September 11th happened early in the season,” says director Alex Graves in his commentary. ”And by the end of the season, we were assassinating a terrorist.” The West Wing’s third season strays from its idealism and flirts with realpolitik, punctuated by a murder/music/theater finale that would make Coppola proud. The clouds of 9/11 hover over all 22 episodes: ”They’ll like us when we win!” Toby (Richard Schiff) rants to a congresswoman who thinks the administration risks alienating the Islamic world. Even the romance, like C.J.’s dalliance with her bodyguard (Allison Janney and Mark Harmon) is laced with dread. Complementing creator Aaron Sorkin’s penchant for surreal whimsy — such as President Bartlet’s mano a mano with the Butterball turkey hotline — the darker themes provide a welcome edge and moral complexity.
EXTRAS In one doc, President’s Ford, Carter, and Clinton chat about work in the actual White House, but another one examining the lives of real-life presidential aides like Charlie (Dulé Hill) gets my vote.