October 22, 2004

Review: West Wing Series 6

[This article contains some spoilers – for people who are up to series 5 and also those who have watched series 6 episode 1]

The West Wing returned to US screens on Wednesday after a 6 month break. If you're not familiar with the West Wing, then get your nose out of your Computer Science text book and join the fun. Not to be confused with Green Wing, a new Channel 4 comedy which looks like turd, The West Wing is NBC's Presidential drama set in the White House of President Josiah Bartlett, an idealist that makes Noam Chomsky look like a hawk.

Created just prior to the 2000 'actual' US election, creator Aaron Sorkin decided on a lovely airy fairy liberal to run the dramatised US, which actually was probably the way to go. Try as hard as you like, it's just that much harder to empathise with Republicans. Not only are they more hard-nosed than their Democrat opponents, you just can't see them getting a bloody nose from the other side.

Series 1 set the scene of America dealing with all kinds of complicated legislation spoken about at 60 words a second, along with the character dramas (alcoholism, unrequited love) which kept it feeling real. It ended on a cliffhanger with an assassination attempt that nearly succeeds, and from then on The West Wing was somehow urgent, scared, introverted and pacey. Quite frankly, it was great.

3 consecutive Emmy awards later, and The West Wing took a bit of a jolt. Aaron Sorkin, who had written virtually everything for the first 4 years, announced he was leaving. In to replace him came John Wells, head of another NBC drama, ER. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of a soap opera, as medical emergency followed political emergency until the White House was in a permanent state of chaos. And so at the end of Series 5, broadcast earlier this year, one main character was on death's door, another minor character was dead and buried, and Bartlett was being persuaded by all his advisors to nuke the Middle East (well, nearly).

So Series 6 brings us to a bit of a turning point. Sadly artistic licence only goes so far, and Bartlett really can only serve two terms, which are nearly up. Wells and his team are having to think 'what next?' in terms of the series as a good story, and as a continuing ratings success. Ratings, incidentally are well off what they were in the first two years when TWW was one of the top two dramas in the US. It's now second just in its timeslot.

The immediate answer is to shake up the characters, with major upheaval planned in the next few weeks. Bartlett's right hand man, Leo McGarry is somehow going to be written out of most of the season (illness or a return to alcoholism are the expected reasons) and CJ, the brilliant press secretary is stepping up to No.2. This is somewhat strange, as she's probably about fifth in line, but episode one of the new series saw her as one of only two people backing the President's attempts to get peace in the Middle East. CJ is a great strong character played by Allison Janney (American Beauty), who is probably one of the most underrated actresses in the US (and that's after the Emmy awards).

Meanwhile, up steps the Deputy National Security Adviser to a main character role, as only the third new major character since the show began. No prizes for guessing that National Security's going to be a major theme then!

Other characters get shifted around, and there's a new Press Secretary and Personal Assistant to Bartlett coming into the show later this series.

But on the long-term front, Wells has brought in two American heavyweight actors who are expected to be the Bush/Kerry that scrap it out after Bartlett. One is Alan Alda (ER, Mash), and the other is Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue or something like that). One republican, one democrat.

But there's a third winner in the inevitable election. And that's the viewers. Critics are fairly unanimous that The West Wing is off top form now, and that bringing in a whole new cast is unlikely to fix the problems with the writing and plotlines. So this third outcome would see the show, as well as Bartlett's presidency end. And to be honest, it's probably the right decision. As much as US TV networks love to create spin-off shows (Law and Order having numerous spin-offs), The West Wing is a slightly different kettle of fish.

British viewers may never find out though. Channel 4 don't really care much about the series any more (Series 4 is up against EastEnders in case you missed it in the schedules) and ratings here are slipping massively. The DVDs are up to Series 3, and so Series 6 seems a long way off. Without wishing to condone criminal activity, perhaps the only way we're going to see Series 6 onwards is through alternative channels.

Series 6 looks great so far – episode one was snappy, dramatic and tense. But the writers can't keep it up, and even if they could they're risking turning the show into a cop drama, with Bartlett as Chief and the rest of the world banged up to rights every episode. It's just time to admit that the show is over the hill, and its legacy will last longer if it's put back to bed soon.

- 37 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. rod

    The DVDs are up to series 4 (not 3); you can buy or rent series 4 from lots of sources. But does anybody know when 5 is coming to DVD?

    03 Dec 2004, 19:33

  2. john

    I would also like to know when series 5 is coming to dvd

    14 Dec 2004, 22:29

  3. Hamish

    As a devoted fan of The West Wing, I have been extremely disappointed with channel 4s abandonment of the quality series, in favour of trash television. I also am an avid fan of NYPD Blue and have long-since given up on ever seeing any more of that. It's unlikely Series 5 of The West Wing will be available on DVD until it's close to being broadcast on Channel 4, otherwise any advertising they do sell for the broadcast wouldn't be worth much. Series 4 only became available in this country just before the mainstream broadcast, but well after E4 had shown it.

    Having seen Series 5 (don't ask) I think major errors were made both by losing Rob Lowe and in the selection of his replacement.

    28 Jan 2005, 08:49

  4. Jonty

    I think the show is outstanding but yet again suffers because of C4's lack of imagination. I guess buying Series 5 from the US on DVD would be one option. Alas no-one seems to have a date for its release either here or in the US.

    31 Jan 2005, 18:04

  5. Iain

    The DVD's in America come out a lot later than in the UK. WW is broadcast on NBC and then re-run on Bravo later on in the year. Contractual agreements state that WW cannot be brought out on DVD until the series has finished been re-run on Bravo. So whilst in the UK, we can buy Series 4, Americans only got Series 3 just before Christmas.

    Does anyone know when Series 6 will start on E4 in the UK?

    10 Feb 2005, 13:00

  6. Viking Matt

    Glad to see other people struggling to find a release date for the 5th series. As for seeing on the box, I can only praise both Swedish and Norwegian TV, as both have shown the full series 5 on the state teretial channels. Series 6 cannot be far away, but I have to agree with others in saying that series 3 and 4 have been far less inspiring than series 1 and 2 (with the exception of episode 1 of series 3), and the loss of Rob Lowe and Aaron Sorkin has been a hard blow. The Josh Lyman character has stepped up and filled some of the vaccum, but Sam's replacement (in Will Balley) has been a failed excursion and now Toby has no-one to bully.

    11 Feb 2005, 09:17

  7. graham farrell

    You can download all of series 5 and series 6 1–14 from SHAREAZA peer-to-peer.

    15 Feb 2005, 10:47

  8. rose

    I am a huge fan of WW. I live in Spain and a friend from home tapes the current shows and sends them to me. Season 5 was a big disappointment. Alan Sorkin is sorely missed. Will Bailey has been banished to the VP's office. I thought he fit in well. The shows that introduced him were well written. I don't like this new Deputy National Security Advisor character. CJ as Chief of Staff – I didn't see that coming. I don't think it was credible. Bartlett would not have so easily dismissed Leo. And the shows about bringing peace to the Middle East – as if. (What is happening today between Israel and the PLA is a totally different scenario). I'll continue watching Season 6 but I doubt any shows will compare to the Seasons 1–4. I saw Season 5 for sale in Gibraltar. My absolute favourite episode is from Season 1 – the one about capital punishment. A classic!

    16 Feb 2005, 13:32

  9. Danielle


    I love the west wing too. Luck you guys in the UK got series 5 all in one hit. Series 5 started in Australia just before Xmas over non rating summer period, however soon as the rating season stared up , Ch 9 just dropped the show about 7 ep in. Anyway HMV in the UK is pre-ordering series 5 now and it should be on sale by the 25/4/05 (See hmv.co.uk). Hope this helps.

    27 Feb 2005, 14:28

  10. jennifer

    did i watch somewhere that toby's brother dies? can anyone tell me where that is from?

    08 Mar 2005, 13:00

  11. Yep, he does. It's towards the end of series 6, not a big storyline but it is part of a great episode – probably the best in a couple of years. And it'll shock the hell out of you!

    08 Mar 2005, 13:08

  12. Rebecca

    Series 5 comes out on DVD on 25th April, according to Amazon.co.uk.

    13 Mar 2005, 22:02

  13. Matt

    Series 5 was amazing, i have sat down and watched the entire series in 2 days, (the joys of being a student) I eageley await series 6 coming out on dvd!

    30 Apr 2005, 18:11

  14. t0nypx

    I have seen all of Series 5 and All of Series 6, series 6 take another bit of fantastic writing to greater levels with the current presidency approaching its completion and the search for a NEW president is on, with the Deputy favourite and waiting in the wings, however Josh is unsure…........... I will buy series 5 soon, and when 6 comes out I advise you watch it.

    01 May 2005, 21:42

  15. Dawn

    Series 5 is out on DVD in Hong Kong

    06 May 2005, 09:15

  16. sa

    any one heard any rumours of when we'll get series 6 in the UK?
    on tv or DVD?
    may spontaneously combust without it…

    10 May 2005, 18:22

  17. simon

    i have just found the website could anyone please tell me when series 6 will be released
    in england, Ijust got through series 5 and eagerly awating the new series

    26 May 2005, 05:10

  18. Heather Teale

    West Wing 6 is due to be released on 26 September 2005 as per hmv.co.uk

    31 May 2005, 23:00

  19. Marcus

    Delighted series 6 is coming out. I am a politics teacher and am teaching British and American comparative politics. It is the best teaching aid on American politics there is.

    02 Jun 2005, 00:41

  20. Si

    If it makes you feel any better, I've seen the sixth series and it ROCKS!

    05 Jun 2005, 23:32

  21. fiona

    some of you have said you've seen series 6, where? and how can i see it.
    ww is the best thing on telly

    22 Jun 2005, 13:56

  22. bethany

    when does the 5th season come out in the us? I know its in the uk and australia but I can't find it here.

    14 Jul 2005, 00:08

  23. Lobster

    West Wing Season six released on 26 September, pre order available on amazon.

    04 Aug 2005, 16:40

  24. Bob

    Please tell me when and where I can purchase season 5 in the US!!! THANKS

    07 Aug 2005, 08:36

  25. suzy

    okay, when does seasons 5 and 6 come out in the US on dvd? and, do they show season six on Bravo? or C4? eventually? and, can i really download them from SHAREAZA? and if i buy the uk dvd, it wont run on my us dvd player right? THANK YOU!!
    much love.

    18 Aug 2005, 23:58

  26. Karen

    It depends on which region format they are purchased in. In europe it is most likely that they will be in region 2 format. so they wont run if you have a region 1 player, but you can 'hack' your player so that it becomes a multi region player. You would need to search the net for the appropriate hack instructions for your make and model. Not all DVD players are hackable, but if you are keen it is worth a try.

    30 Aug 2005, 16:06

  27. BullDog

    if parts of season 5 sent you to slepp then season 6 will wake you up from the first episode and keep you wide awake for the next 21 shows.

    it is simply stunning and a huge return of form.

    just a shame that C4 won't air it til October but then again it'll be on DVD at the end of Sept :D

    05 Sep 2005, 15:04

  28. Kevin

    According to: westwing.bewarne.com …...
    Season 5 North American DVD: Set to be Released Dec. 6

    06 Sep 2005, 04:25

  29. Ciaran

    Can someone explain something to me. I totally missed Series 5 on C4. The last episode i saw was Zoe being kidnapped. I am pretty sure that was Series 4. 6 is coming out now on C4's new station. Were was it or were was I?

    09 Oct 2005, 19:16

  30. Kate Valente

    I seem to have missed series 5 as well – I am sure the last on C4 was Series 4 and the end was when Zoe was kidnapped…......very confusing going straight from 4 to series 6 on More4!!

    16 Oct 2005, 19:54

  31. Alastair

    Just finished series 6 last night. Wow, very different from the traditional day to day west wing we know and love, but every bit as good.

    Series 6 has made me change my mind, by the end of 5 I was prepared to see the end of the show (and go into mourning) but 6 was sharp and crisp enough to suggest that the new team may still have the legs to continue.

    Anybody got news of a 7th series filming?

    21 Oct 2005, 15:28

  32. Lee

    I've just got 4 more episodes to watch in Series 6 and I have to say it is quality and I am already looking forward to series 7. I think the new charactors have replaced what was missing from series 4 and 5.

    28 Oct 2005, 15:29

  33. arev

    i am in australia and channel 9 here messed around with west wing for years then abandoned it half way through series 5. i have nt seen the end of that series but this morning watched the end of series 6 to me the best series yet.
    the last episode was amazing showing how the yanks pick their candidates.
    my daughter owns all 6 series on dvds and will buy the 7th when it comes out. shouldnt be too long in the states as they show episodes monday through thursday i believe which is a long way from our once a week maybe(unless something higher rating came up) at around 11.30 pm

    01 Dec 2005, 23:21

  34. big gaz

    I just finished watching episode 6 last night along with the Mrs. FYI DVD box sets of this are being sold in EUROPE before they are being sold in the US.

    Should the DVD's not come for sale where you are then remember the internet and www.ama?on.co.uk can be .nl. com, .tv etc so you can happily order them I also note that ama?on is selling multi-region dvd players at 19.99 at the moment…

    My question is, can anyone tell me who wins the election in series 7

    20 Dec 2005, 16:37

  35. matt

    Series 5 did lose 'it' for a while but series 6 is excellent. I get the impression the writers are positioning for a series beyond series 7 but this would be a bad idea.
    I actually came on the site to find out – what happened to Sam Seabourne? He just dropped off the face of the planet. I read that he returns in series 7 but how does the show account for the four years he was absent?

    29 Dec 2005, 01:11

  36. scott

    sam seabourne went off to be senator of orange county , ive just read he's back at the end of season 7

    03 Mar 2006, 19:58

  37. Laura

    The green wing is not a new show, its on its second series due to HIGH demand. What does that tell you? its NOT turd…thats what.

    24 Mar 2006, 02:36

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