Here are some questions surrounding the new CBS political drama Madam Secretary: will it be the next Good Wife or Scandal? Or will it end up being the next Commander in Chief, which was cancelled after one season? And the question that I’ve seen an endless amount of articles speculate and discuss: is the titular character based on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
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It’s hard to answer the first set of questions after only seeing the pilot episode. But I will say that the show has potential. As for the final question … at this point, it’s no surprise that people are trying to compare her to Clinton. Just as everyone did with USA’s Political Animals (a miniseries that didn’t even try to cover up the fact that the characters were based on the Clintons).
So I’ll get that part out of the way right now: the Secretary in Madam Secretary is her own person; that’s not to say similarities won’t pop up once in a while or aren’t there already. But considering that two other women have held this position before Clinton (Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice), it’s possible the producers/writers are pulling from all of them, along with trying to carve the fictional Secretary into her own person apart from her real-life counterparts.
Tea Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, a university professor and former CIA analyst. (Her husband, Henry, played by Private Practice alum Tim Daly, also works at the same university — the two of them, by the way, have great chemistry together.)
The President of the United States asks McCord to serve in his cabinet, following a tragic incident involving his previous Secretary of State. He tells her, “You don’t just think outside the box, you don’t even know there is a box.” He knows how she works and trusts her. (But the issue of trust is a tricky thing that rears its head many times.)
Does she really want to be back in the middle of the action again? Especially since her life at the start of the pilot is a whole lot calmer. But this show wouldn’t exist, of course, if she turned down President Conrad’s offer.
So after a time jump, we next see her working at the State Department planning a dinner for a visiting foreign leader. Eventually, she’s also doing serious work when two Americans are imprisoned in Syria, and they get down to business doing everything they can to bring them back home safely.
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The great thing about these two contrasting storylines is that we get to see different sides to McCord, and Leoni’s ability to pull off both serious and lighter moments. When she’s working on freeing the Americans, she’s all business and is the kind of leader you want to see in situations like this. She has her own ideas she wants implemented, but is cut off at almost every turn. She feels like she’s not being heard, and she wants to make her mark.
Her “nemesis” in that arena is the President’s Chief of Staff, Russell Jackson, who lets her know that it’s his and the President’s way all the time and she doesn’t get to overrule that. He’s Conrad’s right-hand man, and he doesn’t want that to change at all. Maybe it’s that she’s still a newbie and everyone else has been there a lot longer than her, and he doesn’t want her rocking the boat.
However, McCord is a strong individual and she looks to find ways to get around Jackson so that she can present her ideas directly to the President. She says at one point, “I’ve never met a situation where I don’t have a choice in the matter.” You can be sure actions like that won’t sit well with the Chief of Staff, especially after his warning: “I’m sure you’ll find I make a much better ally than opponent.” But when she retorts back, “Same here,” it’s obvious they’ll be butting heads for the foreseeable future, which you can see a bit of in the below trailer:
That she’s a woman in a position of power is important to bring up. When Jackson hires a stylist for Elizabeth, it’s quite insulting, and raises the issue of sexism in our society — especially when it comes to women in power. Also, she questions whether she should have uprooted her kids from their school and their friends to move to DC after hearing their complaints. But can she use the fact that she’s a woman and a mother to her advantage? This is addressed in the pilot, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time.
Like I said, while it is hard to tell from the pilot whether Madam Secretary is the next Good Wife or instead a short-lived series, it certainly has potential. If you’re a political news junkie like I am, then a show like this is right up your alley. If you’re a fan of The Good Wife or Scandal (or any other show dealing with politics, for that matter), you should definitely check it out. The series is paired with The Good Wife, so CBS obviously knows the kind of audience they want for Secretary.
Tea Leoni is a great casting choice for the role of Elizabeth McCord. She brings such warmth (and humor) to the character, along with a strength that you need for a job like Secretary of State. Zeljko Ivanek is also great as her nemesis, Russell Jackson. Some of the secondary characters — McCord’s State Department team — need more time to be fleshed out, because based on just the pilot, they don’t have much personality yet, though her own Chief of Staff and her assistant come close. Hopefully, with time, they all will develop further.
Another hope is that, despite any similarities to other shows or real-life people, Madam Secretary will be able to stand on its own. After seeing what Tea Leoni brings to this series, along with the political nature of the show, it’s hard for me not to root for its success.
Will you be tuning in to Madam Secretary? Do you think it could be the next Good Wife or Scandal?
Madam Secretary premieres tonight at 8:30pm ET/8pm PT on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)