To wield known powers

To wield known powers

telly review

To wield known powers

The West Wing has always fascinated those behind the lens. Because of the power and authority it wields. And also because of that inexplicable charisma it exudes sometimes.

Whatever may be the other reasons, we have all had many opportunities to take a peek behind the curtains and see for ourselves the shenanigans and sacrifices made by those chosen ones who rule the world’s superpower. We saw a Mr Vice-president in Frank Underwood and a Miss Vice-president in Selina Meyer. Of course, this is not to discount the fact that while House of Cards is a diabolically twisted tale of power conquests, Veep is a feeble attempt at infusing some relief humour in a serious office space. Nevertheless, their agenda remains the same: portrayal of behind-the-scene politics, feeding you the juice and buzz.

Jumping on to the bandwagon of such shows is Madam Secretary, where Téa Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst who accidentally becomes the Secretary of State of the United States. Overlooking the oblique references to Hillary Clinton, let’s anatomise, shall we?

Madam Secretary is an oft-recurring TV idea, with little novelty to support it. Sample this. A mother whose political career has huge ramifications on her personal life. A teenage daughter born out of wedlock quits college due to her mother’s position in the government. The president’s chief of staff who refuses to take orders from a woman. And her predecessor’s subordinates who won’t co-operate because they see her as an intruder. Sub-plots with intents to kill, dethrone, deface and slander. That feeling of being torn between ambition and allegiance. Seen and swallowed. Done and dusted.

The pilot episode has a cold opening, with much of the present day political turmoil being incorporated. An aerial view of Syria — with minarets, dun-coloured homes and an azaan fading away into the blue skies. This snaps into a bearded man sipping some sulemani chai while two terrified American teenagers are being locked up by some middle-eastern ruffians. An impending sign that this drama (which tries quite hard to bring in comic elements at times) is going to be about America versus terrorism. A few minutes later, the scene shifts to the University of Virginia — a stark difference in colour, quite literally. This is the point where we are introduced to Beth McCord, professor of History, where a student is trying to negotiate his assignment submission with her and she coolly tells him he can’t. The beginning of a hint that she is a no-nonsense woman.

Leoni is undoubtedly the show stealer of the series that seems to be floundering under its own weight at times. She is the matter-of-fact kind of politician who wears pants (not skirts; she refuses to have a personal stylist). She is terse and direct, but not rude. Also, she has the heart of a mother, which means she can empathise, but she also takes some risks that bend protocol (a trait that can work as a double-edged sword). Leoni steps into Madam Secretary’s shoes without having to overplay herself. Her independent character is supported well by Tim Daly, her professor husband, who is unaffected by his wife’s sudden surge in power. How long can this last, however? Overflowing glasses of clichés are bound to tip, especially with the addition of salvaging elements like these.

The upside is that Madam Secretary also the joins the list of shows with strong female protagonists like Scandal, The Good Wife and How to Get Away with Murder. The reason many think this project is noteworthy is because it comes with brand Morgan Freeman (he is one of the executive producers of the show). But it is no assurance that such indirect strings will result in puppeteering an improvised series.

For this one to be a winner, the creators have soon got to find a niche that can leave the audience hooked. Madam Secretary airs at 11 pm, Saturdays, on AXN.

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