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[Templeton and the President disagree on anti-crime measures]
Least she's doing something. You're just talking.
You don't get it, do you? She's doing something to cause a lot of talk; I'm talking something to cause a lot to get done.
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When the president of the United States suddenly suffers a stroke and dies, the most powerful office in the world then goes to Mackenize Allen, who will make history as America's first female president, but is fought at every turn by a scandal-hungry media and power-hungry Speaker of the House Nathan Tempelton (Donald Sutherland).
Right off the bat, the smartest thing "Commander-in-Chief" does is cast Gina Davis in the role of President Allen. Her brief foray into the sitcom world forgotten, Davis possesses all the class, stature and dignity to make a show that is essentially based on a "so what" gimmick utterly believable. For years and years men have had to sit and suffer through the self-promoting rhetoric of women who say that if there was a women president there would be less war, more talking and general peace and harmony in the world. "Chief" puts that to bed in the first episode where Mac doesn't flinch to call for a surgical military air strike on the heroine crop of a terrorist sponsoring country.
"Chief's" lighter tone and improbable situations makes it hard to shake the idea that we are seeing a poor man's "The West Wing". Compared to the big, regal inside-politics juggernaut that was "Wing", "Chief" makes itself more instantly accessible to drive-by viewers. Dare I say, dumbs itself down. Where "Wing" was about issues, history and civics, "Chief" treats the national scandals and political wrangling as if it where another office drama situation - just transplanted into the oval office. Cameras roll when husband Rod (Kyle Secor) trips and appears to grope a young intern. Mac gets political ammunition that could destroy typically evil Republican Tempelton but is just too classy to use it. "Chief" has all the intensity of office gossip.
It's always refreshing when a show can bring you something completely original. One of the most interesting elements is the redefinition of the spouse's role now that his wife has become the president, Rod becomes the First Gentleman. I've honestly never heard that phrase before. But, the show handles Rod like a winy school boy who wants his parents to listen to him. Steven Bochco protégé Mark Paul-Gosslar makes a very good turn as a brilliant political strategist that drags Mac into the game against her will.
But Sutherland is almost comical. He grimaces, narrows his eyes, laughs maniacally and plots diabolically with his sidekick (Nattasha Henstridge). An over-the-top caricature, Sutherland's bad guy is a notch below "The Simpsons'" Mr. Burns. You'd think at any moment we'll see him laughing at a construction worker hanging for dear life from a broken scaffold just outside his window. But despite that, the show hones in on what it does well and begins to have a lot of fun with the rivalry between Mac and Tempelton. Particularly in a late series episode in which a burst appendix puts Mac in the ER and gives Tempelton a taste of that office for a few hours.
Despite not possessing a pronounced liberal voice-box on the issues, "Chief" was immediately taken out to the woodshed by the political right which claimed it to be a Hollywood work to ready the public for Hillary Clinton's run for the White House. There is no evidence of that in the show at all. The right's paranoia toward Hollywood matches the left's paranoia toward, well, everything else.
I understand "Commander in Chief's" motives perfectly. It isn't about the fact that Mac is a women that makes her such a dangerous force of nature in the political world, it is that she is an outsider in a world ruled by archaic traditions, useless decorum and ruled by those rigidly trapped in themselves. (If you'd like, pretend I'm the usual hysterical internet critic and insert a Bush-bashing reference here) While the show runs from any real political satire, episodes often climax with Mac slamming home a speech or idea that makes common sense and upsets the applecart of the career politicians. (here) The theme is never pronounced, but runs pervasive through the series. (here)
Still, the show failed to connect with the viewers, and like Hillary Clinton, it has nothing to do with her being a women. (here) In a sense, this show is yet another insufferable regal portrayal of politicians sitting in lofty seats in the shadows of great men carrying out historical precedent just trying to do what's right for the people. Oh please. Nobody believes that politicians are really like this and unfortunately "Chief" comes at a time when the public's anti-government sentiment is at a high. (here) We could go for it in "The West Wing", which pitched itself in an Capra-esquire fantasy world, but "Chief" puts itself in our not-to-distant future, globs off real events and comes off as just another big, wet politician ass-kiss. (here).
Early on, the show went through a changing of the guard after the network objected to creator Rob Lurie's idea to involve Mac's daughter in a (get this) graphic sex scene with a secret service agent. ( and here). I can't imagine how that would have fit in, but I liked new show-runner Stephen Bochco's interpretation for once. It is almost a guilty pleasure to say this, but yes, "Commander-in-Chief" isn't rocket science, but it is solidly entertaining nonetheless. It deserved better. Maybe ABC should have changed up their advertising just a little bit. How about: "Watch this show or you hate women". Guilty them, like a real politician would.
* * ½ / 4
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