Get out your hankies for the moving final season of The West Wing
. It's not just because it's the last season, and the last time we know we'll hear that thrilling theme music. It's not just because it's the end of the line for the administration of President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (Martin Sheen), an inspiring, beloved fictional leader of the free world in a time of great cynicism about real-life politicians. It's also because of the sudden, untimely death of costar John Spencer, who played chief of staff Leo McGarry, who, like his character, was a recovering alcoholic and died of a heart attack in December 2005. Spencer's death was worked into the season's story line, and it's both exhilarating to see some of Spencer's finest work in the early episodes here, and heartbreaking to see the impact of his death on the cast. At one point, Martin Sheen delivers a moving on-air tribute: "Johnny, it seems we hardly knew you." Other highlights of the season include the fleshing out of presidential candidates Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, both respectable, admirable and worthy opponents. And in abundance are the things viewers had come to love about the show: the witty dialogue and spot-on delivery, especially by actors Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, and the crack Allison Janney and the long tracking and circular shots of characters in their element (subsequently found on creator Aaron Sorkin's follow-up series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
). If the story lines aren't as topnotch as some in earlier years, it hardly matters, as this is the season that wraps up the entire story arc. The gimmicks, like the live debate between Smits and Alda's characters, don't hold a candle to the true soul-searching and idealism found in every single episode. The set includes all 22 episodes, a glossy guide to each episode, and "Live from the Director's Chair," a mini-doc about filming the live debate episode. Hail to the chief! --A.T. Hurley
The seventh season of the West Wing chronicles the transition between the administration of President Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet and the race for the new presidency between Congressman Mathew Vincente Santos of Houston, Texas and Senator Arnold Vinick of California. The season includes the live episode of "The Debate" and ends with a new administration in the West Wing.