The Good: Exceptional acting, plots and characters
The Bad: None, it's back in fine form! (Some more DVD extras would have been nice)
The Basics: Coming out of the slight rut of season three, season four returns the Bartlet Administration to an uncluttered story of great politics and characters.
It seems lately the show I keep crowing about to all of my friends and family is The West Wing. Not since I was blown away by Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Sports Night have I spent so much time recommending a television show to others. The West Wing is completely worth it and if by the time the fourth season came around, you weren't watching it, the DVD presentation of The West Wing - The Complete Fourth Season offers possibly the final time in the series where it is easy to leap into the story and not be lost or feel like one is picking the story up too late.
President Jed Bartlet continues his campaign for re-election while his staff works toward the same goal. Bartlet, under stress for the assassination he commissioned at the end of the prior season, is given a huge boost in his confidence as Josh and Toby encourage a return to idealism about making college more affordable. The president storms to an easy and decisive victory over Ritchie, which almost immediately forms a conundrum for Sam, who finds himself leaving the Administration on a mission of political suicide. As the season progresses, the second term becomes about a quest to end a genocide in the African nation of Equatorial Kundu and the agenda of the Administration that comes to a crashing halt with the events of the season finale.
The fourth season of The West Wing is cleverly engaging, balancing well the political and the personal lives and events of the main characters with the political topics being explored by the series. On the plot front, the story brilliantly exposes the consequences of prior actions without ever being so insular as to prevent new viewers from understanding what is going on. But like all great television - especially the serialized type - this season focuses on characters. Here is how the fourth season finds the principle characters:
Donna Moss - After being stranded in Indiana, Donna discovers she voted for the wrong person for President and ends up swapping votes with a potential new beau,
Sam Seaborn - After masterminding much of the President's re-election victory, Sam finds himself in an awkward position when a promise to the widow of a dead candidate comes back to haunt him when the dead candidate unexpectedly wins the California 47th Congressional seat. Sam leaves to run in what is ultimately a fool's errand,
Leo McGarry - Holding together the staff becomes difficult as Leo works to conceal the hand he played in having the Qumar Defense Minister killed,
Abbey Bartlet - Supports Jed, even as she realizes his health is continuing to fail,
Will Bailey - Having successfully engineered a victory for a dead candidate, Sam puts Will up for his old job and he and Toby begin a partnership,
Charlie Young - Continues to assist the President but finds his attention wandering quite a bit toward Zoey,
Josh Lyman - Surviving being stranded in Indiana, Josh continues to engineer the President's re-election strategy, finds himself aiding Donna in getting her a relationship, and learns one of his old heroes is anything but,
Toby - Engineers a strategy for the President to support working families and their desire to send children to college. He then finds himself pursuing his ex-wife, who is now pregnant with twins . . . of his,
C.J. Cregg - Still reeling from the death threats on her life at the climax of the prior season, C.J. finds herself surprised when Danny Concannon returns with theories about the death of the Qumari Defense Minister and her father dying from Alzheimer's,
and President Josiah Bartlet - Wins re-election while combating his M.S. and soon finds himself policing the world when genocide in Kundu trumps his domestic agenda. All of that comes to a powerful head when Zoey graduates from college and a domestic incident occurs that changes everything.
What's great about The West Wing - especially in the fourth season - is how principled the characters are. Following the uncharacteristic desperate measures Bartlet takes in the climax of the third season, the episodes take on a renewed tone of moralism with the fights the Administration takes on truly being the good fights needed to benefit the majority of Americans. The strength of watching this season is compromised by the reality we live in. Indeed, nothing is likely to disappoint viewers of this boxed set more than turning their television sets off; being wrenched back from a reality where the United States combats genocide and deals thoughtfully with its citizenry to . . . well, what we have now, can be devastating to one's health.
In truth, though, that is the power of the best forms of entertainment and The West Wing certainly qualifies as both entertaining and enlightening. Episodes like "Swiss Diplomacy" remind the viewer of the potentials of the world while creating an entertaining environment to debate the merits of humanitarian aid to nations hostile to the United States. Even the struggles that come up between Abbey Bartlet and her aides (most notably, Josh's ex-girlfriend from season three Amy) remind the viewer of the differences between having an activist First Lady and the prior individual to occupy the post.
As with the previous seasons, the acting in this set is phenomenal. Alison Janney stands out this season for her work in such episodes as "The Long Goodbye." She continually sells C.J. as a vital, resourceful character who dominates almost every scene she is in over the hours of this season.
But that's the joy of entertainment; it whisks us away from the world we have into one we might like to have and The West Wing - The Complete Fourth Season does that quite wonderfully. The DVD boxed set is a little light on extras, but the commentary tracks are decent as are the few featurettes. Unlike a lot of effects-intense series' there is little bonus material to feature and the producers of the boxed set give a good attempt to make the set a value.
Anyone who likes great drama will find something love in this set, especially as the series progressed toward the season finale. It's clever, the dialogue is fast-paced and smart and the transfers look good on DVD. This is truly a must-own series, with this season being a great investment for anyone who wants to watch stories that will inform, entertain and effect the viewer.
For other seasons works by Aaron Sorkin, please check out my reviews of:
The West Wing - The Complete Series
Charlie Wilson's War
The Social Network
For other television program reviews please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.