West Wing, The: Season One

August 1st, 2002 DVD Reviews, Film, Filmink

Every once in a while a TV show comes along that presents itself as food for thought for intelligent adults instead of sugar-coated fairy floss for pubescent morons.

Only a few come to mind … M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues and ER among them … but now The West Wing joins them. It takes itself seriously (despite a sense of humour) and portrays a high profile institution almost exactly as you’d imagine it — even if you’d never thought about it before.

It follows White House life as a handful of characters — the President (Martin Sheen), his advisers and assistants and the people whose professional orbits cross the Oval Office — deal with typical crises in both world security and their own lives.

A breath of fresh air in today’s politically cynical world, it portrays people who more or less want to do the right thing, but thankfully without any of the rousing speeches, uplifting orchestral music or God-Bless-Americanism in most other filmed fiction.

And despite the realism, it cleverly avoids reality. It deals with realistic issues, not real ones (it famously aired an episode dealing with terrorism after September 11 but still didn’t mention the incident).

In what must be a nightmare to film, the style is like Blues or ER (which producer Aaron Sorkin also created) — long tracking shots follow multiple characters through flurries of activity and capture quick, random pieces of snappy dialogue. You lose track at times amid the machinations of the political speak, but it creates a tone that sticks, even if you don’t digest every word.

The format also gets great performances out of all concerned despite the already great names. Martin Sheen lends credibility to the role of the President just by being there. Thanks to Austin Powers and now The West Wing, Rob Lowe has scraped his way back to prominence (after his spectacular downfall on video in the arms of two teenage girls years ago). Little known Moira Kelly (With Honours, a lame 1994 Brendan Fraser/Joe Pesci comedy) plays a PR hack with boundless spunk and energy. And one of America’s best female actors, the shamefully underrated Allison Janney (10 Things I Hate About You, Drop Dead Gorgeous), plays a very understated Press Secretary.

Some discs in the set have short cast and crew interviews and documentaries, but the real meat is the show itself, which — unlike most offerings on DVD — need no extras.

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