[07/15/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Commander-In-Chief" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)

The network's description: "Mackenzie Allen has a lot on her plate´┐Ż She has twin teenagers and a six-year-old at home, an ambitious husband at the office, and she is about to become the first female President of the United States. Before that happens, however, Mackenzie, who serves as Vice President, has to decide whether or not to go against the dying wishes of the current President, who has asked her to step down and let someone "more appropriate" fill his shoes in the Oval Office. Not only does the President want her to resign, so does the entire party that elected her in the first place. But when the moment of truth arrives, Mackenzie isn't willing to be a mere footnote in history. Instead of allowing her detractors to keep her down, she decides to trust her instincts and accept the most powerful job in the world."

What did they leave out: Unlike "The West Wing," which made it a policy not to reference any recent presidency, "Commander-In-Chief" makes very specific references to both the Clinton and Bush administrations, including mentions of "Monicagate" and "WMDgate." The show apparently is set a few years into a new post-Bush Republican administration with the conveniently independent Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) serving as Vice President (we're told the Republicans had to put Allen, a university professor with little political ambition, on the ticket to swing female voters).

The plot in a nutshell: After President Teddy Roosevelt Bridges (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor) is incapacitated by a brain aneurism, Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) is quickly thrust into the role of President. The trouble is, everyone in the current administration - most notably the current President's chief of staff (Harry J. Lennix) and attorney general (Leslie Hope, in a surprisingly thankless role) - wants her to resign to make room for the more conservative minded Speaker of the House, Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland in the most comically evil Republican role this side of Richard Dreyfuss in "The American President"). Nevertheless, Mackenzie's husband Rod (Kyle Secor, who also serves as her chief of staff) urges her to press on, as do her teen son Horace (Andrew James Allen), her speechwriter (Ever Carradine) and the rest of her staff. Her teen daughter Rebecca (Caitlin Wachs) however chooses to pout because, well, a teenage girl must hate everything her mother does and it sucks to have your Secret Service detail (Julie Ann Emery, in an equally thankless role) walk in on you making out with a boy. The big whammy however comes when the President himself, on his deathbed no less, urges her to resign. So after some major league hand-wringing (and a subplot designed to show her potential resolve as a military leader), Mackenzie decides to resign... at least until Templeton makes a few assholeish comments which causes her to decide to, well, it wouldn't be a show about the first female president if there was no female president would it?

What works: I find myself surprised to say not much. The show gets a few giggles out of Rod's adjustment from the Vice President's chief of staff to the First Gentleman, but it mostly comes across as cheap laughs (look! they'll be a portrait of a man next to all these First Ladies, isn't that emasculating!). In spite of it though, Kyle Secor's character comes across as the most likeable and level-headed on the show.

What doesn't: All personal politics aside, Mackenzie (both written and performed) comes across as painfully ill equipped to be President. I mean, isn't the idea that if the President dies or is incapacitated, the Vice President has the willpower and resolve to step in and keep the country running at a moment's notice? (A fact often brought up when the vice presidential candidates debate.) The amount of hand wringing Mackenzie goes through to simply follow the Constitution is borderline comical. Whether you're conservative, liberal, etc. do you really want your president to be somebody paralyzed by their own job description? Who cares if the big bad meanies from the President's current cabinet (or even the President himself) say she should resign - the people elected her, not them (a point only vaguely made by Mackenzie's staff) and are we really supposed to believe that any political party nowadays would have the "heartbeat away from the presidency" be someone they don't believe in? What's worse is that there's an entire subplot devoted to showing her resolve as a military leader (basically she's willing to risk war with Niger over trying to rescue a woman about to be stoned to death for getting pregnant out of wedlock), which shows she can make hard decisions in the blink of an eye but something as straightforward as doing her job is worth spending days agonizing about? I'm absolutely floored that this is a show from the people who did such interesting work in "Line of Fire" and the feature "The Contender."

The challenges ahead: Is this the successor to "The West Wing" (which is expected to enter into its final season this year)? And is Geena Davis really in the acting ballpark of Martin Sheen? We'll know for sure this fall on ABC.

  [july 2005]  


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