Sunday, November 20, 2005

TV Review: Commander-in-Chief aka The Nah-Nah Sisterhood

It's so hard to keep up with what the press declares feminism is from one moment to the next. Are we post Do-Me-Feminism yet?

We must be post-something when ABC's Commander-in-Chief can be hailed as a brave feminist statement. Commander-in-Chief? The Nah-Nah Sisterhood?

Come on people, even Linda Lavin's Alice had Vera and Flo!

Even Bully Boy could point to Condi, Ann, Christie and Karen.

But like the other "feminist statement" from ABC (Alias) Commander-in-Chief is supposed to get us all excited about a woman surrounded by men.

The Nah-Nah Sisterhood indeed.

There are a number of false statements being passed around regarding this show. One of the biggies is that Geena Davis is playing the first female president of the United States in a TV series. Wrong. Patty Duke has that honor. (Duke did it in a sitcom.) Another of the biggies is that ABC didn't promote it. ABC promoted the hell out of this show. (And continues to do so.) Yes, some women's groups did stage parties to watch it -- we can't imagine why, it's not exactly Cagney & Lacy (to name but one brave show).

So what is it?

Geena Davis gets yet another stab at TV stardom? (Did anyone keep counting after Sara failed?)

We don't like Geena Davis personally so we'll take a pass on her acting. We do like Donald Sutherland but we'll take a pass on his acting as well.

That's because we're going to focus on the "big message." That's the hook that a friend with the show (for now) sold us on when he begged us to review it. (Even supplying us with tapes.) The show's in trouble for a number of reasons (not a good sign when you change show runners this early in the run). Despite this, the ratings are good. Possibly because the show's being pimped like it was photos of your first child.

But sometimes you can't be objective about your own children.

This is being pushed as some sort of a feminist statement. (Katha Pollitt is one of the few who's raised questions about that premise.)

If you've missed the show, you haven't missed much. Well, you've missed two shows -- you've missed Dawson's Creek and The West Wing because each episode seems to devote equal time to both. What do you call the president's teenage twins? Are they old enough to rate as hotties? We'll call them Hot Pockets.

Horace is the male twin and the show loves undressing him. Becca is the female twin and the show loves her brooding. Okay, maybe it's got a little My So Called Life In The White House mixed in as well?

When not dealing with the traumas of Horace hearing a male class mate announce that his twin put out or working itself into a lather over whether or not Becca's diary will be found, the show focuses on the adults. So in these moments, it's a work place TV show.

But it's as though nothing's changed since The Dick Van Dyke Show and our president is Sally Rogers.

Where are the female characters?

There's a Senate leader in one episode, a Democrat, who's a woman. She and Mac don't get along, "Mac" is President Geena Davis. In fact, their one scene can be described in one word: "Meow!" Other women? There's "Gilda" the bitchy, star reporter. (Yes, we think we know who they mean as well.) And?

That's really it. In terms of holding any power, that's it. You get a blond female who plays the lacky Scotty McClellan role -- apparently women are good at "communicating" (wow, what a breakthrough!). And you get men. Lots and lots of men. In the first episode, Davis wore a red sweater that people still can't shut up about. It should have been a pink satin dress, the one Marilyn Monroe wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because, like Monroe, she's surrounded by men.

Where Monroe played dumb, Davis plays plucky.

Mac wastes hours and hours of time listening to men tell her what to do, what she should do, and what she will do. Then Mac goes off and does what she wants. (If she had a maid named Milred, we might be able to get into it.)

This is the President of the United States. Acting like the night manager of Wendy's.

In the first episode, Donald Sutherland, as Speaker of the House, tells her she should want to be president for the power. Apparently Mac wants to be president for the pluck.

Whining about missing a family dinner when it's eleven o'clock elicts no sympathy for a character who's refused to stand up for herself and use the power that she has.

We searched in vain, through aired episodes and unaired ones, to find some sort of a feminist conscience to the show. We couldn't. While it's true that Davis rescues a woman in a foreign country, we're not really sure that "Send in the Marines" (even with Sondheim chords) will rank up there with Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" as a feminist anthem.

This manuever was applauded by some critics. We're failing to see the "feminism" involved in Davis' decision. She attempted to get international support, while still vice-president, and was shot down. So she's acting unilaterally.

For those who can't connect real lives with TV lives, let's speak slowly, unilaterally is an approach the Bully Boy endorses and, unless we missed it, he's yet to make the cover of Ms.

Like the Bully Boy, Davis sends in the marines not because the United States is threatened.
She's willing to risk a war because she wants to act alone and because she's "plucky."

Well hell, smear some of Davis' crimson lipstick on the Bully Boy and let's all hail him as "plucky" as well.

Okay, well what about her background?

It's sketchy. But let's go over what viewers know. She's an "independent." She was elected on a ticket with a man, Republican, whose ideas go against everything she stands for. There's much talk of this in the first episode where we learn that she won't carry out the ailing president's "agenda" but that the Speaker of the House would (and turn back the clocks in the process).

This is feminism? This isn't feminism, this is Dan Quayle sop thrown out in an attempt to get voters -- to fool them.

How can Mac be part of a ticket pushing an agenda she doesn't believe in? Or, for that matter, an agenda she strongly opposes? Mac appears to be, from the start, in it for herself. Nah Nah to notions of Sisterhood.

Davis wrongly won an Oscar (supporting) for The Accidental Tourist (Michelle Pfeiffer should have won for Dangerous Liasons) and now she plays The Accidental President and for some reason we're supposed to be thrilled.

A sell-out, who wants to be a vice president just to be vice president, is elevated to the presidency and, surrounded by men, demonstrates she's got the "stones" to be as arrogant as any male before her. This is what passes for feminism today?

How many episodes is Mac's husband going to wring his hands over being First Gentleman? And what messages does the repeated hang wringing send? That's a serious question, one put to us by a long term feminist, who gave up on the show this week, when Geena Davis's Mac had a snit fit that an employee was gay and had AIDS.

When Mac's informed, her stance is that those are private issues. Then, when alone with the male, she tears into him about keeping secrets from her and demands his resignation. Did anyone see the contradiction in the two scenes? Does Mac need to be the center of attention for all the men around her? Or is she supposed to be playing the Global Mother of us all?

That would explain another scene that's been hailed. In the first episode, riding in a limo with staff, husband and toddler, the child spills her red juice on Mac. The husband explodes while Davis is serenity -- above it all. What was worth "hailing" about that? Mac should have stepped in immediately to defend her child (from her husband) but was too busy beaming. And if there's a need to explode, how about exploding at the adult fool who let a child carry red juice in a limo without a lid on the cup?

What really frightens us, besides the fact that a backlash only takes root when people who should know better applaud this junk, is an elitist attitude that seems to greet this show.

"We got our woman president!"

Consider us too grass-rooty but we don't see that as an end all be all. We weren't among the ones saying "At least we still got Martin Sheen on TV" so maybe we're missing it. But honestly, we'll take an Alice over a Commander-in-Chief. Give us working class women who pull together over a queen bee living a rarified life.

We've never doubted that a woman could be president (and at some point will be). But we've never assumed that gender would be an answer. A woman who supports equality? Absolutely, that's a great thing. A woman who makes her way as an exception, backs up an agenda she doesn't believe in and does nothing to help other women? We don't see the point in applauding that.

It's a pertinent issue as two women are repeatedly named as potential candidates in the real world: Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton. If either woman (or both) runs, will we get the same giddy "It's a woman!" nonsense? Under no circumstance would either of us vote for Rice. We'd be reluctant to vote for Clinton considering her waffles on the issue of choice and her stance on the war. But will those issues be silenced in the giddy cry of, "It's a woman! It's a first!"

That's troubling.

We bounced ideas for this review off a number of feminist friends. The only trace of "feminism" anyone could find in Commander-in-Chief was one woman who noted that the episode that aired Tuesday featured Mac telling her teenage daughter that she wasn't a virgin when she married.

So feminism is now defined by when you lost your cherry? Our culture's back to pimping Hugh Hefner as a voice of "liberation"?

While it's true that Bully Boy has lowered the expectations for the nation, we're not willing to drop our principles and then limbo beneath them. It's depressing to realize how quickly we've gone from The Ya Ya Sisterhood to The Nah Nah Sisterhood.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }