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HBO presents
K Street: The Complete Series (2003)

Tommy: Well, who leaked it?
James: I don't know. This is Washington. You know, who knows who leaked it?

- John Slattery, James Carville

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: July 19, 2004

Stars: Mary McCormack, John Slattery, Roger Guenveur Smith, James Carville, Mary Matalin
Director: Steven Soderbergh

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual themes, language)
Run Time: 04h:49m:10s
Release Date: July 20, 2004
UPC: 026359885426
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

You might be tempted to think that political power in Washington, DC is concentrated solely in the Capitol and the White House, but equally (some would say more) influential is the seemingly endless number of associations, public relations firms, think tanks and lobbying firms that pepper the city. Walk around downtown at lunch time and you're sure to spot a politician or political pundit in short time, and it's a good bet that many of the people you don't recognize work as aides, consultants, or other peons in the great political machine.

K Street gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and near fall of Bergstrom Lowell, a fictional consulting firm that's run by Mary Matalin (former advisor to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, playing herself) and her husband James Carville (campaign manager for Bill Clinton, also playing himself). They and co-workers Tommy Flannegan (John Slattery) and Maggie Morris (Mary McCormack) have just moved into new offices, and are engaged in the expected battle to find new clients, keep their current clients happy, and wrestle with questions of ethics and political differences—all the while dealing with a variety of personal problems. Into the mix is dropped the mysterious Francisco Dupré (Roger Guenvuer Smith), forced onto them by the firm's reclusive and eccentric owner Bergstrom (Elliott Gould).

In Week One, we're introduced to the characters, and the first conflict arises when Carville wants to help prep Howard Dean for the Democratic Presidential Debate, which doesn't make Republican Mary very happy, and Carville and Matalin interview Dupré, even though it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be hired. Week Two's conflict arises when the RIAA hires Bergstrom Lowell to put together an anti-piracy campaign, but at the same time they're representing an internet service provider that the RIAA is suing. Mary and Tony become suspicions about Dupré and decide to hire a "researcher" to look into his background and connections to Bergstrom. Maggie's annoyed because her ex Gail (Talia Balsam) hasn't called. The seeds of trouble are planted in Week Three, when rumors spread that one of the firm's clients, the Council for Middle East Progress (CMP), is really a front for a terrorist organization. We get some background information in Week Four, which flashes back to three months earlier, and shows us Gail's pursuit of Maggie and Dupré summoned to the TV-obsessed Bergstrom's apartment. Bergstrom has written a long list of Middle East-related organizations on a whiteboard, and he mysteriously wipes them away one by one until only the CMP is left. Tommy meets his father and his much-younger fiancé. A government investigation is in the works in Week Five, and Bergstrom Lowell is under suspicion, so everyone's scrambling to get legal representation.

Government officials are being very tight-lipped, and no one can get any official information about the investigation in Week Six. Dupré's happy because there will be several op-ed pieces in the newspaper about change in Saudi Arabia, which is the main goal of the CMP, but Tommy's not so cheerful when his wife finds his new porn stash. In Week Seven, the FBI swoops down on five members of the firm and tries to get them to talk, but with no luck, and in the ensuing paranoia, Maggie's assistant quits. Things go from bad to worse in Week Eight. Bergstrom won't talk directly to anyone, so they have to go through lawyers instead, and Maggie's worried that she won't be able to pay her legal fees. Carville is summoned for questioning by the FBI, where he reveals that Bergstrom Lowell doesn't check the background of their clients, and that he approved a document transferring funds for the CMP. More background is revealed in Week Nine, as we flash back two months to Tommy's meeting with a representative from the CMP, and learn more about the bizarre Bergstrom. Back to the present, and Tommy sleeps with his father's fiancé, then leaves when she collapses on the bathroom floor. It's all over in Week Ten, as Bergstrom Lowell's assets have been frozen and they're forced to sell their assets, Tommy gets interviewed by the FBI about Anna's death, and everyone's looking for new jobs. Bergstrom arrives incognito....

Many TV shows and movies have mixed fact and fiction, and used real people playing themselves, but K Street takes this to an extreme. Each of the ten episodes was shot and edited in a single week, and deals with current political issues and events, such as music downloading, the recall of California governor Gray Davis (one of the characters bets $1000 that Arnold Schwarzenegger won't win), the Democratic presidential debate, and the re-election campaign of Philadelphia mayor John Street. And it goes one step further, not only with Matalin and Carville playing themselves, but by mixing the fictional characters with real-life politicians and pundits. Every episode features anything from glimpses to long conversations with luminaries such as Jack Quinn, Senator Orrin Hatch, Branford Marsalis, Senator Barbara Boxer—and those are just a few from the first couple of episodes!

It's a shame that HBO and Section Eight (George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's production company) decided to "retire" K Street after ten episodes. Anyone one who knows Washington DC will delight in seeing the real-life locations such as Vidalia, DC Coast, and the Jefferson Hotel, and political junkies will have a field day spotting all the politicos. And the rest will enjoy the mix of fact and fiction, the conflict between the characters' professional and personal lives, the convincing acting, and the intriguing plot lines. K Street proves once again that Steven Soderbergh is one of the best directors working today.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Shot quickly on video, the image never looks great. It's a bit soft, fleshtones are quite orange in some of the episodes, and some shots exhibit white bloom. But there are no compression artifacts, so it's obvious that these are faults of the source material. Despite the packaging's claim that the aspect ratio is 4:3, it's really nonanamorphic 1.85.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is fine, but the background noise occasionally makes the dialogue a bit difficult to hear. There's little or no stereo separation, and no activity in the surrounds.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Iron Jawed Angels
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. One-page printed insert
Extras Review: This is about as bare-bones as you can get. There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Each disc is preceded by a skippable trailer for the HBO film Iron Jawed Angels, and HBO does helpfully include a printed insert that tells us that Weeks 1 through 5 are on the first disc, and Weeks 6 through 10 on the second.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Director Steven Soderbergh's ten-part series K Street mixes fact and fiction in its portrayal of a Washington, DC consulting firm that pays big for a small mistake. The documentary-style image is given a good transfer, but there are no extras of note.


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