West Wing to End

Now I’m sad.

The West Wing makes a very good challenge for my favourite tv show of all time and the only reason the position is challenged is because of a blip in the quality after Aaron Sorkin left. The first 4 seasons of this show are absolutely superb – they’re interesting, funny, dramatic, touching and sad. I can go back and watch almost any episode and be moved by it even after half a dozen other viewings. After Aaron Sorkin left the show floundered a bit, with some poor choices of plotline and a hole in the writing that just never quite filled. But the first half of season 7 I’ve seen put me back on the edge of my seat, I was physically jittery when I ran out of episodes, desperately wanting to know what was going to happen.

The loss of John Spencer hurt, and I’m almost dreading watching the episodes dealing with his passing. I’ve been re-watching season 3 and it’s painful to think of the show without him. It’s almost cruel that having found a way to keep him in the show following the change of administration he passed so suddenly. Season 8 of the show would already have to stand the loss of several of the characters we’ve followed, not least the president himself (the fact that for all this show’s awards, Martin Sheen has won very few, nominated five times for the emmy and never winning it).

I can’t quite understand cancelling the show now. While the ratings have fallen, that’s hardly surprising given the move to a Sunday night time slot and the transitory nature of the year. While I’m not surprised The West Wing has been cancelled, I am confused by the lack of a partner announcement for a spin off series for the new administration. If the West Wing is failing, why cancel it just as they’re about to have a huge shift in nature of the show?

Maybe it is better for the show to end at this point, but I’m going to miss these characters. I have a huge number of show quotes on my site but so many of the things that make The West Wing great were not the words, but the things that were not said, because they didn’t need to be.

Favourite West Wing Moments

  • Josh and Leo, end of season 6: “You”
  • Toby’s speeches
  • Josh and Donna: If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.
  • Almost anything Charlie ever said. Or didn’t say.
  • Epic steady-cam shots
  • Latin
  • Every time the president flips his jacket
  • Josh and Leo: a guy’s walking down the street and he falls into a hole
  • Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms, Tori Amos I Don’t Like Mondays, Jeff Buckley Hallelujah
  • Big Block of Cheese Day
  • Gail!

Boston Legal: Season 1

The first season is only 9 episodes long (it ‘shared’ a first season slot with Boston Legal giving each series reduced lengths) and left me desperately wanting more. The characters are a great collection of social misfits trying to get along and have some form of life whilst working at the bottom of the food chain and competing against each other to drag themselves through. The relationships (both amicable and antagonistic) are great fun to watch and throughout it all they manage to throw some medical drama in for good measure.

My only complaints would be that the voice-overs can get a little tiresome and that the show isn’t a hundred miles from House, frequently overlapping in humour and also in medicine.

CSI: Season 5

The original CSI is still the best in my opinion, season 5 seemed to be an attempt to re-energise the series by mixing things up a bit and introducing some new characters. I admire the attempt, but wish they’d tried pushing things a little further rather than sort of sticking a toe in the water and then backing away again.

There seemed to be an acknowledgement that the characters probably want to start moving their careers onwards so Greg made it into the field finally, Catherine moved to head up a new shift taking Warrick and Nick with her and Grissom sort of got a new sidekick in the form of Sophia. The problems come when Sophia only actually appears in 9 episodes, rarely in more than a couple of scenes, so although she seems to have interesting chemistry with Grissom nothing really comes of it. Splitting the team was a nice idea, but all it really seemed to mean was that the pairings for cases were always the same, they didn’t do much with the idea of Catherine as a manager. CSI has never really been about the characters but about the cases, so the changes just made things a bit more restricted. The only change that worked without question was putting Greg in the field, the character is great fun and introducing a ‘new’ person to the field allowed everything to be rediscovered. Also the chemistry between him, Sara and Grissom was great – a nice little dysfunctional family.

The series is still falling into the problem of trying to do everything continually bigger and more extreme. There’s almost always multiple bodies in an episode and high profile cases. The episodes that were most fun this season were the ones like Viva Las Vegas and 4×4 where the cases were smaller. The liberties with science and timing seem to be ever increasing as well.

The season finale written and directed by Quentin Tarantino came across as CSI for the big screen. It was fascinating to see Tarantino’s distinct style brought into CSI and I was impressed at how well the two merged together – it was definitely Tarantino and yet it was still CSI. Making the case a ticking clock with one of the team as the victim made for a big screen worthy plot but came across a bit fanfiction to me. It will be interesting to see if this episode is treated a bit like an alternate reality and not really mentioned or whether it’s incorporated well into the series history with suitable repercussions for the characters. It was interesting to see the actors pushed a bit further and I was impressed at how much they managed to do with limited budget and time. An interesting interlude, but it’s not what I want CSI to be about.

DVD Special Features
The region 1 dvd has a list of special features that look impressive on paper but end up being quite spectacularly dull. The commentaries usually feature writers, directors and advisers and are horribly dry and frequently suffering from “watching the episode syndrome”. The couple of times the actors appear turn into mutual appreciation meetings. The absence of a commentary on the season finale leaves a bit of a gaping hole.

The featurettes are equally dry, I can’t really remember much about most of them. The only redeeming feature is the Tarantino featurette that goes into the detail of the final episode and includes interviews with Tarantino. He is so enthusiastic and vocal about his love for the series and how he wanted to approach it that you can’t help but realise how dull everyone else is.

Stargate Atlantis: Season 1

Atlantis manages to succeed in all the ways SG1 did, while also occasionally falling into the same holes. At it’s heart this is an episodic sf series with a group of great characters and an abundance of sarcasm. The plots are usually interesting and fun, occasionally suffering from large holes or hammering home the ”shades of grey” moral issues a bit much. The arc storylines focus on exploring and setting up the new Atlantis base and the threat from the vampirey Wraith. The former allowed for some budget episodes and the chance to distinguish themselves from the more military feel of SG1. The latter plot was well handled through the first season and made a refreshing change from the complex political situation that the Gould became in SG1.

What sells this series for me though are the great characters and their interactions. Frankly all of the characters are at least faintly annoying, but that only makes them more interesting. The ”snarking” between characters is hilarious and feels very natural, they feel like real people not just The Doctor, The Soldier. The Jack-Daniel double act is replaced here with Shepherd-McKay, but here the Soldier also happens to be a bit of a geek and The Geek is something of a force of nature. The alien (Teyla) and the sidekick (Ford) get a bit of a slim deal in the first season but they manage to be more than their stereotypes even with only a few lines each episode. Probably the weakest link is Weir who never quite manages to have the gravitas that’s required from the leader, always coming across as rather deferring and wet.

Atlantis plays to its target audience with the geeks saving the day half the time and with characters referencing Star Trek and Back to the Future enthusiastically. It’s not the best science fiction out there, but it’s a very entertaining watch each week.

DVD Special Features (Region 1)
The Region 1 dvd is truly a thing of beauty, from the nice slim line box, to the huge amounts of special features to the great quality video. There are commentaries on about 1/2 the episodes including contributions from all the main actors, the writers, directors and even a couple of SG1 people that seemed to wonder in and feel like chatting. They are all as crazy and dedicated as each other and the commentaries are hilarious and interesting. The featurettes cover the usual stuff like set tours, make-up and behind the scenes on a couple of the episodes. The season 1 review is actually a showcase of everyone messing about and failing to take anything seriously. This show is either amazing fun to work on or everyone is a great actor.

House: Season 1

I tried watching this show on tv each week but found it very irritating and predictable. For some reason though it was much better to watch all in one go (well, over a few days anyway) as the formulaic episodes usually have some interesting character stuff buried in them and there are occasional but interesting breaks from the formula.

The star (and indeed the point of the show) is House himself, a miserable, sarcastic, bitter diagnostician who has no real interest in dealing with patients. It is glorious to watch him put everyone down with one-liners, harassment and cultural references and watch everyone around him try to work him out. Whether he really is a bastard, or actually has a heart of gold buried deep inside doesn’t really matter, any small hints given in the first season are extremely small. The rest of the cast is there as support really – the ”ducklings” (the trio of junior doctors who follow House around) are hugely cliche but have some interesting interactions, the dean of medicine seems ridiculously young and frequently pathetic, but makes a good foil for House sometimes. The standout is the long suffering best friend who seems to be the only indication that House actually has a heart.

Plots are almost a sideline, they’re usually vaguely interesting, but suffer from having almost identical structure eatch week. Patient has weird symptoms, House et al guess at cause A, patient nearly dies, they guess at cause B, patient nearly dies, they guess at cause C (sometimes being a mixture of A+B), patient gets better. Slotted somewhere in there will be a patient nearly dies, something they do makes the patient worse/nearly dead, something they want to do is radical/illegal hence the hospital administration gets involved, House treats minor cases in clinic one of whom leads him to come up with the solution. If you’re watching it on tv you can actually time these phases by advert breaks.

Towards the end of the season a threat to House is brought in in the shape of a generous donor who gets himself on the hospital board and decides he wants House out. Frankly this whole thing seemed a bit daft to me as it seemed ridiculous that a successful businessman would try to micromanage something he knew nothing about. It all seemed contrived to create tension for the seemingly untouchable House, which it did do successfully, so I guess it’s ok if you can look past the absurdity.

Boston Legal: Season 1

Season 1 is a strangely truncated season thanks to a bizarre network decision to move the last 5 episodes from season 1 into season 2. The shortening of the season makes the whole thing seem very focussed and dense (or maybe that’s because I watched the whole thing in just a few days).

I don’t care what the labels say, this is by far more of a comedy than a drama – nothing that makes me laugh out loud and splutter my tea so many times per episode isn’t a comedy. The characters played by James Spader and William Shatner are so deliciously nasty, weird and compelling that they can steal the whole episode with just raised eyebrow. The other characters frequently suffer not because they’re bad or poorly acted, but just because they can’t compete. These two on screen seperately are brilliant, when they’re together playing off each other they’re amazing.

Plot wise it is interesting to see the lawyers fighting different sides of criminal cases and how ‘approved’ practice changes depending on the situation and the client. I can’t wait to see the 2nd season and I have just two words…

Denny Crane!

Angel: Season 1

The first season of the spin off takes a little bit of time to settle down while they play about with ideas. The season has two halves as the series starts off with Doyle as Angel’s link to the powers that be. It would actually have been interesting to see where they went with this character, it was nice to see a new and genuinely L.A. character. When Wesley first arrived he was cringingly embarrassing but after a few episodes he settled down and became useful and the trio worked well together as a team.

Plot wise I felt there were a couple too many “Angel becomes human” type stories and possibly too many cross-overs from the Buffy verse. It’s quite clear that there’s more shades of grey in the Angel world than in Buffy – not all demons are bad and there’s a whole other layer of society set up for them. The season did a surprisingly good job at not becoming ‘vision of the week’ and kept stories and ideas pretty varied. There was plenty of set up for the 2nd season with Gunn and Darla introduced near the end. This season felt like it was stumbling around to find it’s feat a bit, but it got there in the end.

DVD Special Features
Just two commentaries seems a little bit stingy for a Buffy-verse dvd, but they are both quite interesting – Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt talk a lot about the show’s conception and style over the pilot and Jane Espenson talks more about the characters and writing over Room W/A Vu. The featurettes are a few minutes each on Angel, Cordelia and the various demons and feel rather sound-bytey and overloaded with clips, rather than going into any depth. The season overview which is usually very good was a bit lacking here – maybe indicative that the producers are just as aware at how many wrong turns there were during the season. Also – why do they insist on putting the season overview on disc 3 of 6?