Madam Secretary

February 25, 2016

Is anyone else tired of how quickly show runners are burning through story lines these days? I mean how many law firms can Alecia Florick open, close and get fired from in the space of a season of The Good Wife? How many political offices can her and her husband Peter run for? And just how many times can a character be put under investigation, locked up or smeared, while still maintaining any clients.

Don’t get me wrong. The Good Wife is still one of the best shows on TV, certainly network TV. But I am tired of engaging with a storyline only for it to be wrapped up, improbably, when there is so much more juice that could be squeezed from it.

The more times they do it, the harder it is to give my time and my thoughts.

Madam Secretary is a show that excels at setting up engaging arcs, only to dump out of them too soon, so as to appeal to baser instincts of episodic viewers. After the death of her predecessor in a plane crash, Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni), rides in on her high horse from a farm in Connecticut, to serve at the pleasure of the President(Keith Carradine), who also happens to be her former mentor at the CIA.

She quickly deduces that the former secretary of state was not as loyal to the current administration as they may have liked… and that her new colleagues- and old friends, may have been involved in his assassination.

Who can she trust? Certainly her staff of secretaries, speechwriters, press and policy advisers lean towards Ally McBeal quirk, rather than Homeland complexity, so you never really feel that any of them can be involved with a grander conspiracy. Particularly since show runner Barbara Hall seems more interested in what they get up to sexually, not politically.

Her former CIA comrades- with whom she has SATC style lunches, seem more suspect. While the man in the Oval-and his oily Chief of Staff, may as well come with their own villainous crescendos.

But whenever we get close to deepening the mystery, we break away to spend some time with the infuriating McCord clan, which include a theology professor, a drop out daughter, a smart-Alec son and a drip middle child. That annoying, perfect 7th Heaven family dynamic, that is as sickeningly saccharine as it is overdone. Their teenage dramas often reflect the grander global conflicts that McCord is involved in, and while the actors are all perfectly fine in the roles, you wish that they would be written a little less trite.That the show would delve into the confliction of having mother or wife who represents all that you see as wrong with the world.

I mean, imagine being a socialist or an anarchist and your Ma, who you love and respect, becomes the international face of American warmongering. It would warrant more than a temper tantrum.

After dipping in an out of it, the assassination storyline is wrapped up by the end of the first season. But, since it doesn’t really commit to it, there’s no sense that we- or the characters, really went through anything.

Where Madame Secretary clicks is in its fun, ripped from the headlines sub-plots that occur week on week, to pad out those less engaging season-long arcs. (Season Two focuses on the rise and fall of a Chanel-clad Russian dictator). From Bengazi to Arab springs, suicide cults and poorly timed requests for asylum , the cause and effect of American foreign policy is zippily presented, kept aloft by an excellent cast that includes Emmy and Tony Award winners Patina Miller, Bebe Neuwirth and Željko Ivanek.

It’s wonderful to watch Leoni balance her general good nature with doing the devils work.It might not grip, but it certainly entertains, and if you are looking for something to reinvigorate your West Wing buzz, this is perhaps the strongest echo to hold you over as the real life drama emerges from the race for the actual White House.


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