the answer too (wow, i wonder if they’ll win the election?)
Now I have to wait forever for season 5, it’s a good job I read spoilers and am not waiting for the cliffhanger to resolve!
Season 2 opens just seconds after the cliffhanger, the resolution to this only really lasts one episodes but by merging it with flashbacks to the original campaign and how the familiar faces came to the team it’s extended to 2 episodes. It’s a great start to the season, showing us where the characters and administration are and where they’ve come from. The season continues along much the same lines as the first, but there seem to be more defeats than victories with various things coming to light and the President having to decide on whether to stand for re-election. No cliffhanger this time, but still the overwhelming desire to see more. I watched seasons 1 and 2 in 8 days. It is simply superb.
DVD Special Features
Absolutely no special features. (I don’t care what they say “interactive menus and scene selection” are not special features!)
Starting in the 2nd year of Bartlet’s presidency the series starts with the President falling off his bike (particularly hilarious following Bush’s tumble recently) and most of the rest of the staff suffering various personal and political mishaps. The season continues through various political events, but focusses on the west wing, the president and the staff and their lives, not the life of the government. It’s about how they get things done, not so much what the things actually are. This is what really makes the show addictive – you care about these people, even when they’re being idiots and they bring life to politics. An average episode will probably have me laughing out loud a dozen times, close to tears a couple, inspired and distressed in equal measure, but most importantly unable to stop watching until there’s no more episodes to watch. The end of season cliffhanger drove me to distraction and I only had to wait about 18 hours to see the conclusion!
DVD Special Features
Pretty scant. There’s about 8 interviews with the principle cast Aaron Sorkin (creator, writer, producer) and a director. But they’re pretty bland, taped just a few episodes into the 1st season. Nothing very exciting. There’s a making of documentary which is interesting but brief, and a few tv spot things that aren’t anything more than padding. A real shame they didn’t make more effort, some commentaries would be great.
I bought this box set on a whim after various people commented it was cool. I sat down to watch a couple of episodes and didn’t stop until 4 in the morning when I ran out of episodes. I think the series actually works much better watched in large chunks then weekly, the flow is much better.
The season starts at the beginning of a new phase in the various characters’ lives as their father dies in the pilot, leaving the two sons to run the business and his wife by herself for the first real time. The daughter serves as a “look how dysfunctional these people are” reference throughout and there’s a weird girlfriend and her even more dysfunctional family thrown in for good measure. The ongoing stories of Nate’s realisation of his role in the business, David coming out, Ruth flitting between men and Claire finding her inner weirdo form the arc around the ‘corpse of the week’.
The series is definitely weird, on the surface it is slow with very little actually happening in most episodes. But the show is character driven and these guys are weird enough to carry it through well. The americanisms can be a little weird (many of the episodes are centred around the viewings of the bodies at the funeral home) but kinda intriguing. While the show appears to be about death, it is in fact about life with death just being the kinda cut off point. Wow, wasn’t that deep? Definitely not one to watch with the parents by the way ;0)
DVD Special Features
The box itself is lovely! It’s made of that slightly furry stuff with embossed bits on it, and when you open it it hinges at the top and lifts out the envelope with the dvds on it. Possibly the most beautiful box set I’ve ever seen. Ok so it’s just cardboard folded to hinge and lift the centre section, but damnit I thought it was nifty.
There’s 4 discs overall with 13 episodes each of which lasts over 50 minutes. There’s commentaries on the first and last episodes from the series creator/writer/director Alan Bell (of American Beauty fame) which are very interesting. The 15 minute featurette on the title sequence is a little excessive (although the titles are very cool) but the cast one has some nice bits on it. It’s good that the episodes have had the “previously” and “next on SFU” cut off so you can chose to watch them if you want, but they still lack the “view all” option which would save on clicking through menus. The menus are atmospheric and fit really well with the theme. Oh, it would have been nice if the envelope/box containing hte dvds had a brief episode synopsis beyond the title so you can find a specific episode more easily.
The superlatives just keep going. The campaign for re-election kicks off, the staff are investigated over the President’s condition and whether he deceived the voters and foreign tensions continue to develop. Previous seasons deal heavily with the balance between what the staff want to do, and what they can get through congress and senate, this season adds on the price of re-election making everything even more delicate. The guest cast is superb as ever with some familiar faces returning and new one’s being added in to form new and interesting relationships. Everything that was great about the first two seasons is still there and still great. Many people online seem to indicate this is where the series started going downhill, but personally I don’t see it… I even kinda like Amy!
DVD Special Features
Absolutely no special features at all, made even more offensive by the fact that the booklet is for the Region 1 release so you get told all about the commentaries, making ofs and gag reel. Grr. The 6 dvds come in an epic fold out thingy, which is fine until you’re trying to open it up while balancing a laptop. The change in style means that the box set looks more grown-up (no more red white and blue) but doesn’t match on the shelf. Petty, but irritating.