Starring: Tea Leoni, Tim Daly, Patina Miller, Geoffrey Arend, Erich Bergen, Katherine Herzer, Evan Roe, with Zeljko Ivanek, and Bebe Neuwirth
Created by Barbara Hall
Written by Barbara Hall, Directed by David Semel
THE PREMISE: Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) is a former CIA agent now enjoying a quiet life as a college professor with her husband Henry (Tim Daly) and two kids (Katherine Herzer and Evan Roe). When the US Secretary of State is in a plane crash, the President (her old boss at the CIA) asks her to become the new Secretary of State. We then flash forward two months and meet key players in her administration: chief of staff Nadine Tolliver (Bebe Neuwirth), speechwriter Matt Mahoney (Geoffrey Arend), and press coordinator Diasy Finch (Patina Miller). Rounding out the main cast is the White House Chief of Staff and adversary to McCord, Russell Jackson (Zeljko Ivanek).
THE GOOD: This is an absolutely stellar cast: it is full of people who have tons of TV, film, and theater experience and it shows. It all starts with Tea Leoni, who is very strong in the title role. When a show is built around a certain character, it better be a strong character. I'm not sure that Elizabeth McCord is strongly written but I do know Leoni is playing her with a sense of intelligence, confidence, and humor, and it completely works. There was no one in the cast I didn't like. Tim Daly is strong as Elizabeth's husband and Zeljko Ivanek is good in pretty much anything he's in with his cold steeliness. I am always happy to see dramas set in the world of DC. It's a lot closer to to The West Wing than Scandal in the sense that the people working in the nation's highest offices seem to be decent people and not cheating murderers (I love Scandal but I get the feeling this is going for a classier approach to DC). I was glad the show decided to skip the two months in-between the President offering Elizabeth the position and her getting settled into the job. We didn't have to watch a "debate" with her family, getting adjusted process, etc. Finally, there was a walk and talk just for us West Wing fans!
THE BAD: While it's quite obvious the show is trying to elicit memories of The West Wing or its Sunday night counterpart The Good Wife, it isn't there yet. I think the biggest reason is the writing isn't quite there yet because I really doubt the cast is the problem. I found the first episode to drag in places and the story about returning the two American boys wasn't all that interesting. In a show about the Secretary of State, I feel like there could be better stories to tell. There doesn't need to be any sort of major scandal or conspiracy (though they are hinting at that with the end of the pilot) but there does need to be quality stories that provoke thought or emotion and the pilot plot didn't do that.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite my concerns with the pilot, I'm still very excited for this show because of the cast. Now entering my fifth year doing the blog, I think this cast may be the best I've seen yet. I think the state department is a fascinating topic and the possibilities are endless. The show doesn't need to get bogged down in anything boring or silly. It can be the next great quality broadcast drama if it figures it all out.