Newest Review: ... loyal but battling with his inner demons. Leo is portrayed by John Spencer who is absolutely wonderful in the role, especially in th... more
The best show on TV?
The West Wing - The Complete Season 1 (DVD)
Member Name: Wickedinrock
The West Wing - The Complete Season 1 (DVD)
Advantages: Great cast, super storyline and script
Set in the West Wing of the White House the show follows the working lives of President Jed Bartlett and his senior staff as they deal with the day to day issues in the White House from terrorist threats to personal indiscretions which threaten the popularity of the Administration. I always like to have a DVD box set on the go, no matter how long it takes me to get through a series and The West Wing is one of my favourites.
The show was created by Aaron Sorkin on the back of the screenplay for his film The American President. His experience of visiting the White House and some unused pieces of script helped him create a new series which he put forward to television networks. NBC loved the idea but in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal debated whether the audience would warm to it, however as other networks became interested they picked it up and the first season was broadcast in the fall of 1999.
=== The storyline and characters ===
The West Wing follows the lives of the President of the United States and his senior staff as they go about their everyday business. Although based on a fictional administration, the show provides an insight into American politics and the tribulations that the President's team face on a daily basis, from speech writing, to press conferences to strategic decisions about the country and its legal system.
At the head of Administration is President Josiah (Jed) Bartlett serving his first term. He's a tough character but a compassionate family man who loves his country and looks out for his staff. A former economist and Governer, the President is highly intelligent and genuinely wants to use his role to make the country a better, safer place. He hides a secret from the country that is revealed half way through the season and allows the audience to empathise with him further. I can't imagine anyone but Martin Sheen in the role which is interesting considering the show's creator Aaron Sorkin originally wanted the President to be a recurring character just to appear in a few episodes. Sheen gives the most wonderful, passionate speeches as President and it's hard to believe he's just acting!
Leo McGarry, a patriot and long-time friend of the President, serves as Chief of Staff and is very much central in the running of the West Wing. Passionate about his work, Leo is a kind-hearted man who cares about his staff and always puts his country first. He was the one who convinced his friend Jed to run for President in the first place and assembled the team around him to win the election. I warmed to the character almost immediately because he is fiercely loyal but battling with his inner demons. Leo is portrayed by John Spencer who is absolutely wonderful in the role, especially in the storyline where he battles with addiction, as Spencer himself is a recovering alcoholic.
Josh Lyman serves under Leo as Assistant Chief of Staff. He is one of the brightest young members of staff although occasionally acts rashly and makes silly mistakes which the rest of the team have to fix right from the first episode. Played by Bradley Whitford, Josh is my favourite character and I think most people would agree. His humour is a good source of relief especially when the episodes focus on serious issues! I think it shows that the role was created with Whitford in mind as he is perfect as Josh and his acting seems effortless. He has a wonderful relationship with Janel Maloney who plays his assistant Donna.
C.J (Claudia Jean) Cregg is Press Secretary to the President. She is another funny character, with her sarcastic humour at press conferences making fantastic viewing. She is wonderful at dealing with the Press but worries whether they have respect for her, especially with her potential romance with Danny Koncannon, a Senior White House Correspondent. C.J. is a popular member of the team but being the only female amongst the senior staff often feels like she isn't included in key decisions and that her opinion isn't taken seriously. Alison Janney is wonderful in the role and as a fan of hers I can tell that she has a lot of input into C.J. as a character. One of my favourites scenes from the first season is her rendition of 'The Jackal' at a staff party. Apparently, the creator, Aaron Sorkin saw Janney in her trailer miming the words perfectly and wrote her party trick into the show.
Sam Seaborn is Deputy White House Communications Director and writes most of President Bartlett's speeches. A natural people person and communicator he is a popular member of staff and close friends with Josh. He is very honest and always wants to do the right thing which makes him appeal as a character but can also get him in trouble, especially when his relationship with a call girl causes embarrassment to the President. Rob Lowe is one of the most well known characters in The West Wing but for me is one of the weakest. He's attractive and Sam is a genuinely nice character and even though he's a big part of the show I didn't warm to him the way I did some of the others during the first season.
Toby Ziegler is Director of Communcations at the White House and Sam's boss. Toby rarely smiles and always seems sad, yet he's so amusing with his witty remarks and hot-headed reactions. The audience know that Toby has a astronaut brother and an ex-wife who is in Congress but apart from that not much is revealed about his life so I'm quite excited to see how the character develops. Richard Shieff won an Emmy during the first season based on the episode In Excelsis Deo and is an excellent actor, especially at some of the more emotional scenes.
21 year old Charlie Young arrives in the third episode to interview as a messenger but is confused when he is then asked to meet with Josh Lyman who is recruiting for Personal Aide to the President. He is offered and accepts the job after meeting the President. Charlie starts a relationship with Zoey Bartlett, the President's youngest daughter which leads to hate mail and death threats from white extremists who don't approve of an African-American man dating the President's white daughter. Charlie's redeeming feature is that he is young and inexperienced but that aside his character isn't explored in the first season which was surprising as we found out early on that his parents aren't in the picture and that he looks after his younger sister.
Mandy Hampton was my least favourite character in season one of The West Wing. An ex girlfriend of Josh's, she is a feisty and ambitious political strategist who is taken on as a media consultant to the President although she opposes many of his ideas. One of Mandy's biggest storylines arises when a memo that she sent to her former employer is made public which criticises the President and his administration causing much embarrassment to the party. Her role in the show is cut significantly over the season and although she is named on the opening credits, she is a minor character by the end and Mandy did not feature in season two as Moira Kelly moved on to star in One Tree Hill.
=== Highlights of season one ===
Season one of The West Wing was very much a scene setter and a great way of introducing the viewers to the Bartlett Administration, the senior staff and to some of the daily issues and decisions that the President faces. However, some of the episodes were outstanding pieces of television and are amongst my favourite today.
For me, the stand out episode of season one is In Excelsis Deo. Episodes where Toby is prominent are generally dark and sad and this is no exception. Toby is contacted by the Police when a homeless man is found dead wearing a coat with his name in it which he had donated to charity. He searches in to the man's background to find that he is a forgotten war hero who lives rough and Toby does all that he can to ensure that he gets the send off he deserves. It is this episode which gives us more information about Leo's past as the truth about his addiction threatens to be revealed.
Another episode which meant a lot to me was Take Out The Trash Day as it contained references to Matthew Shepard, a young man who was murdered for being homosexual. As the President and his staff consider how to deal with a new sex education bill, there is concern that parents of a murdered gay teenager will not attend the signing of a new Hate Crimes Bill, but not for the reason that CJ assumes.
The other story from season one that really stands out is the cliffhanger in the final episode What Kind Of Day Has It Been. Charlie and President's daughter Zoe have been dating which has attracted negative attention from some white extremists who have been sending death threats to Charlie at the White House. After the President gives a speech to a group of college students at the Town Hall, a shooting takes place with devastating consequences. Apparently critics blasted the episode for being a sell out. However, it was moving and exciting and I couldn't wait to get on to season two!
=== The DVD ===
Season one contains 6 discs and 22 episodes. Extras include bloopers, 'making the show', deleted scenes and a series of features with the cast.
The box set can be bought from Amazon for £7.19 which is the cheapest I have seen it.
=== Overall ===
The West Wing is one of the most popular television shows of the past decade. After the first season it continued for another six and maintained its popularity throughout. The talented cast, most of which remained with the show throughout its duration, were rewarded with numerous awards. However, for me the best thing about the first season of The West Wing was the script. The dialogue between the characters is some of the best I've seen on television but is written in a way which is realistic but doesn't alienate the viewer. In fact, one of the best things about the show is that you can learn about American politics and situations that the government face, but at the same time it is thoroughly entertaining with interesting side stories for the main characters.
Season one of The West Wing won 9 Emmy Awards; a record for any show. It's success continued right through until the final season but the first has a special place in my heart as it introduced me to characters who are amongst my favourite on television and ignited an interest in American politics. It's a show that you can really get stuck into so if you're looking for a new series to get into, I'd recommend season one of The West Wing as a good place to start!
I couldn't possibly give it less than 5 stars!
Summary: The best show on TV?
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