Sunday, September 28, 2014

TV: The Boring Madam

Last Sunday, CBS debuted Madam Secretary starring the always amazing Tea Leoni and we knew we'd love the show.

And then we watched.

Tea Leoni is pretty much amazing in everything.  Her finest film role remains Tina in the comedy classic Flirting With Disaster.  On TV, her finest performance was either season one of The Naked Truth or Flying Blind which she co-starred in with the equally amazing Corey Parker.

The two had chemistry.

There's no chemistry between Tea and Tim Daly on Madam Secretary.

They play a married couple and, early on, in bed, he says all these dopey things including that he's turned on by her masculine sexuality before begging her to tell him what to say.

It's a horrible scene and maybe penance for how he and his sister Tyne, after their father died, treated their father's male lover.  Tyne's gay fan base would be shocked to grasp that her role in Mothers &  Sons was a lot closer to reality than she'd ever liked known.

Tim's always been the better looking of the two, the pretty one.

And pretty's held up an amazingly long time for him.

But the acting really isn't there, even all these years into the career.

This is the most obvious in the final scene of the first episode

Tea's just pulled off another impossible scene, followed by filler, then walks into her office to find her husband.  She's excitedly talking away about the State Dinner she just attended when she notices his glum, sad sack affect.

Like the audience, she's puzzled.

Unlike the audience, she's puzzled briefly.

But we all caught on the moment she walked in the door.

So we've had time to wonder.

Did he get fired from his Georgetown job?  Is he leaving her?  Does he have AIDS?

It's not a good sign for her character, the show or Tim Daly's acting that any of the choices would have rung true.

Instead, he's there to tell her about a death.  Put a pin in that.

Tea's the new Secretary of State.

Some say she's playing Hillary Clinton, but she's about two decades too young for that.

Bebe Neuwirth's in the cast.  She's worth noting.  She and Keith Carradine are about the only ones worth noting.

Carradine's playing the President of the United States. He's giving a strong performance in a limited role and with bad hair.

We make a point to note his bad hair because it makes no sense.

Tea arrives in  DC and the White House chief of staff (not worth naming -- he was lousy in Heroes, he was lousy in Revolution, he's lousy in this series as well) is insisting Tea get a sleek make over and sends a stylist to her office.

Does anyone think Keith looks sleek?

We're not asking for a faux hawk but couldn't he at least have something as contemporary as Chris North's hair on The Good Wife?

The show wants so much to be like The Good Wife.  Sadly, it may be.

Not like the series in its first two seasons when it could do no wrong.

But like The Good Wife ever since they tried to make domestic abuse sexy by having Kalinda be sexually aroused when her estranged husband beat her.

Ever since audiences rejected that horrible storyline, the show runner and writers of The Good Wife have struggled to figure out what they're doing.

Or maybe they're just bound and determined to punish the audience for rejecting their sick storyline?

It is in the outlandish terrain of the current incarnation of The Good Wife that Madam Secretary comfortably fits.

Remember when Tim Daly's there to announce something?

It's a death.  And he can't act without words but he may be even worse when he's given dialogue.

He tells Tea someone's died.

Does he gasp?

Does he gulp?

Does he struggle?


Okay, those would have been solid acting choices.

But there are many more.

For example, the news might force him to blurt it out.

It's uncomfortable news, he might not be able to sugar coat it.

So blurting would be a solid acting choice.

Tim Daly doesn't make acting choices.

He's just a cute, little doll who, when you pull his string, says the lines written with little to no emotion.

Like Steven Weber on Wings, Tea Leoni is acting rings around Daly.

And that's part of the problem with the show beyond the lack of chemistry between Tea and Tim.

Tea is an amazing actress, probably one of the ten most underutilized in the US today.

But the writers appear so enamored with Tea's skill that they've written showy (and meaningless) scenes that offer no character unless Tea's supposed to be the kid in the class who never put her or his hand down.

It's not just that she never shuts up (will she ever not get the last word?), her character's also in competition with everyone.  In big scenes and minor scenes, she's forever in a pissing match.

And forever winning.

On big matters, she's right.  This includes when two young Americans are arrested in Syria.  The Chief of Staff wants to send the Navy Seals in.  She wants to use back channels.  He railroads her (mainly because she doubts herself briefly -- only she can defeat herself!) and it turns out she was right.  To get face time with the president, she goes around the Chief of Staff and convinces the president to do her back channels. Negotiating with Syria, she tells the man assisting her no to the $2 million request, it will be $1.5 million and it will be food and medical supplies and you tell Syria the world can be a lonely place and . . .

She just knows everything, doesn't she?

You don't the half of it unless you watched.

Two of her staff, one of which is her speech writer, barge in about an innocuous statement she needs to issue.  Though this is their job, she's the one who knows how it should be worded and, not only that, she gets a little dig in about how they are paid to do what she just did.

Dining with a head of state from a foreign country, she knows it's the time, in front of his many wives, to bring up AIDS and his failure to move on AIDS education.  It's a tense moment but she was right.

She's always right.

Meeting, on the street, two tourists from Minnesota, it's not enough for her to let that 'land of a thousand lakes' slide by, she has to correct it by noting it's more like 15,000.

Is Ms. Know It All an actual character or the winning contestant on this week's Jeopardy?

We have no problem with intelligent women.  The first two seasons of Body of Proof, for example were largely wonderful and flawless and we applauded Dana Delaney's Dr. Megan Hunt.  But medicine is a field you study and learn.  It's a bit like mathematics.


Politics is constant learning.  The social science is considered a pseudo science by some exactly because there are so many variables.  So Tea's character knowing everything and never being wrong is more like a Monday morning quarterback with time travel ability and less like a real person functioning in current times.

And what's the point of this show?

That one woman is amazing and wonderful and smart and can do everything?

We were dismayed by scene after scene of Tea with men.  Other than Tea, Bebe's the highest ranking woman in the administration apparently -- and she serves under Tea.

Where are the women?

Some might argue this is reflective of Barack Obama's miserable record with regards to women as Cabinet Secretaries.


But Keith Carradine is not performing his role in Black face.  Meaning he's an Anglo White male and the press has never had any problem calling that group out for lack of diversity.

It's 2014 and this show has been created and it's pure crap.

They don't even give Tea a female friend.  Getting to see the president, we learn, was done by her calling up the First Lady who is a friend.  We don't see the call.  Hell, we don't even see the First Lady.

That a woman created this show is appalling.

That all this time later, we're still having to call out these Deanna Durbin 1,00 Men and a Girl type TV shows is disgusting.

So is the false notion that Tea's playing Hillary.  Madeline Albright was the first woman to be Secretary of State.  That was in the '90s.  In the '00s, Condi Rice became the second woman.  In the '10s, Hillary became the third.

And in the '10s, when Madam Secretary is set, why are you creating a show which endorses and amplifies Queen Bee?

Would Tea's know it all character really stand out less if she wasn't the only woman with power in the room?

Apparently so.

And apparently scenes proving that a woman can do it all -- or close to it -- are what someone thought TV needed.

Madam Secretary plays out like a Little Golden Book instructional.

We're supposed to cheer the (hollow) character Tea plays as she one ups everyone.

This episode, she one-upped Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, the US press and the American president.  Where does she go from there?

It's not a storyline.

Not even to one of Joan Crawford's working girl flicks of the thirties.

And if you're not getting how bad it is, those young Americans in Syria?

When Tea visits the parents (to instruct them not to talk to the press), she's even competing with them.  The parents are explaining the two guys are largely non-political and Tea has to inform her son is an anarchist and here's what she'd do.

It's all so off putting.

The dead guy?

The one Daly announces the death of?

In his sole scene early in the episode, the not-yet-dead guy announces there's some conspiracy going on with the administration, it involves cover ups and Venezuela and he can't say much because he's at Tea's home and the house is probably bugged.

When she learns of his death, a single-car accident, he hit a pole, she knows -- and she knows so we know it must be true -- that his death was no accident.

Those two scenes were about the only ones of any real interest.

As a Scandal rip-off, Madam Secretary may have a future but as a weekly testimonial to the power of one woman (and just one woman) it's a yawn-fest.

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