Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pilot Review: Madam Secretary

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Premiered September 21 at 8pm

It’s pilot season, which means that there will be new concepts across all the networks. From CBS, master of procedurals, we have this attempt to dramatize the secretary of state’s office. Tea Leoni is not an actress I’m particularly fond of, and while I’m not sure that this show would be any more compelling if someone else had been cast in the lead role, but it certainly doesn’t do the show any favors. She doesn’t have the gravitas or the charm needed to play this part, though it’s not as if the show around her is all that well-constructed either. The setup has Leoni’s Elizabeth McCord positioned as a retired CIA officer turned small-town professor living on a farm, a definitive fish-out-of-water for Washington politics. As the president said to her, she’s a perfect choice because she doesn’t even know there is a box, looking at a world affairs through a certifiably non-political lens. What it’s reduced to, instead, is a pissing match between Elizabeth and Chief of Staff Russell Jackson, who steps in at almost every moment to subvert her ability to consult directly with the president. It was almost comical to hear the president tell Elizabeth that her way hadn’t worked and that he was going with Russell when Russell had manipulated Elizabeth in the first place to do something she didn’t want to do. Zeljko Ivanek has had much better roles than Russell in the past, and Keith Carradine is a formidable choice to play the president, also privy to stronger parts in his recent career. Tim Daly gets to play the star of Elizabeth’s home life, which isn’t all too enthralling and now involves, you guessed it, a major conspiracy. This show wants to be a sentimental, evocative political drama with a bit of “Scandal” mixed in, and I don’t think it’s any of those things.

How will it work as a series? Let’s hope that there are bigger things for Elizabeth to worry about than having to text the president’s wife to cut Russell out, and that she’ll be able to continue making overdramatic achievements like naming all a polygamist king’s wives. I don’t see that being terribly appealing, but maybe others will find it enjoyable.
How long will it last? This pilot appealed mostly to older viewers, which may actually be a good thing since CBS wants to corner more than just the young adult market, which is always the aim of broadcast networks. As long as this show doesn’t belly-up like “Commander-in-Chief,” a strong start should guarantee this show an early renewal for a second season.

Pilot grade: C-

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