The West Wing: The Complete First Season (review)

It may just be the finest prime-time drama ever to grace the airwaves. The smart, snappy zingers of office politics meet the Gordian knots of global politics behind the scenes at the White House of the Bartlet administration, full of intelligent, compassion people you can’t help but wish were more than the stuff of civic fantasy. The highly honored debut season of The West Wing, which won every award from the Emmy (the most ever for a freshman series) to the prestigious Peabody, is a gift to lovers of superlative television. Dating from 1999-2000, the series eerily anticipates the challenges that the real Oval Office would face in the then-near future: a diplomatic showdown with Baghdad, fears of terrorism, nuclear saber-rattling between India and Pakistan, and problems in the space program. But it’s on the smaller stages — negotiating with Congress, managing the press, dealing with personal secrets that threaten the administration — that the stellar cast, one of the best ever assembled, really shines, bickering and teasing one another affectionately while carrying the metaphoric weight of the world on their shoulders and becoming, for fans of the series, something like old friends who give us an entree to the high places most of us will never see. Three double-sided discs contain the entire first season: 22 episodes, all in new digital transfers, some with commentaries by creator-writer Aaron Sorkin, director Thomas Schlamme, and others. A fourth disc is entirely devoted to making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, and more bonus material.

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