Madam Secretary beats out The Bachelor

Last night I sat through the finale of ‘The Bachelor,’ a show which neither through casual, serious, nor ironic viewing can surpass the flawed premise that over a dozen attractive, successful women could be so utterly taken with a self-obsessed, disingenuous attention-seeking narcissist who clearly couldn’t get a girlfriend in real life.

Having had my fill of network drama where women were subject to the whims and fancies of some dude, I stuck with Channel 10 and watched the premiere of Tea Leoni’s widely publicized ‘Madam Secretary.’ Striking were the similarities to Geena Davis’ previous effort ‘Commander in Chief’ [cancelled after one season]. Both shows:

1. Depicted a woman suddenly and without warning promoted to national office [in this case Secretary of State];

2. Came at a time when Hillary Clinton was expected to run for President – the former was even accused of laying the groundwork for the campaign;

3. Dealt with negotiations to secure the release of prisoners in a foreign country as a test, both moral and practical, for the new protagonists, this time being US teenagers in Syria; and

4. Focused on the challenges of running a high office as a woman, with Elizabeth McCord [Tea Leoni] being forcibly delegated a stylist to improve her look, reminiscent of the constant commentary on Clinton’s wardrobe while she was Secretary.

Great premise, but the whole thing was just so damn predictable. The prisoner drama resolves itself exactly how you think it will resolve itself, and without revealing the ending, there is so much foreshadowing and dramatic inconsistency that you can guess just how the last scene and 90-second cliffhanger is going to play out, almost word for word.

Tea Leoni is incredibly likeable in the role and manages to be forceful and persuasive in her dealings with others, without being neither condescending, or snide, making her immediately more interesting and endearing than any other character in the show, none of whom are too remarkable.

Leoni and the basic premise were the only redeemable features of an unfortunately-scripted pilot, undermining much potential. Both ‘Commander in Chief’ and ‘Madam Secretary’ came at the height of popularity of two fictional political powerhouses, being ‘The West Wing’ and ‘House of Cards,’ both of which produced better pilots and will likely prove more popular.  Neither of the former shows can or should be viewed solely through their depiction of a female lead, the focus on a leader’s gender as opposed to their abilities being a central theme and implicit criticism of each drama, and therefore it is only appropriate to compare them to their successful contemporaries.

Both ‘The West Wing’ and ‘House of Cards,’ (the latter to a greater extent) portrayed the machinations, bitter and often dark side of politics and tough decisions. Bartlet’s covert assassination of a foreign leader in Season 3 was not taken lightly, whilst Underwood does something unexpected and shocking about every half hour. The drama that was evident in ‘Madam Secretary’ was not gritty, realistic or chilling, nor was more than one character really well-drawn; qualities viewers are looking for in politically tense television following the dual entry of Kevin Spacey and David Fincher.

‘Madam Secretary,’ while not ideal, is commendable for its premise, which while not entirely original, is nevertheless topical and a different tack on not only political drama but the way women are portrayed on many television serials. Whatever’s in the next episode, it sure beats the crap out of watching a show whose greatest contribution to our culture is #dirtystreetpie reportedly being considered for the next edition of Webster’s Dictionary.