Sunday, September 21, 2014

REVIEW: 'Madam Secretary' - Elizabeth Manages a Hostage Crisis in Syria While Entertaining the President of Swaziland in 'Pilot'

CBS' Madam Secretary - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Newly-appointing Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord is immediately faced with a maelstrom of complex political challenges, and an international hostage situation is her top priority. Meanwhile at home, Elizabeth questions whether she did the right thing by taking this job, as her children are finding it difficult to adjust to their new schools.

The pilot for CBS' new political drama Madam Secretary has a ton to introduce. Elizabeth accepting the job as Secretary of State; a government-based conspiracy; a home life; inter-office dynamics, etc. It has one of the most over-qualified casts of any new show this year. Téa Leoni and Tim Daly make a good first impression. She is the one carrying this show so she needed to be stellar from the beginning. I'm hopeful that in time the show will be able to give Bebe Neuwirth, Zeljko Ivanek, Keith Carradine and Patina Miller more dynamic material that we all know they can pull off.

It's also puzzling how the show starts with Elizabeth as a history professor who is suddenly flung into this position. I'm not saying the first hour would have been better if we had started with her already in the office. It just would have been a few more minutes to better develop the cast and the various other stories. She's fresh-faced to the job which does have its benefits. And yet, it's not completely necessary. And then, there is the later reveal that her sudden rise to the position was because of a conspiracy surrounding her predecessor. That will be an attempt at a extensive season arc I'm sure. But it's not completely necessary either. I'm much more interested in seeing the inner workings of this office. The back-and-forth banter between colleagues is missing because they are too busy dealing with an international crisis while the show is also setting up this conspiracy.

And then, the actual story of two kids being trapped as hostages in Syria was enjoyable when Elizabeth and her staff were talking about it. It showed just how Elizabeth's mind works - despite the horrible line about her not knowing there is a box! And yet, whenever the show wanted to develop an emotional connection, it was overwrought with cliches. Elizabeth was able to soothe the parent's fears by telling them about her own family. The news cycle wasn't able to pick up their interview because Elizabeth got a makeover - because that's important news! And then, when the boys finally return home, they run to their parents in slow motion and kiss the ground. That's just too on-the-nose and doesn't quite establish strong stakes for the kinds of storytelling the series wants to tell on a week-to-week basis. But I do enjoy this universe. It's just needs to be a bit more trusting and ambiguous.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Barbara Hall and directed by David Semel.
  • This week in references: Elizabeth - "We can't afford a Black Hawk Down moment." 
  • How long will it take before Russell is more than just the authority figure who opposes every idea that Elizabeth has? It could be great seeing them work together. Or maybe he's connected to the conspiracy somehow. With Zeljko Ivanek, that's all too easy a leap to make.
  • Good for Elizabeth for using an event meant for the press as a way to talk about serious world events. That was a rewarding moment.
  • But seriously, why wasn't Henry at the dinner as well? It was just her staff while the Swaziland official had all ten of his wives.
  • Matt and Daisy are a pair frequently seen together and the romantic issue has already been addressed. Well thank goodness for that!
  • How long until we can get Nadine and Daisy in a room singing together? You just know that would be amazing!