Jun 25, 2015

[TV] Madam Secretary: Season 1

My not quite love (more like appreciation) for current affairs and perhaps politics in general has a lot to do with my biological father or perhaps my high school debating career. And that's not saying much since I was only in debate for two years. But hey, the impact of that period remained significant enough such that not a day goes by where I don't invest some time checking out various news sites and making sure I know what's going on. And no, checking out Facebook and seeing what everyone else is talking about does not count as reading the news.

Madam Secretary was a show that my sister clued me into since we share the same curse of interest in political dramas. I don't know what I hadn't heard about the show before, but I was certainly happy to get into it sooner rather than later.

At first I thought that I wouldn't buy into the show's premise or the team of talent gathered to tell their story. But hey, it's nice to be wrong, especially when the result is finding a new show to enjoy and perhaps even love. Such is the life of a geek.

Synopsis: Madam Secretary is a US television drama series created by Barbara Hall with Lori McCreary and Morgan Greeman as executive producers. The show recently completed its first season on CBS and has been renewed for a second season as well.

Dr. Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) is a former CIA analyst who has been recruited by US President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine) to be part of his staff. And when the Secretary of State dies in a plane crash, Elizabeth finds herself in this rather critical role. And given the nature of the change, she also inherits the former secretary's existing staff and all the problems that come with the office. And naturally, she doesn't exactly have time to settle into her new role before one crisis or another comes along.

But beyond her professional life, this show is also about her family. She married to Dr. Henry McCord (Tim Daly), a theology professor at Georgetown, but also a former US Marine and former NSA operative. Stevie (Wallis Currie-Woods) is their eldest daughter who is still in college but is of course at that age of primary drama. There are two other children in the show, which all come into play to remind us that as much as she is Secretary of State, Elizabeth is still a mother. And to top it all off, evidence reaches Elizabeth that the former Secretary of State might have been killed as part of some larger plot.

The focus of the show seems to be that in the life of a Secretary of State, there's never a dull moment. There's always some big international crisis waiting around the corner, especially when you're part of the government of the last true superpower on the planet. More of then than not, everyone is gunning for the big guy in the hopes of bringing the US down a notch or two. And thus the fun never really stops.

I'm not past calling out the very real possibility that the show was inspired by Hilary Clinton's time as Secretary of State for the US. And this goes beyond just Elizabeth's hair color and other silly things. They're both pretty driven women  and there's no doubt that both are highly intelligent and thus quite qualified for their job. I just don't know enough about Hilary's career to cite more specific coincidences between what happens on the show and what Hilary had to handle here and there.

And it's really nice to see Tim Daly in a rather meaty role on TV. He's a skilled actor and beyond having voiced Superman, he's quite believable as the dapper and intelligent theologian. His character's background is so diverse and it's quite the treat to see him exercise his spy muscles here and there.

And I think that's the saving grace of this show that distinguishes it from other political dramas out there. The fact that Elizabeth used to be CIA and her husband used to work with the NSA allow the writers to bring in spy thriller style stories that would probably feel at home on Homeland or something. It all adds a nice dimension to things that certainly add to the potential intrigues.

I could have done with a little less of the drama within her staff. There are some silly sub-plots about secret relationships and jazz like that, but I suppose there's no avoiding that. It often felt almost a little too formulaic for US drama shows in general. Beyond the big dramatic political piece driving the story forward, we do still need character development for individual roles. It's just a shame that the most common solution is to have different cast members hook up or whatever.

Madam Secretary is a rather welcome change in the political drama scene and one that has a lot of potential to tell compelling stories in the future. I'm pretty curious where they'll take things moving forward and just how far the meta plot is going to push Elizabeth to her limits. Thus the series gets 4 brilliant back channel solutions for big issues out of a possible 5.

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