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Warner Home Video presents
The West Wing : The Complete Seventh Season (2006)

Deborah Fiderer: How are you feeling this morning?
President Bartlet: Unemployed.
Deborah Fiderer: 'Lot of that going around the building.

- Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: November 15, 2006

Stars: Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney
Other Stars: Stockard Channing, Mary McCormack, Kristin Chenoweth, Richard Schiff, Lily Tomlin, Timothy Busfield, Rob Lowe, Ron Silver
Director: Chris Misiano, Alex Graves

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some adult themes, mild language)
Run Time: 15h:57m:00s
Release Date: November 07, 2006
UPC: 012569819818
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BA- B

DVD Review

I'm one of the many who feel that West Wing lost its rudder when Aaron Sorkin departed after the show's fourth season. While occasionally sanctimonious and often melodramatic, Sorkin's brainchild had an undeniable style, a wicked sense of humor, and a contagious conviction in the power of government to change people's lives. Post-Sorkin, the show was taken over by ER's John Wells, who was never able to make those original characters and scenarios endearing in the same way. The show's natural soap-opera qualities became more obvious, and things felt tired in spite of attempts to up the ante by upping the drama. After a season or so of that business, the producers added characters and shifted focus in a way that could have been a disaster, but proved to be their salvation. No longer was the focus on the inner workings of the Bartlet White House, but the mechanics of the campaign to replace him. It would never be quite as good as it was during those early years, but by adding Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda to the cast as dueling presidential contenders, the new team managed to pull things back together in time to go out with some style. This final season appropriately sees the election cycle in full swing, leading to a nail-biter of an election.

After a quick flash-forward in the opening moments of the season premiere to the dedication of his presidential library, the race to replace Jed Bartlet (Sheen) is on, as Democrat Matt Santos (Smits) and Arnold Vinick (Alda) desperately jockey for position. Meanwhile, back at the White House, a crisis of conscience is poised to leave a beloved character on the wrong side of his boss and the law. A nuclear accident, as well as a brewing conflict in Asia changes the dynamics of the election while giving President Bartlet a couple of final crises to handle. Mostly, this season is about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of a presidential campaign staff, in the same way that previous seasons went behind-the-scenes at the White House. It's still very much a workplace drama, just a different workplace this year, and there are still some meaty issues to be explored. The live debate episode that comes midway through the season is a highlight in this regard. (In case you're wondering, this set includes the west coast airing of the episode.)Mind you, it's entirely unbelievable. There hasn't been a debate this substantive, with two more sincere and worthwhile candidates in a decade or two. It's part of the fantasy conceit of this whole season: it's often difficult to decide which candidate to root for. Unlike more recent political scenarios in which we are too often forced to choose between two lame candidates, on West Wing, either of these two would make a fine Commander-in-Chief.

The death of John Spencer's Leo McGarry is heartbreaking, immeasurably more so because of the actor's passing in real life. It also comes at a critical moment, as Santos is forced to move into the election without a running mate. It would have been interesting to know how the writers were planning to proceed had Spencer lived. I suspect that the outcome of the election might have been very different, but there's nothing in this set that offers any hints. Aside from an aired message from Martin Sheen following his death, there's in fact nothing on this set that pays tribute to Spencer, a sin of omission that's tough to forgive.

It all leads to a finale that hits all the right final-episode buttons. The focus shifts back a bit to the characters that we've followed for seven years, while the new administration makes ready to move into 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even so, I still found it a bit disappointing. The transition is handled well, and all of the characters get to say goodbye and move on. Still, President Bartlet has become almost an afterthought by this point, and after all the sturm and drang and noble aspirations over the years, it feels a bit like his story just sort of peters out. The emphasis on the promise of the new administration over the achievements and challenges of the one we've watched for so long leaves that aspect of the story unsatisfying. I suppose there's a certain realism there, the old making way for the new, but I would have liked another reminder that it was all for something.

While it's not the best season, it is the best post-Sorkin one, and pretty good on its own merits. The shift in focus away from the waning administration toward new characters goes a step further. That was a smart move, but I missed the old team as they were.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This anamorphic transfer is about on par with those of other seasons of the series I've seen. There's a light grain present occassionally, and some digital artifacts. Not a lot, but they're there. On the whole it's a very good transfer that's mostly sharp and crisp, though it's not a great one.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: I think that the soundscape of West Wing could be described as: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, REALLY DRAMATIC MUSIC, dialogue. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track gets the job done. The dialogue is clear and easily discernable. The music mixed in is appropriately loud and full without ever overpowering whatever else is going on onscreen.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Multiple Angles with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: As I said in the main review, it's shameful that they didn't include any commemoration of the series conclusion, or a tribute to John Spencer. The two features included in the set both refer to the live debate episode.

Live from the Director's Chair: A Multiangle View is an option to watch the debate episode as a picture-in-picture with the episode's director calling the action and timing from "the truck." It's sort of neat to see what goes on at mission control during what must have been a highly stressful taping. Countdown to West Wing Live is a 22-minute piece on the making of that episode, with the director, writers, and cast discussing the challenges involved. It's nicely thorough, starting in the writer's room, through the rehearsal, and into recollections from the live airing itself.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Not the best season, but still a classy show that brought itself back from a couple of seasons in the wilderness for a poignant conclusion. The race to succeed Jed Bartlet plays out in the thoughtful and entertaining manner for which West Wing became so popular. This final season release is woefully short on special features, but you'll certainly want this one if you've collected the others.

 


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