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on February 7, 2006
. . . a far cry from the first four.

As has been much mentioned and debated in reviews at this website of the 5th season, all West Wing seasons after the first four (after which series creators Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme who had created the distinctive tone of the show were shown the exit by NBC) have to be considered as almost a completely different show. Even when thought of in this way, the 5th season was something of a disaster, both ratings-wise and creatively.

So this 6th season really had nowhere else to go but up. Yet, more than just going up, by mid-season the series started to hit a bit of a stride and find a new voice (whether you prefer it to the first four seasons is debatable -- personally I do not -- but at least it was watchable and good for what it was). This is the season in which the narrative of the show fractures, as most of the characters exit their original roles and take on new assignments. This includes C.J.'s unrealistic promotion from press secretary to Chief of Staff (quite an improvement for a character who didn't know what the census was for in the first season and is now the President's chief adviser on all policy issues), Josh leaving the White House to manage the presidential campaign of Rep. Matt Santos (unevenly played by Jimmy Smitts), Donna quitting the White House to work on the Vice-President's campaign, Toby doubling as press secretary, Charlie becoming a Special Assistant for C.J., and Leo becoming general wise man for the White House, with no real role except to recover from his heart attack.

The first part of the season deals with the Arab-Israeli peace talks and the aftermath of the death of Admiral Fitzwallace and Donna's injuries in the Gaza Strip. Concluding with a bitter fight between Leo and the President that leads to the aforementioned heart attack by Leo (a sadly prescient plot line given John Spencer's real life death last year from a heart attack) and C.J.'s elevation, this segment segues into the meat of the season, which is the Democratic Primary Season. While providing many interesting campaign episodes and plotlines as a result (an area the show didn't really explore as much when Bartlet ran for re-election), it also means that the amount of screen time for most characters is drastically reduced as the show rushes to cover so many different long-term plotlines. Moreover, the fragmented storytelling also de-emphasizes the West Wing part of "The West Wing," except mainly to do national security issues to give an excuse to include stories for the totally uninteresting character of Mary McCormack (involving Cuba and Castro and whatnot). Why they wasted so much screen time on her stories is beyond me. More interesting in her addition to the cast is Kristen Chenowith as Asst. Press Secretary Annabeth Schott, who becomes an even better character in Season 7.

The final part of the season deals with the Republican challenger, Senator Arnold Vinick (certainly the most interesting and complex character introduced in the post-Sorkin era and very appealingly played by Alan Alda) and ends with a chaotic Democratic Convention that leaves Leo as the surprise VP candidate to (surprise) Jimmy Smitt's character managed by Josh. The season also ends with a ripped from the headlines storyline involving the leak by a West Wing staffer of sensitive national security information . . . all leading to Season 7 -- the final season of the series and certainly the best season since the first 4.

Overall, the season isn't bad and has a narrative drive created by the election season that helps sustain interest even when individual plotlines fizzle here and there. While the dialogue is a pale ghost of what it was, some of the campaign situations are interesting to ponder and several bit campaign players acquit themselves nicely. If you're still buying West Wing DVDs at this point, then this season isn't a bad buy (certainly much more worthwhile than the previous season in which you swear your favorite characters are possessed by pod people) but Season 7 is really the season to wait to purchase.
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on March 10, 2006
The West Wing's Sixth Season was certainly a step up from its disastrous fifth season, which managed to cut the show's viewership in half and nearly got the show cancelled immediately after it. The viewing public didn't particularly take to the tenser version of TWW, complete with cliched TV spots a la Third Watch: for the episode Gaza, the narrator literally intoned "Someone from the West Wing won't be coming home." John Wells went back to his roots, and the result was unmitigated disaster. Rarely during the Sorkin era were there genuine crises to deal with (except at the end of the season, usually). West Wing is a show that you tune into for solid drama and smart, funny dialogue, not defibrilation.

Indeed, this season really proves superior to its predecessor, even though it does devolve to cheap narrative tricks at times to get people to tune in--that's right, I'm talking about making C. J. Chief of Staff when such a move in real life would make no sense, but they did get in an episode about "who's it going to be", and if it had been Josh, well, people would have been disappointed. After the wrapping up from the previous season, the show picks up with its story about the presidential race, even though the show's timeline is off by about a year. Initially there are a number of different candidates--for the Democrats, there's "Bingo" Bob Russell (Gary Cole), the replacement Vice President who might have moderate appeal but certainly has no brain; there's John Hoynes (Tim Matheson), the disgraced guy who used to have Russell's job and fancies himself a candidate, despite an adulterous scandal that involved leaking classified information. There's the Pennsylvania Governor, Baker (Ed O'Neill), who isn't in it for very long; and finally the dark horse, Texas Rep. Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits), the moderate yet forceful unknown who eventually takes the lead. From the right, it's all Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), who steals the show as a moderate California Senator who plays the game and manages to capture the nomination. Both the major candidates have a supporting cast: Vinick has Pamela Richardson (from Home Improvement), his wife/campaign manager, as well as the brilliant Stephen Root (from NewsRadio) as an adviser. Santos has Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), plus Teri Polo as his wife.

It's undeniable that part of the reason people still watch is the wish-fulfillment factor, even though that was the point in the first place. President Bartlet was a Clinton-era wish for a White House with a strong moral compass. With the nation currently under a right-wing president who is rapidly losing the support of even his most ardent believers, Republicans can watch to see a president who does, in fact, read the newspapers and make decisions based off of facts, not his "gut", and Democrats can similarly find some satisfaction in a candidate who has liberal convictions and is not ashamed of what he believes, but is politically savvy enough to avoid the culture wars. However, John Wells' conservative views are more apparent here, since Vinick is the hero of the show. In fact, it is Vinick who tells a group of corn farmers during the Iowa Caucuses that he opposes ethanol, a very gutsy move that all the candidates agree with but nobody except him says. Much like Bartlet was the ideal Democratic President, Vinick is being represented as an ideal Republican Commander-in-Chief. And say what you like about TWW, it still is much better than the show "Commander-in-Chief".

It's been said to death, but the show still ails from the departure of Aaron Sorkin. Additionally, people who tuned in only because they liked Bartlet's politics will be disappointed (although Santos is an admirable character as well). However, this season at least set up the show's final season well so that The West Wing can die with dignity instead of its last words being "Bring it on" as shouted by Josh to the Capitol Dome, or something said by the muppets, or "someone will not be coming back alive." The West Wing again becomes at least a watchable show, although one wonders if the payoff is worth the cost.
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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2006
First - the bad: There are few "extras" on this set of West Wing DVD's. The early, glory days seasons were filled with jubilant documentaries and the "commentary" tracks were insightful. In this set the only "extra" of note is a terrific little documentary on the evolution of the character of Claudia Jean Craig - remembering CJ from her introductory scene where she pratfalls off the back of a treadmill to her eventual selection to succeed Leo as Chief of Staff. Also inexcusable (given how good the prior box sets are) is lack of English subtitles. If someone at your house is hard of hearing, better hope they can read French or Spanish.

Now - to the show. I fall in the category that considers "West Wing" among the best tv shows ever. Period. I also agree that the show took a disheartening turn for the worst with the departure of creator/writor Aaron Sorkin. This season has some excellent moments, but the moments that are not excellent are nearly painful.

The season 4 finale leads President Bartlet to try to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, over the protests of everyone else, especially Leo.

Later the Prez' Multiple Sclerosis acts up just in time for an historic summit in China.

With a nod towards reality the show recognizes that a new President must be elected, and about half of this season is devoted to the primary process, paring down the Dems choices between VP "Bingo Bob" Russell, scandal-prone former VP John Hoynes, and the new "character of substance", Texas Representative Matthew Santos (played well by Jimmy Smits). Unlike the great "early years" episodes where everyone Barlet meets falls under his spell as a candidate, Santos' greatness is only apparent to Josh, who gives his resignation to the current White House and goes off to lead the Quixotic Santos campaign. Donna has also just resigned from her position as Josh's assistant, realizing he'll never see her as much other than a secretary. It's a little painful watching Donna and Will off stumping for empty-shirt Russell. The Republicans are preparing to annoint Alan Alda as Senator Arnold Vinick. Vinick must have been a liberal's dream of a Republican candidate - not aligned with the religious right and only opposed to "partial birth" abortions.

Part of the draw of the early seasons (aside from the razor sharp Sorkin dialogue) was the "we're-all-in-this-together" attitude of the entire cast - and a few times I found myself wishing for the return of Sam Seaborn.

Season Six only suffers in comparison to the brilliant first few seasons - sort of the way that "Godfather III" looks pale standing next to the first II Coppola epics. But for West Wing fans it's worth it to watch again and see moments such as when Tobey, Josh and the President tell C.J. that they're uncomfortable working for a woman Chief of Staff...
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on June 4, 2006
The West Wing is a series that my family has received very good value and mileage from. We have eagerly awaited new seasons, but this is the first one that disappointed. Not so much with the plots as with the ever changing production value of the disc set.

The lack of English subtitles is completely unacceptable. Aside from the turbo delivery or general muttering of many characters, the episodes become hard to follow in context while listening to the very drab and sparse commentary tracks. I dread to think of the hearing impaired fans of the show! There is no budgetary or creative excuse for omitting the usual mostly-accurate English transcript.

The disc holders have evolved over the seasons, and they have finally found the most inconvenient design possible. For discs that are to be rotated several times *per week* for serious fans of the show, the overlapping design is wholly impractical, and the gatefold case awkward and flimsy and unbalanced. Someone was trying to get bonus points for style.

The season itself is of course a dramatic shift, with the show essentially bifurcated into the old guard and the new candidates. I find the Bartlett storylines much more compelling, and between them the clear leaders of the cast this season are Spencer and Whitford. The marvellous Janney is essentially reset to square one at the next rung, like the eighth-grader entering junior high. Despite literally letting her hair down, McCormack plays an empty shirt, and I have not cared so little about a principal character since the Josh-foil "Mandy" in season one. No complaint against those actresses themselves, but the characters were both leagues behind the screen presence of Nancy McNally, and barbed charm of Amy Gardner.

The season also breaks the tradition of an actual life-and-death cliffhanger finale. No doubt it would've felt contrived, but it further slowed the energy of the season down.

Looking forward to seven very much.
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on May 14, 2006
I just saw that someone else posted this as well, but if anyone didn't see the other post be aware that there are NO SUBTITLES IN ENGLISH on this box set -- only in French and Spanish. However I think it probably was a mistake, because even the outside of the box itself says there are supposed to be English subtitles. However none of the discs have any English, only French and Spanish. I'm not hearing impared so it's not so important to me, but it did kind of make me angry as well, for sometimes some the of dialogue goes by so fast (and if it's a technical term I might not know it) that having the subtitles there to verify dialog being said is one of the reasons I purchase the DVDs. WON'T DO ANY GOOD IN THIS SET. It's one of those things that you don't realize how much you miss it until it's not there. I hope WB does a re-pressing and fixes the problem.. right on the case itself they state it's supposed to be English subtitles, but there's no menu options on any of the discs for it, and it's just not there. ALSO NOTE THAT THERE IS NO HEARING-IMPARED CAPTIONS EITHER (the ones where you turn on caption-text on your TV for the real hearing impared). Some DVDs have it as well, others don't. This one doesn't, so there's absolutely no English subtitling of ANY KIND on this season. FIX THE MISTAKE, WB.

The discs themselves are thankfully dual-layer one-sided ones (instead of ones where you have to "flip" the disc over to get more episodes as in some of the earlier seasons). That's better than the "flip" type because on the flip type it's hard not to touch at least one side of the discs (getting them dirty). Case is bad design though -- first time in West Wing DVDs that they "stack" two DVDs right on top of each other -- too close for comfort for scratching as far as I'm concerned.

Actual content: I assume most readers here probably know the show and the episodes... but for those who don't, the 6th season was definitely better than the absolutely horrible 5th season (wish I could just make that 5th season go away), but it starts out slow. As the campaign gets rolling the episodes become much more interesting, and whether they meant to or not, the story lines that take place back at the White House now seem stale and predictable, but there's some excellent writing on the stories that concentrate on the campaign trail.

There are only 3 episodes with commentaries on them... not anywhere near as insightful as those earlier discs with Sorkin talking... still, they're good, and it's a shame there's only 3 episodes with commentary. Some more of the major episodes should have had commentaries.

Basically, for program content I'd give it 3-4 stars (out of 5) -- with the White House-centered episodes getting a "2" and the Campaign-centered episodes getting a "5". But the way Warner Bros packaged the box this time, I really want to give a "0" or a "1" (No English subtitles, no closed-caption subtitles, stacking the disks on top of each other, less extras than usual).. so I guess all in all I'll give it a 2. More than anything I'm disappointed in the way the DVDs were done. I recorded all the episodes of West Wing off TV in very good quality... and you know, what's the reason to shell out a lot of money to buy the episodes on DVDs when the DVD set is handled poorly? It's just kind of disappointing.
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on December 15, 2012
I reviewed the previous 5 seasons with 5 stars but will not give Season 6 or 7 five stars because for some strange reason, they decided to not put English subtitles on these 2 seasons. My husband is hearing impaired and we were so disappointed that these last 2 seasons do not have captions in English. We still watched it because we love the show so much but it was difficult for him. Since he speaks Spanish, we put the Spanish captions but believe me, it is not the same but it gave him a little help.
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on May 28, 2008
I love the West Wing, but I guess the makers of this DVD boxed set didn't think that deaf people would want to watch past season 5. The English subtitles that were present on the first five seasons' worth of DVDs have mysteriously disappeared starting with season 6.

I guess deaf people have to know French or Spanish to finish up this series. What a disappointment.
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on August 4, 2006
OK, so the politics is still compelling and even eye-opening, the acting is still way above par, and it's still a smart show. But where's the funny?? The best thing about the first 4 seasons was the witty banter, the quick jokes that you might not even catch all of the first time around. I miss that! When Aaron Sorkin left the writing staff, it took a tremendous hit. They forgot to bring the funny in this season. This is not the good old West Wing that I know and love.
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on June 18, 2006
Unlike the previous 5 season releases of West Wing and also not following the broadcasts of the Sixth Season, the current release in DVD format does NOT have English sub titles. This is most unfortunate in that some of the dialog is nearly impossible to follow 100% without sub titles. In an informal viewing, not one person was able to catch all of the dialog. One of the actors was even affectionately nick named "Mumble Blond" after viewing this release.
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on April 28, 2006
The West Wing failed miserably in the fifth season, which nearly became it's last. The first four were jems and possibly the most intelligent show on television. The sixth season was a marvelous side of the West Wing that had not been fully explored yet: a true campaign. We learn to love Alda and respect Jimmy Smitts more and more as each episode progresses. This season was what saved the show from a embarrassing cancellation, which came only a year later. I miss Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme, with them, it could have ran through he entire Santos stay in the White House.
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