THE WEST WING:
The end of season four marked a change in the creative forces behind THE WEST WING, one of the most intriguing political dramas to ever be produced for television. While season five certainly had its share of high points, the show didn’t continually dazzle as it did under the hand of series creator Aaron Sorkin. Of course, new executive producer John Wells had some big shoes to fill, but he did step up to the plate and managed to hit the ball out of the park much of the time. Season five starts off with the political turmoil that is stirred up when the sitting democrat President temporarily steps down, after his daughter is kidnapped by terrorists, and is replaced by the republican Speaker of the House, as the office of Vice President remains vacant. Other highlights involve the President returning to his office and squaring off against republican opponents, who feel vulnerable, the selection of a new Vice President, a Supreme Court appointment and a terrorist attack that cuts close to home.
Set inside The White House, the excellent cast of THE WEST WING features Martin Sheen as President Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet, John Spencer as White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler, Joshua Malina as Deputy Communications Director Will Bailey, Allison Janney as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Dulé Hill as Presidential Aide Charlie Young, Janel Moloney as Josh Lyman’s assistant Donna Moss and Stockard Channing as the First Lady, Dr. Abbey Bartlet, M.D..
THE WEST WING: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON ($60) comes to DVD in a four-disc set that features the following twenty-two episodes that were aired in the show’s fifth year: 7A WF 83429, The Dogs Of War, Jefferson Lives, Han, Constituency Of One, Disaster Relief, Separation Of Powers, Shutdown, Abu El Banat, The Stormy Present, The Benign Prerogative, Slow News Day, The Warfare Of Genghis Khan, An Khe, Full Disclosure, Eppur Si Muove, The Supremes, Access, Talking Points, No Exit, Gaza and Memorial Day.
Warner Home Video has made all twenty-two episodes from THE WEST WING: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Again, the DVDs are superior to watching the show on broadcast or cable. Image quality is excellent for a television production, appearing fairly crisp and rather nicely defined. Colors are pretty natural and flesh tones are appealing. Contrast is better than average for a television show, as the production shies away from flat sitcom lighting whenever possible. Grain is noticeable here and there, but is never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are usually well concealed.
All the episodes that comprise THE WEST WING: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON are presented on DVD with Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtracks, all of which decode to standard surround. 5.1 would have been a little cleaner and tighter, but since THE WEST WING is a talky drama, there is little point in complaining. The forward soundstage is completely dominant, with just a bit of ambient sound and musical fill emanating from the rears. Fidelity is generally very good, with the music coming across with a good sense of presence. Voices are warmly recorded and the dialogue is easy to understand. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements that have been spread throughout the set. Audio commentaries have been provided for three episodes: 7A WF 8342 (with John Wells and Alex Graves), The Dogs Of War (with John Wells and Christopher Misiano) and The Supremes (with Alex Graves, Jessica Yu, and Debora Cahn). In POTUS We Trust: Presidential Profile Of President Bartlet And His Portrayer, Martin Sheen features cast and crew talking about the character and the actor. Gaza: Anatomy Of An Episode entails what it takes to create a foreign location. Deleted Scenes are provided for the following three episodes: Slow News Day, Eppur Si Muove and Memorial Day.
While not as strong or sharply focused as the previous four seasons, THE WEST WING: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON still provides a great deal of entertainment value. As for Warner’s DVDs, the quality of the presentations remains very high and there are some nice supplements. If you are a longtime fan who continues to enjoy this stirring political drama, you will want to add this collection to your library. As with any series, the uninitiated should start back at the beginning and work their way up to season five.
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