Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review - Madam Secretary


I'm never been the biggest fan of politics-central shows, but having gotten thoroughly hooked on ABC's Scandal, and seeing preliminary footage of this new CBS drama, I was looking forward to its premiere.

In Madam Secretary, Tèa Leoni (The Naked Truth) stars as Elizabeth McCord, a former college professor and CIA analyst who has been newly appointed as Secretary of State to President Conrad (Keith Carradine, Fargo) after the current one dies in a plane crash.  In her demanding new position, she utilizes her many strengths - including a flair for languages, an extensive knowledge of the Middle East and an ability to not just think outside the box but to ignore that there even is a box - must handle international diplomacy, battle office politics and circumvent protocol while negotiating global and domestic issues both at the White House and at home. 

The cast includes Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers) as Chief of Staff Nadine Tolliver;  Geoffrey Arend (Body of Proof) as speechwriter Matt Mahoney; Patina Miller (All My Children) as press coordinator Daisy Grant; Erich Bergen as Elizabeth's assistant Blake Moran; Zelijko Ivanek (True Blood) as Chief of Staff Russell Jackson; and Tim Daly (Private Practice, Hot in Cleveland) as her husband Henry.


The pilot wastes no time getting right to McCord's very quick appointment to the position as Madam Secretary.  Leoni is very believable as a woman who would be chosen for the job - she has a natural strength and respectability, plus a sass and edginess that is very likeable.  This is not a woman whose time you'd ever want to waste.  This is set up very well by having the POTUS himself come to ask her in person to take the job.

We then jump ahead two months later, when McCord is submersed in the job. I like that instead of showing us the discussion with her family as to whether she should do it or not, we instead see how the family is coping with the change to their lives.  Her husband supports her - yay!  I also like how we just jump right into her at work.  It's so great to see another strong, confident female character who takes command of every meeting, every strategy, and how the people around her listen to her (Scandal's Olivia Pope and The Good Wife's Alicia Florrick would be proud).  Equally done well are conflicts she faces with coworkers, plans of action, and sometimes her own family.  Her husband is a great sounding board for her; when she's unsure of herself, he helps her figure out what she needs to do without directly telling her ... the mark of a great partner. 

The writing is intelligent but not so highbrow that you can't follow it, and I love moments like when Jackson sends a stylist to change McCord's look (she loves herself a pantsuit - a nod to Hillary C.?) and is told she doesn't have a choice in the matter, McCord simply replies "See, here's the problem:  I've never met a situation where I don't have a choice in the matter."  Even though she eventually did change her look (a temporary strategic move), it was on her terms to serve her own needs and not because someone told her to because she's supposed to look a certain way.  You go, lady!

I also love lines like this that show just what this woman is made of:  "What if I'm grateful for the opportunity to expose the world to a variety of cultural differences as we move toward a more global-thinking society." Thank you writers!


This show is off to a really good start thanks much to Leoni's character and how she's been developed, which you can see even in just this first episode - that's the mark of a great pilot.  I also appreciate another show that has great diversity of race without signposting it.  I know there's going to be a crisis-of-the-week format moving forward, but what's going to be fun to watch is seeing McCord deal with them in her own, atypical, balls-to-the-wind way (she totally kicks ass at her first state dinner!)  I sure wish we'd have more women like this in positions of power.

BOTTOM LINE:  I vote for this show to continue for many episodes to come.

Madam Secretary airs Sundays at 8pm on CBS.

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