West Wing: The Complete Fifth Season (DVD)
Two administrative changes rocked The West Wing
's fifth season. Offscreen, the ship of state steered a tad off-course with the departure of series creator Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schalmme. Onscreen, President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) relinquished the power of his office to Speaker of the House Glenallen Walken (John Goodman) in the wake of his daughter's kidnapping. In the season opener, "7a WF 83429," Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) wonders if this wasn't a mistake. What if the citizenry prefer Walken to Bartlet, he ponders. What if Walken comes off more presidential? Is he kidding? Sheen's Bartlet is the president of Hollywood's dreams, and the stuff of Rush Limbaugh's nightmares. (In a character profile included as one of the bonus features on this six-disc set, Bartlet is described as an amalgam of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton!). Not to worry, though, Bartlet is back in the Oval Office by the end of the season's second episode, "The Dogs of War." The next order of business: choosing a vice president to replace the disgraced John Hoynes. Enter Gary Cole as "Bongo Bob" Russell, who, as the season unfolds, will confound misperceptions of him. Hoynes himself (Tim Matheson) returns in "Full Disclosure," in which the former vice president dishes dirt on Bartlet and chief of staff Leo McGrarry (the late John Spencer) in advance of a tell-all book. Formidable and usually unflappable press secretary C. J. has an intensely personal reason to spearhead damage control and thwart Hoynes' publishing plans.
Allison Janney, as C. J. earned The West Wing's sole Emmy this season. One of her showcase hours is "Access," a format-breaking episode presented as a Frontline-type "day-in-the-life" documentary. Other memorable episodes that helped to right The West Wing's course include "The Supremes," featuring Glenn Close as a Supreme Court nominee; the battle-of-wills episode, "Shutdown"; "Gaza," in which Donna (Janel Moloney) is severely wounded during a fact-finding mission to the Middle East; and "Memorial Day," a flashback episode that echoes "Bartlet for America" from season 3, and which ends the season on a strong note, and almost make viewers forget the Sesame Street Muppet cameos in the episode, "Eppu Si Muove." Almost. --Donald Liebenson