on February 23, 2004
I think that in many cases, the second season of a TV show is its best season. Why is TV so often completely opposite from sophomore efforts in music and movies? From my own observations it's because in the second season of a TV show, the actors have gained a comfortable grasp on how to portray the deeper parts of their character. At the same time, the show still has the freshness of a new show, the same rich texture that won it a debut to begin with; the writers are still developing plots that don't feel stale, so the show hasn't lost that "new car smell". Of course there are exceptions: shows that run out of steam soon after they start, and shows that just seem to keep getting better even after the second season.
I don't know if The West Wing's second season is its best, but it definitely includes some of the best episodes. Great writing, great acting, great sets and music, all come together to form what has become my favorite TV show ever.
Season Two includes these episodes:
In The Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part 1)
In The Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part 2)
In This White House
And It's Surely To Their Credit
The Lame Duck Congress
The Portland Trip
The Leadership Breakfast
The Drop In
Bartlet's Third State of the Union
The War at Home
Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail
The Stackhouse Filibuster
Bad Moon Rising
The Fall's Gonna Kill You
18th and Potomac
(You can look up an episode guide if you want a quick summary of the plots; I didn't want to spoil any surprises here.)
I doubt Warner will include the special episode "Isaac and Ishmael" in this set. This episode was written after the 9/11 attacks, and aired a week before the start of Season Three; thus, if it is included with a regular season, it will probably be the third.
on February 14, 2004
For four years, the West Wing was largely considered the best show on TV, and not without good reason. Although this could have turned into a liberal lovefest, the show managed to tap into and rediscover a pride and optimism in our government that our founding fathers must have felt. Far from being venal, corrupt parasites, the politicians of The West Wing were talented and generous people who truly care about the country and struggle to make the right decisions, which often literally are between life and death. It's no wonder that this splendid little shade of fantasy continues to be popular, especially when we have becomed accustomed to expecting less and less from those who are running our country.
The West Wing's second season had the show really beginning to hit its stride. In my mind, the show hit its peak here and in the third season, with plenty of new drama and surprises. The season starts in the aftermath of the previous cliffhanger, with the President and Josh being shot by white supremacists and everyone else struggling to get through it all. Then, the season begins to move along. Among the highlights: Emily Procter begins her recurring role as Ainsley Hayes, a Republican lawyer working in the White House and constant sparring partner for Sam; another "Big Block of Cheese Day"; a great Christmas episode in which Josh is haunted by the news of a fighter pilot that shared his birthday who killed himself; an unexpected filibuster, and the discovery that the President has Multiple Sclerosis, which is impressively explored in the episode "17 People". The episode takes the form of a series of fiery dialogues between Toby and the President and is filled with tension, but is lightened up by its subplot of staffers trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with jokes for the President. The juxtaposition is inspired, and the episode sets up what would become a key issue in the show for the upcoming season.
In conclusion, this is a season that brought much bellowing laughter and heart-gripping drama, often in the same episode, which is an Aaron Sorkin trademark if there is one. The West Wing is an incredible piece of work, and it definitely merits repeat viewings. Go ahead and get it. You owe it to yourself.
on March 20, 2004
The last season ENDED in a brutal cliffhanger with an attempt on the President or Zoe. The last scenes were the staff and bystanders diving for cover as gunmen shot from windows in a nearby building. This season opens trying to untangle the confusion of that night and opens a rich, second season of the best drama on television. We are also treated to some great pre-first season moments, when the staff was managing Bartlet's presidential campaign. From my count there were 17 Emmy nominations this season - for writing, acting, and more - I've noted the episodes that were winners. My only complaint is that they're making us wait so long for these sets, when people overseas have had them already for almost a year - come on, it's OUR idealist leadership. But to quote the deputy press secretary, "let's forget that you're a little late to the party and just embrace the fact that you showed up"
> In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (1) (*emmy)
> In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (2) (*emmy)
> The Midterms
> In This White House
> And It's Surely to Their Credit
> The Lame Duck Congress
> The Portland Trip
> Noël (*emmy)
> The Leadership Breakfast
> The Drop In
> Bartlet's Third State of the Union (1)
> The War at Home (2)
> Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail
> The Stackhouse Filibuster
> 17 People
> Bad Moon Rising
> The Fall's Gonna Kill You
> 18th and Potomac
> Two Cathedrals
Being a latebloomer in everything, I accidentally discovered "The West Wing" series long after it debuted by turning away from my usual program to a station that showed the reruns. In five minutes, I was hooked.
I recommend this second season or any other season highly. The direction, script, characters, acting, drama are absolutely stirring. Once you see a couple of these stories you may develop an inability to recall any other show or program that was nearly as good during your TV watching lifetime.
This is a story of our government and how our government should operate, with characters that have ideals instead of agendas, whom you can trust, and trust not to play dirty tricks. I wish everyone in the current West Wing could be made to watch this over and over again!
The episodes of hiring the young republican counsel, Mrs. Lanningham, and the treatment of PTSD are funny, dramatic, tragic, and powerful. This is not just a cut above American Idol or survival shows (which could whip The West Wing viewer into a hypnotic trance), it is a cut above the very best of the best in TV history.
You will watch these episodes over and over again. You will feel like you own a set of classics when you purchase this season or any other, and you will no longer feel the need to apologize to European viewers for our commercial interruptions.
Too bad there aren't six stars! It's just that good.
on April 16, 2004
Aaron Sorkin is a prodigy. Nobody can write dialogue that simultaneously sounds so polished and natural like he can. He also can write well for people: his characters are believable, flawed, and heroic, and his view of the world is realistic, yet optimistic. I find myself missing my weekly dose of Sorkin's West Wing these days, but there is a prescription that can help: the West Wing DVD sets of yesteryear.
The West Wing's second season had the show really hitting its stride. The season starts in the aftermath of the previous season's cliffhanger, with the President and Josh being shot by white supremacists and everyone else struggling to get through it all. Interspersed throughout the episode (In the Shadow of two Gunmen) were flashbacks to Bartlet's presidential campaign, a framework which really worked for the episode, although I cannot put my finger on how. Then, we were off to the races. I'll never forget Bartlet's vitriolic speech to the Dr. Laura-type pundit in "The Midterms," good material to remember if you ever get engaged in a debate with someone who likes to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they like to follow. "Do I have to kill my brother for planting different crops side by side?" Great stuff. Among the rest of highlights: Emily Procter begins her recurring role as Ainsley Hayes, a Republican lawyer working in the White House and constant sparring partner for Sam. Her best episode here was "And It's Surely to their Credit," which evoked much empathy for the poor soul. Plus, an impassioned speech at the end by Sam really got the juices flowing. The episode that just blew me away was "Noel", a haunting and poignant foray into Josh's head that really showed his pain underneath the facade of composure. The scene with Yo-Yo Ma alone was unbelievably intense. Perhaps the defining moment in the season is the discovery by Toby, and subsequently everyone else, that the President has Multiple Sclerosis, which is impressively explored in the episode "17 People". The episode takes the form of a series of fiery dialogues between Toby and the President and is filled with tension, but is lightened up by its subplot of staffers trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with jokes for the President. The juxtaposition is inspired, and the episode sets up what would become a key issue in the show for the upcoming season. "Two Cathedrals" was another episode with such raw emotional power -- the president announces his M.S. and contemplates whether or not to run. The final shot alone will send chills down your spine. This was surely Sorkin's best season on the show, in terms of narrative power (and that says a lot). It's what he does best: portraying the complex and jagged emotions that pervade us, consciously and subconsciously. Lord knows I miss him. Come back, Aaron. Please! We need you now more than ever.
In conclusion, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative (or whatever in between), this is a show that you can enjoy. This is substantial entertainment, there's comedy, but also pathos, problems to solve and the interplay of emotions, ideas, and forces outside our control. Words cannot convey my deep respect for this show (and I don't even consider myself liberal). Get it, and see television as it once was, and as it might again be one day.
on August 2, 2004
The second season, is absolutley wonderful, probably my absolute favorite of the 5 seasons that presently exist. Seasons 2 and 3 are, in my opinion, the peak of what Sorkin has given us. Especially now that John Wells has really taken over.
But this season goes beyond any expectation you could have for a show giving you sincere drama and Grade A acting that really pulls you into the story.
There are a few episodes in this season that would make it worth the money alone, which i list below.
In the shadow of two gunmen - pt. 1 & 2 - A great two part episode, detailing the previous choas of the shootings and incorperating flashbacks of the senior staff. Definetly not something to be overlooked.
Noel- My absolute favorite episode of the season. Being forced to see a therapist,you gradually see how Joshs' trauma is affecting him more and more. It really shows a great detail of the complexity and metally unsettled he is underneath his placade surface. You're being brought inside the persons mind and feeling what he is going through. He doesn't find the therapy nessecary and throught the session he continually resists with witty remarks agasint Stan, the therapist. He doesn't like the idea that someone he doesn't know is delving into a disturbing part of himself that he wants to stay away from. Compelling music and cinematography bring the episode to a climax when Josh and Stanley are going over what happend at the Yo-Yo ma concert. Incredibly moving episode.
The Stackhouse Fillibuster- A lighter episode, still containing great entertaining qualities. CJ, Josh and Sam all write emails to their fathers in the time of the fillibuster, and the scences gracefully move in and out of action and the self-narrative characteristics of the emails.
Ellie- Dealing both on a personal and professional note, this episode entails the relationship of the President and one of his daughters, after her comments on the Surgeon Generals position in politics.
18th and Potomac - This episode begins with the tensions of a planned admission to the public that the President has MS. Leaves you hanging a tad when you learn that the Presidents seceratary and long-time friend has been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.
Two Cathedrals - If 18th and Potomac left any sort of wanting, Two Cathedrals more than makes up for it in so many ways. The White House Staff awaits the presidents desicion of wether he will be running again or not. Things come to an apparent low when it seems that he might not run.
The funeral that proceeds most of the episode is very touching, moving and disturbing at the same time. One of the more powerful scenes in the season occur when the President stands alone in the Cathedral, denouncing God as a thug, exclaiming in Latin - "Am I really to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments. I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your work. To hell with your punishments. To hell with you."
The entire episode, Pesident Bartlet has flashbacks of his teen life, from when his relationship with his secratary first started off.
Things get darkest before dawn towards the end of the Episode, where a distraught Bartlet calls for his dead secratary, and realizes she isn't coming. When suddenly he she walks through the door and "consoles" Jed on what he is going through.
There are little things in this episode that you absolutley have to pay attention to if you want to get the full affect. If you pay attention, you don't have to wait untill Season 3 to know what his answer is to wether or not he is running for a second term.
Overall, the best drama i've ever watched. Stunning and remarkable achievments in television, and well worth buying. You don't have to interested in politics to love this show, even though i think it helps.
It's shows like this that reaffirm your belief that there is still quality programming out there, don't let this season of remarkable episodes evade you.
The West Wing is a look at the operations of White House and current events from a Democratic point of view. This season was filmed during the last year of the Clinton administration through the beginning of the Bush administration. They tend to center around social issues and never criticize the actual administration. They also have a tendency to bring up general issues from a political view that the general public never thinks of when they listen to the evening news. Now I am a die hard Reagan Republican and I have never taken offense with the show (I sometimes disagree with their stance but never thought that they were malicious.)
This is a generally brilliantly written and directed series. The only complaint that I have is at times the writting gets a little smug. The lines are a little too "look at how smart I am." I think that they are trying to copy David Mamet's style of writing. The only problem is that despite how brilliant Mamet is 22 episodes of Mamet will get on anyone's nerves. I want to empisize that this is a minor flaw in a great season.
As we left season 1 of The West Wing, the President, his daughter and the White House staff were leaving a lecture when gunmen opened fire.
Season Two is presented on 4 double sided DVD's (Twenty two episodes on discs 1 -3 and extras on disc 4). The following is (hopefully) a brief summary of each episode and extra:
Disc One Side A:
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen - The aftermath of the shooting. The President and Josh have been shot. This turns into a flashback on how the West Wing staff came together. Anna Devere Smith makes her debut as the National Security Advisor.
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 2 - The ground spotter is arrested and it is discovered that Charlie not the President was the target. The flashbacks continue.
The Midterms - The midterm elections are impending and it looks like democrats might take back the House. The staff is still recovering from the attack. Sam fields a Congressional candidate only to have the candidate's past come to haunt him. The President obsesses over an old candidate who is running for a local school board seat. The best scene is at the end when the President uses the Bible to take down an ultra conservative talk show host.
In This White House - Sam appears on a political talk show and gets trounced by a Republican woman. The President has her hired on staff. An African leader (Zakes Mokae - one of South Africa's greatest actors) comes to the White House to discuss AIDS drugs for Africa and his country is overthrown. Emily Proctor joins the cast.
Disc One Side B:
And It's Surely to Their Credit - Ainsley's first day is nothing to write home about. The President has recovered from his wounds and is ready to be with Abby but can they find time? A retiring General wants to public criticize the President.
Lame Duck Congress - The WW needs the Senate to ratify a test ban treaty. But after looking at the new Senate make-up, they decide to look into a lame duck session.
The Portland Trip - Press junket on Air Force 1. Josh discusses a ban on gay marriage with a gay senator who voted for it. Leo deals with a ship with possible contraband oil.
Shibboleth - Thanksgiving is coming and CJ must pardon a turkey. Chinese refugees arrive by container ship in San Diego. Leo's sister is put up for appointment.
Disc Two Side A:
Galileo - The President has scheduled a video conference with 60,000 students for the Galileo Mars landing but NASA loses the signal. Josh and Donna must choose a stamp (which comes down to a debate on Puerto Rico statehood.) This was undoubtedly the episode that Alison Janney submitted for the Emmys as she is brilliant.
Noel - Josh is forced to see a trauma counselor (Adam Arkin). The White House prepares for Christmas. A fighter pilot breaks formation and crashes his jet. A White House painting is discovered to be from Nazi plunder.
The Leadership Breakfast - The staff plan a bipartisan kickoff breakfast which becomes the first volley in the reelection. Sam is sent on a reconciliatory dinner with a writer Leo accidentally insulted.
The Drop-In - The return of Lord John Marbury (Roger Reese). The President is to address an environmental group. CJ must ask a controversial comic to turn down an honor.
Disc 2 Side B:
Bartlett's Third State of the Union - This episode is what happens after the President gives the State of the Union. Additionally, five DEA agents have been abducted.
The War at Home - The post State of the Union continues. A mission to save the DEA agents turns out to be a trap. (Great performance by Stockard Channing)
Ellie - The Surgeon General makes a controversial comment about marijuana. And First Daughter Eleanor (not Zoe) gets into the act. The President is quoted about denouncing a film he's never heard of.
Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail - Its big block of cheese day. Senior staffers meet with groups that usually do not get a chance to meet with the White House. Sam reviews Presidential pardon applicants. (Great cameo by Anna Devere Smith)
Disc 3 Side A:
The Stackhouse Filibuster - A minor Senator holds a filibuster when the White House refuses to include his amendment in the bill. This causes problems for all White House staff.
17 People - Toby suspects that the Vice President might be running next year. Leo and the President tell Toby that he has MS. (He is person #17 to know.) The staff try to punch up the President's Correspondence Dinner speech.
Bad Moon Rising - The President and Leo consult the White House Counsel. (Oliver Platt joins the cast as Oliver Babbish.) Toby wants CJ to find a White House leak while he melts down over the news he learned about the President. An oil tanker sinks, the one Sam told the company not to buy in the first episode.
Disc 3 Side B:
The Fall's Gonna Kill You - The staff has been told about the President's MS. White House counsel starts to interview staff.
18th and Potomac - Damage control begins. The law suit for big tobacco is in trouble. Mrs. Landingham is killed by a drunk driver.
Two Cathedrals - The press conference is eminent. Young Jed meets Mrs. Landingham. Mrs. Landingham's funeral.
Disc 1 Side 1 Commentaries: In the Shadow of the Gunmen Pt 1 - Commentary by Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, Bradley Witford & Janel Moloney and In the Shadow of the Gunman Pt 2 - Commentary by Sorkin, Schlamme and Martin Sheen
Disc 2 Side 1 Commentaries: Noel - Commentary by Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme and Bradley Whitford.
Disc 3 Side B Commentaries: 18th and Potomac - Commentary by Aaron Sorkin, Robert Berlinger and Kathryn Joosten.
Featurette: Constructing Two Cathedrals - A 18 minute documentary on the episode with writer Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme and production staff. This is an interesting look at the making of a turning point episode.
Access Granted - This is a unique way of setting up the photo gallery by area. You start with a blueprint of the White House and navigate to each room that has a photo gallery. At the beginning there is a 15 minute documentary on the production design with designer Jon Hutman and producer Thomas Schlamme. It's a good look at the actual production design for the series.
Gag Order - just over one minute of bloopers - fun but too short
Deleted Scenes - 10 minutes of 9 deleted or abridged scenes - The only problem is that there is no setup for these scenes, so we don't know why this was deleted or just abridged.
on April 29, 2008
This is an EXCELLENT SERIES! Like others I absolutely recommend purchasing any of the series. However, I wanted to offer a warning.
I have all of the seasons. I received them all from Amazon (most were Christmas gifts).
4 of the sets had defective disks. There would be at least one episode that you could not play without it skipping. Please make sure you watch the episodes completely within the 30 return period to be sure that there are no defective disks. Amazon is very good about replacing the set if there are defects but there is a time limit. It is hard to get through 20+ hours of tv watching in 30 days!
Also- Sets 1-3 (and maybe 4) have programming on both sides of the disks. Seasons 1 & 2 are my favorites and have been watched many times. Over time the disks seem to "split" in the center and skipping occurs now throughout the programming. There are no scratches on the disks and the skipping is inconsistant (always happens on the disks now, but not always in the same place).
This issue does not seem to occur with the later sets (programming only on one side). There is no way to replace the disks once this starts happening. If you have a way to "backup" the first few sets I would recommend it if you plan to watch them often. Not an issue if you are only likely to watch them once.
on December 27, 2006
I became hooked on The West Wing the moment I saw the final scene of the first episode when President Bartlett was speaking to the seaman from a ship in the US Naval fleet caught in a hurricane. I added these comments, however, because while some reviewers suggested this was the best season, there was no direct comment on what I thought was the single best episode of this single best season. I have watched a lot of television, and it is my opinion that the last episode of the season, "Two Cathedrals" is probably the best piece of drama ever on television. And the dramatic climax (next to the last scene) is written, acted, and produced (including the musical soundtrack accompanying it)at least as well as any scene from a feature film. If you haven't seen it, you should buy this DVD, for that reason alone. But there are plenty of other reasons.
on August 18, 2012
Back when I had money, I invested $75 in Amazon.com's Prime feature, which among other things lets me stream live video from a variety of sources, including movies and TV shows.
Being a would-be screenwriter, I am always looking for ways to improve my scripts, so I have been watching various TV shows over the last few months. In the last few weeks I have rediscovered 'The West Wing,' a show about a fictional President of the United States, Jeb Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen.
I have watched the season in order, so as not to break continuity, and I reached the end of season 2 just yesterday.
Before I continue, a bit of background on the series might be useful. President Bartlett has MS, but has hidden it from the public. Up until the second to last show of season 2, only 16 other people knew about his condition, including his doctor wife, who had been treating him. He had made a deal with her that he would only serve one term as president.
Now, as we come to the end of season two, his secret is about to come out, and he faces a choice of whether to run again and face the ire of not only his wife, but likely the Republicans and his own party. Not to mention the fact that he or his wife could face perjury charges because of mistakes made along the way, and impeachment too.
Into all this drama, we have a hostage situation in a foreign country. It is an extremely tense time and the drama is palpable.
Then, at the end of the second to last episode, the president's secretary, Mrs. Lanningham, is killed by a drunk driver.
My first thoughts on hearing that was 'WTF?' What on earth would make writers kill off a sweet old lady like that just as the drama of everything else was reaching a climax? I mean, really?!
As a writer I couldn't see the point of killing off a character like that. So it was with a degree of indignation that I watched the next episode, 'Two Cathedrals.' By the end of that episode, hell, even a quarter of the way through it, I was in tears. It takes a lot to make me cry.
We see Jeb at Mrs. Lanningham's funeral, and after it's over, he asks for some time alone in the cathedral, where he blames God and his lying about MS for her death and for everything else that has gone wrong. Then he tells God he can have the Vice President as the next candidate and leaves.
A tropical storm is now showering rain, lightning and thunder on the Capitol. President Bartlett asks one of his aides if this was unusual for May, and was told it had never happened before. He adds this to his list of things he blames God for, and when he is left alone in the Oval Office, the windows fly open suddenly and it storms and rains. He calls for Mrs. Lanningham out of habit and there she is.
She chastises him for blaming God for her death and tells him if he wants to blame anyone but himself for his problems, and the choice he has to make, then she doesn't want to know him. Then she's gone and the president is soaked.
He now goes before a press conference to discuss his disease and of course, the first question asked is 'are you going to run again?' He pauses, asks to repeat the question and then puts his hands in his pocket, having made up his mind, and then the camera fades.
Now, as I said, through most of this episode I was in tears, and since I was in the library at the time, I must have looked and sounded strange, but I couldn't help myself.
That was the single best episode of any program that I have ever seen, and all it cost was the life of a minor character.
I have to wonder, in whatever writing I do in the future, could I do that? Could I kill off someone small and unimportant to set up the best writing I could do?
I just don't know.