Major Entertainment and Civics Class, all in one!
B. Marold | Bethlehem, PA United States | 02/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD set includes all available `The West Wing' seasons in a single package and it represents the least expensive way of acquiring all four seasons, if you do not already own one or more seasons on DVD.
I am late in coming to appreciate this show, as my attention over the last four years has primarily been on retiring, learning to cook, and religiously following the careers of my various Food Network heroes. I have just recently started watching this show when the Bravo network started running `The West Wing' marathons and showing episodes on most weeknights.
The very first criterion I have for buying a DVD might be called `rewatchability'. There are certain movies and certain shows that are so rich that you are still detecting nuances after the fourth or fifth viewing. Compared to a show like the CSI incarnations, `The West Wing' easily retains its power on a third or fourth or fifth viewing. `CSI', except for those with a big element of office politics in the plot, loose their punch after you remember who the perp is as soon as you know what episode it is you are watching. Once the rush from listening to the great `The Who' intro passes, so does the thrill.
`The West Wing' has gotten lots of praise and awards for the quality of its writing and acting, but I am almost willing to believe it has gotten less than it deserves. I have never been moved so much by a scripted television show since some of the very best `All in the Family' episodes. Amid the flood of reality shows, I am even tempted to say that between `The West Wing', `CSI', `Law and Order' and all of the various spin-offs of these shows constitutes a golden age of scripted television drama, especially in this twilight of the great comedies of the past decade.
The quality of `The West Wing' for me lies primarily in the accuracy with which it portrays the realities of American politics and, beyond that, the realities of politics in general. In doing so, I believe the show can help to explain to most Americans why political `horse trading' is essential to the way our policy making works, why raw power is not always effective on the international stage, regardless of how seductive the use of that raw power may be. It also highlights that most important political virtue, loyalty. I have not read James Carvell's book on this subject, but I suspect that he would say that without party loyalty, government would simply be impossible, or at least much more difficult than it is now. As so many stories show so well, political loyalty works two ways. An elected official must be loyal to his constituents or the representative will not get reelected. An elected official must also be loyal to his party, or he will get no political largess bestowed on the people in his constituency. I can thing of no more dramatic example of this than in the change in benefits coming Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley after the election of Ed Rendell to be Pennsylvania governor, replacing Tom Ridge. Ridge and most other governors in my lifetime came from outside the Philadelphia sphere of influence, into which the Lehigh Valley falls. Thus, it almost seems as if Harrisburg suddenly discovered that the Lehigh Valley was now a part of Pennsylvania when Rendell was elected.
The third energy, after politics and international crises which drives the plots of `The West Wing' are the particular strengths and weaknesses of the principle characters, starting with President Bartlett and his remitting MS weighed against his great intellectual ability and accomplishments. For other major characters, it is part of the great genius of this show that while they are riddled with human frailties, they are sustained and succeed in high government positions due to their loyalty to both Bartlett and basic American and Democratic ideals. The chief of staff is a brilliant politician with alcoholism, the head of White House communications is a sour puss who is rarely wrong on principles, the assistant chief of staff is a little boy in a grown up body who has a great imagination for political tactics, the White House press spokesman has a father with Alzheimer's and a passion for women's issues which she sometimes needs to control if it conflicts with White House policy. The assistant head of communications is a brilliant writer with a weakness for inappropriate liaisons. The first lady is an important, talented medical doctor who compromises medical ethics to care for her husband and his political vulnerabilities.
One of my greatest pleasures is the fact that while I share the political priorities of the Democratic Bartlett administration, the Republicans, who are written to control both houses of the Congress, are not represented as straw men with positions which it is easy to dismiss. The tactics of the Bartlett team would not be nearly as believable if the House and Senate Republicans were cardboard caricatures. It almost seems like the writers intentionally make House and Senate Democrats and members of the cabinet as ornery and as difficult to work with as the Republicans.
If I have any difficulties with the plots of these stories at all, it is with the suspicion that a real modern president would not get involved in a lot of small details such as in the episode when two American girls were arrested in central Africa for prostylicizing for a Christian church. In real live, it seems this would reach no higher than an assistant Secretary of State. Another implausibility is when Bartlett stepped down from the presidency temporarily, handing it over to the Republican speaker of the house, while Bartlett's daughter was kidnapped by Arab terrorists. But then, we would not have had the pleasure of watching John Goodman play president for three episodes!
This show is great and parts should be required watching in high school civics classes.
I say thee, YEA!
A. David Mundt | San Diego, CA | 04/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just wanted to add my two cents to the review written by Mr. Marold of Bethlehem, PA. I agree with nearly everything Mr. M had in his review, with the exception of his comment about the episode where Bartlett stepped aside while his daughter was being held captive. I believe that was an entirely plausible situation and it was presented in an accurate manner.
Be that as it may, I have a different reason for enjoying "The West Wing". I too came to the show late in it's run and somewhat reluctantly. I thought, given the cast, that they would be laying on the liberalism with a heavy hand. Being an independent and a moderate, I have some liberal tendancies, but I do think of myself as a conservative and the thought of Martin Sheen and company preaching at me for an hour was too much with which to cope. However, once I saw the reruns on Bravo and some of the new episodes, I began to warm up to the show. I found that 95% of the time, the liberal cant is handed out in managable portions. The other 5%? Well, I can live with that because I found another overwhelming reason for loving this show. They...make...me...LAUGH OUT LOUD! The banter back and forth amongst the staffers gets to be hilarious and the President will joke with anybody from his aide, Charlie, to Adm. Fitzwallace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I cannot think of an episode that I watched where there wasn't something that made me burst out with laughter. Maybe the "Zoe kidnapping" episodes.
Watch "West Wing" for the political machinations and the insight into our political and constitutional systems. But also for the humor and wit. You will be well rewarded on all fronts."
West Wing rocks!
R. Forinash | North Carolina, USA | 09/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For someone who loves The West Wing, this 4 season package was a great way to start my collection. The series presents an entertaining yet informative and realistic dramatization of the workings of the top of the executive branch of government, something every citizen should have a knowledge of. Episodes often parallel real-world events and lead the viewer to a more careful consideration of CNN. I appreciate the dedication to detail in so many aspects of producing this series, including using previous White House senior staffers as consultants. Sounds really boring, but I found myself drawn into the finely worded screenplay and superlative acting episode after episode, and even knowing the outcome this series has terrific re-watch value. Just waiting for season five now!"
R. Forinash | 06/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My word, this show is brilliant. The banter is absolutely the most hilarious possible in a political show. I even enjoy learning about politics, though I hate the concept in any other circumstance. I'd have to say that the best episode is the one where Josh sees his psychiatrist after the shooting. Man, that's brilliant. Aaron Sorkin, I congratulate you on a job well done."