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For my money, series three of the West Wing is probably the best one. It doesn't hit the ground running quite the way season 2 does, but in more than makes up to it in the nuance and complexity of its plots, the brilliance of the acting, and the fantastically memorable dialogue.
Series three sees Bartlett preparing for re-election while fighting off scandal, but first of all he has to get his own team back on board after a certain level of disillusionment. In this series the characters seem to show a greater level of fallibility and humanity, but then in turn they go on to show even more cunning and acumen as they struggle to overcome their weaknesses.
Series three also includes a non canon story written in the wake of 9/11. As one might expect, it addresses this tragedy with tact and intelligence, even though it does not refer to it directly. An odd episode, but by no means a bad one. I don't generally like to hear fictional shows moralising at me, but that's normally because such efforts are handled so ineptly. Not here.
The show also introduces a few new characters, and while some shine others are a little dull, but their presence is minor and does not detract from the overall sparkle of the show. In addition to the usual politics we also add a more personal level of drama as press secretary CJ Cregg finds herself receiving death threats. The stakes are also raised in international politics, as the White House finds itself having to fend off a terrorist threat, with no apparent way to do so without compromising their own moral standards.
All in all, a spectacular show, with some truly memorable moments.
The third season of the West Wing (WW), the Emmy award winning political TV drama series, kicks off with what is probably my favourite episode of the entire show's 7 season history. The cliffhanger we are left on at the end of the second season caused a few months of angst and impatience with me, and I apologise profusely to my wife if I was unbearable in this period.
The show features the Presidency of Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, and his entourage of senior staff. The show was originally intended to focus solely on the staff, with Bartlet popping up every now and then as a bit part character. However, following Sheen's performance as Bartlet, the character became the main player in the whole show, if anything.
This is the third season and the third Emmy for the show, and as such, this review may contain spoilers for those of you who haven't seen seasons 1 and 2 yet. So, be warned!
The end of season 1 left us with the cliffhanger of shots ringing out and us wondering who had been potentially shot. The second season revealed the truth about the shootings, and once everyone had recovered, we got back to the business of watching them running the country in their high-tension and fast-paced style. The episodes in the second season were rather tame in comparison until we approach the end, when the combination of the revelation of Bartlet potentially having MS, and also the death of Mrs Landingham, producing some of the greatest acting at the end of the second season and beginning of the third from Martin Sheen. This makes the first episode of the third season and the results it produces kicks the rest of the third into life with a bang.
The third season seems to feature Bartlet's troops in action more so than before with some great script writing and some better acting. The whole thing hurtles along at a fast pace that at times can hurt the brain, so fast do they talk and act. However, taking a bit of time out every now and then from the episodes is worth it for peace of mind and also to gather your thoughts and think a bit about the show and what is happening.
The show's cast is phenomenal. Joining Sheen are John Spencer, Rob Lowe, Alison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Dule Hill, Janel Moloney and others in their roles that by now seem natural and perhaps more flowing than the earlier seasons. As a resuly, more characters are slowly brought on throughout this season, and by the end of it, some of the more part time characters are affecting matters, too.
This season in particular must have beenhard to handle, as it started airing shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As such, a special episode was commissioned to deal with it, without really mentioning the complete tragedy that happened in particular but dealing with a terrorist situation. I commended WW and Sorkin at the time for dealing with it but keeping the fictional element running for the show, and it does retain political fictionality throughout the 7 seasons, although at times I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that Martin Sheen would have made a hell of a President!
The DD boxset is currently available from amazon.co.uk for a very good £13.87, which is excellent when you consider that the full RRP is arounf the £60 mark. The extras feature mainly audio commentary on some of the episodes, and some mini-docs featuring some of the cast and crew, although these are more for die hard fans that those who simply enjoy the show.
The third season of the west wing - the tv drama set inside the white house - seems to lag slightly behind the first couple of seasons. The DVD boxset doesn't help this much. It kicks of with Isaac & Ishmael - a show about September 11th and the middle east crisis which falls totally flat. President Bartlett's political battles over the issue of his MS are glossed over and put away as fast as possible, and a lot of the episodes in the series feel quite dull and lifeless. The DVD copy I had wouldn't play the episode "the Two Bartletts", so I can't comment on this. Whilst the series does have some high points it definately feels like one of the lesser series of the West Wing. You have a definite feeling at the end of the series that Aaron Sorkin is trying to put the show to rest - as the last couple of episodes play more like a series finale than a season one. Worth watching if your a fan, if you're not i would reccomend starting at the beginning
There is no letdown in talent or skill for the third season of this blue ribbon drama. One could say these 22 episodes play as a continuation of the second season; there are no major new characters or earth-shattering plots and the Emmys rewarded the series with its third straight award for Best Drama (and unlike season 4, no one argued about the laurels). The third year starts with a stand-alone episode "Isaac & Ishmael", a special show created, shot, and broadcast 22 days after the 9/11 events. Although the final results tend to be sermonic, the fact the show was able to drop everything and commit to a new season opener is evident not only of talent, but of a disciplined work force operating at the top of their game. President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) decision to run for reelection after the disclosure of suffering MS fuels the fire for the first half of the season. Depositions are filed against the staff, minor mistakes take on more significance, and the White House consul (Oliver Platt) has the run of the table warning of worst-case scenarios. The focus soon turns to the First Lady (Stockard Channing) as the potential "Lady Macbeth" of the scandal. Channing aces her role and turns her birthday celebration ("Dead Irish Writers") into one of the season's highlights. Assistant Donna (Janel Moloney), her boss Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and press secretary C.J. (Alison Janney) all have charismatic romances, but the ace supporting player this year is John Spencer as the relentlessly loyal Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. Whether delivering the hard truth, accepting the proverbial bullet for the President, or being our guide to how Bartlet ran in the first place (in another wonderful flashback episode, "Bartlet for America"), all roads lead to McGarry. Acting Emmys went to Channing, Spencer, and Janney, but the strength of this show is that the entire cast has glorious moments (Toby's taking on the President's mode of operation, Sam's belief in government, or the President's peculiarities of Thanksgiving are just a few). Recurring guest stars--the likes of Ron Silver, Tim Matheson, Mary Louise Parker, and Mark Harmon--deliver some of their career-best work. Crack writing, a breathless pace, plus you learn a bit about government. What else do you want from a TV drama? --Doug Thomas