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Cult | News | 26 October 2004

West Wing 4 DVD

Review: Presidential drama still gets our vote.

Four seasons in, and The West Wing still makes you proud to be an American. Even if you've never been there.

Martin Sheen's eloquent President now looks even more like a cruel satire on George Bush, especially when he's fighting for re-election against a stumbling Republican nitwit.

We know Bartlet is going to win (otherwise, there'd be a complete cast change), so these episodes are oddly unsatisfying.

The cracks are starting to show. Long-forgotten regular characters come back with little explanation, people who we assumed were going out with each other suddenly aren't, and, worse, there's just not enough Stockard Channing.

This was the season that saw exits in front of and behind the camera. Aaron Sorkin, the show's controversial creator, left under an enigmatic mushroom cloud. Was he fired? Did he quit? Whatever, suddenly nine staff writers are in the end credits. Someone kicked up a fuss.

It's clear there's a spot of bother when they start playing around with the formula – but it saved the X Files, and here gives us a remarkable standalone episode about Alzheimer's, one set on Air Force One, and a peculiar flashback about the Jewish Mafia. In Yiddish.

The President also has to cope with his nasty new secretary (Lily Tomlin, playing a cranky goat-rearing control freak), the Chief Justice speaking in verse, his loathing of the French ("poofy hairdressers"), and an international crisis when an African country no-one's heard of starts hacking itself apart with machetes.

There are some great guest spots - including Matthew Perry, and Christian Slater, who manages to steal an episode without actually being in it.

Welcome as this box set is, it's a very basic edition. There are no special features, and menu screens look like they've been made on a DVD Recorder. There aren't even episode titles. But there are subtitles in Norwegian.

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