In its first series, The West Wing established the cast of characters who comprise the White House staff. There's Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), a recovering alcoholic whose efforts to be the cornerstone of the administration contribute to the break-up of his marriage. CJ (Alison Janney) is the formidable Press Spokeswoman embroiled in a tentative on-off relationship with Timothy (Thirtysomething) Busfield's reporter. Brilliant but grumpy communications deputy Toby Ziegler, Rob Lowe's brilliant but faintly nerdy Sam Seaborn and brilliant but smart-alecky Josh Lyman make up the rest of the inner circle. Initially, the series' creators had intended to keep the President off-screen. Wisely, however, they went with Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet, whose eccentric volatility, caution, humour and strength in a crisis make for such an impressively plausible fictional President that polls once expressed a preference for Bartlet over the genuine incumbent.
The issues broached in the first series have striking, often prescient contemporary relevance. We see the President having to be talked down from a "disproportionate response" when terrorists shoot down a plane carrying his personal doctor, or acting as broker in a dangerous stand-off between India and Pakistan. Gun control laws, gays in the military, Fundamentalist pressure groups are all addressed--the latter in a most satisfying manner ("Get your fat asses out of the White House!")--while the episode "Take This Sabbath Day" is a superb dramatic meditation on Capital punishment.
Handled incorrectly, The West Wing could have been turgid, didactic propaganda for The American Way. However, the writers are careful to show that, decent as this administration is, its achievements, though hard-won, are minimal. Moreover, the brisk, staccato-like, almost musical exchanges of dialogue, between Josh and his PA Donna, for instance, as they pace purposefully up and down the corridors are the show's abiding joy. This is wonderful and addictive viewing.--David Stubbs
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
A Proportional Response
Five Votes Down
The Crackpots And These Women
Mr Willis Of Ohio
The State Dinner
The Short List
In Excelsis Deo
Lord John Marbury
Yet this series makes you instantly care for and respect these people. Focusing on a number of core characters this series rapidly defines the personalities of the staff and makes them real. This is achieved by a combination of good quality writing and superb acting. This series has twice won the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award and that is a true reflection of how every character,every actor, pulls their weight to make this one of the best shows on TV.
This first series did not have a single weak episode, but in this box set is one of the best episodes of any series ever. The episode "In Excelsis Deo" (which won Richard Schiff a well deserved Emmy) is a truly moving piece of contemporary drama and is almost worth the price alone. To get this with 10 other wonderful episodes makes this a must buy.
Oh, and C.J. rules! If you haven't seen the series yet you'll just have to agree with this statement once you've watched it...
The simplest thing to say is that nobody should miss the opportunity to sit through the series and here we have the first 11 episodes that you can watch time and again and still see new things.
Roll on the next release!
It is superbly written and has brilliant casting and great acting. Read more