×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Madam Secretary’

With:
Tea Leoni, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Zeljko Ivanek, Geoffrey Arend, Patina Miller, Erich Bergen, Katherine Herzer, Evan Roe, Keith Carradine

Like most CBS dramas, “Madam Secretary” was clearly developed with a time period in mind — another high-powered, classily cast drama about a woman with ripped-from-the-headlines undertones. Yet this lead-in to “The Good Wife” plays more like a slightly simple-minded return to “The West Wing,” with Tea Leoni as the reluctant Secretary of State, chosen (after her predecessor’s somewhat suspicious death) specifically for her lack of political ambitions. So come for the Hillary factor, and stay for the feel-good foreign policy practiced with courage and intelligence, or at least, so CBS hopes.

A former CIA analyst, Leoni’s Elizabeth McCord is minding her own business in academia when she’s summoned by the president (Keith Carradine, at his avuncular best in what’s described as a recurring role), saying he needs her clear-eyed counsel and refusing to take no for an answer. Not surprisingly, she is not exactly welcomed with open arms by the chief of staff (Zeljko Ivanek) or a key aide (Bebe Neuwirth), with the former seeing her as the kind of idealistic do-gooder who tends to create political headaches.

At least initially, “Madam Secretary” focuses on those internal machinations, as Elizabeth receives pretty steadfast support from her too-good-to-be-true husband (Tim Daly) and two kids. Meanwhile, her day job is almost immediately thrust into crisis mode because two young guys have apparently wandered into Syria, where they’re being held as spies.

Given the chaos erupting overseas, this would all seem timely, and explains why NBC developed “State of Affairs,” a show that’s very similar in the broad strokes.

Yet the CBS series is a little too coy in seeking to skirt questions of partisanship — much like HBO’s “Veep,” though that show uses the conceit to comic effect. In this dramatic format, it feels less possible to maintain the non-party line on an ongoing basis. The writing attempts to get past that by focusing on menacing or amusing foreigners, as well as the by-now obligatory mystery to augment the procedural challenges with a serialized thread.

As actresses go, Leoni is a solid choice for this assignment, and she’s surrounded by a heady assortment of fine players. Ultimately, though, both “Madam Secretary” and “State of Affairs” will have to rely to an extent on their protagonists watching military operations via monitors, which isn’t quite the same thing, dramatically speaking, as being there with the boots on the ground.

Created by Barbara Hall (“Joan of Arcadia”), “Madam Secretary” has enough interesting pieces, as well as a great big world of trouble to mine, to have significant potential. The premiere, however, doesn’t bode particularly well for being able to maximize those assets, and as they say in diplomatic circles, the devil is in the details.

TV Review: 'Madam Secretary'

(Series; CBS, Sun. Sept. 21, 8 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in New York by Revelations Entertainment in association with CBS Television Studios.

Crew: Executive producers, Barbara Hall, Lori McCreary, Morgan Freeman, David Semel; director, Semel; writer, Hall; camera, Jonathan Brown; production designer, Sarah Knowles; editors, Elena Maganini, Michael Ornstein; casting, Mark Saks. 60 MIN.

Cast: Tea Leoni, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Zeljko Ivanek, Geoffrey Arend, Patina Miller, Erich Bergen, Katherine Herzer, Evan Roe, Keith Carradine

More TV

  • Dead To Me

    Streaming Shows Nearly Doubled in Last Year, Boosting Los Angeles TV Production

    Television production in Los Angeles has received a major boost from streaming shows, according to a new report from the permitting organization FilmLA. The number of new digital projects nearly doubled between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 development cycles, increasing approximately 85.3% in a year. The number of digitally distributed original series in production has increased by [...]

  • Jessica Biel Limetown Premiere

    Why 'Limetown' Star & Producer Jessica Biel Thought the Show Was Based on a True Story

    In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real. “I just thought I [...]

  • Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker,

    TV Ratings: Fourth Democratic Debate Draws 8.3 Million Viewers

    Last night’s Democratic debate, which saw frontrunner Elizabeth Warren come under attack from all sides, drew around 8.3 million total viewers on CNN. That viewership figure is down 46% on the first NBC debate which was watched by 15.3 million viewers, and also on the two previous CNN debates which garnered 10.7 million (down 22%) [...]

  • All That Nickelodeon logo

    'All That' Revival Scores 13 More Episodes at Nickelodeon

    The “All That” revival at Nickelodeon just got twice as big. Nickelodeon has issued an order for 13 more episodes of the new spin on the ’90s sketch comedy show, taking the total episode count for season 1 of the revival to 26. Variety reported exclusively back in February that an “All That” revival was in [...]

  • Brian Koppelman and David Levien Billions

    'Billions' Creators to Develop 'Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber' Series at Showtime

    Brian Koppelman and David Levien are developing a limited series about ridesharing company Uber for Showtime. The “Billions” creators and showrunners will serve as writers and executive producers on the series, which will be based on Mike Isaac’s book “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber.” Isaac will serve as co-executive producer on the project, which [...]

  • All Rise Prodigal Son Network TV

    Networks Tout Delayed Viewing Amid Dismal Early-Season Numbers

    The 2019-20 broadcast premiere season has begun, and the ratings are … underwhelming. More specifically, the Nielsen live-plus-same day ratings are underwhelming. Of the 13 new shows that debuted across the Big 4 during premiere week (Sept. 23-29), the highest-rated was Fox’s “Prodigal Son,” which notched a 0.96 rating in adults 18-49. In terms of [...]

  • RAVEN'S HOME - Disney Channel's "Raven's

    'Raven's Home' Renewed for Season 4 at Disney Channel (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Raven’s Home” has been renewed for a fourth season at Disney Channel, Variety has learned exclusively. In addition, Alison Taylor is joining the fourth season as an executive producer alongside series lead Raven-Symoné and showrunner Warren Hutcherson. Production on the new season will begin later this year. “Raven is a huge part of the Disney Channel [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content