More Hillary Clinton than Madeleine Albright, Téa Leoni makes for a broadly entertaining US Secretary of State.
Both work for the people rather than the party (the former was conveniently independent anyway), never one to overlook their roles as mothers, and both come to the role following some sort of tragedy befalling their predecessor.
McCord (Téa Leoni) is an attractive and smart University professor who specialises in Middle East politics.
As a former CIA analyst, this working mother enjoys something of a charmed life. Digging horse manure out of her farm stable is about as rough as it gets.
“We’re teachers, we’re parents, we’re horse owners,” she tells her dinner party friends. “And every day we wake up that’s all we’ve gotta be.”
But when the Secretary’s plane disappears over the Atlantic, the President (Keith Carradine) tries to lure her as a successor.
“You don’t just think outside the box. You don’t even know there is a box,” he tells her. Ok, not his best line.
Two months later she has moved her two teenage kids, Alison (Katherine Herzer) and Jason (Evan Roe) and husband Henry (Tim Daly) to Washington.
Here her Chief of Staff is Nadine (a somewhat pale-looking Bebe Neuwirth) while Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek) is White House Chief of Staff. But the latter already begrudges her due to her favoured nation status with the President. He cautions her against manoeuvring behind his back.
It isn’t long before she has her first near-crisis with two American boys held captive in Syria and at risk of execution. For the Secretary it’s a race against time to have them freed before the media is also alerted to the situation. A tug of war ensues over the best method to resolve things swiftly and safely.
Her speechwriter Matt Mahoney (Geoffrey Arend) also argues with her press coordinator Daisy Grant (Patina Miller) over the best terminology of her active concern (is she “resigned and conflicted / eager and optimistic/ cautiously optimistic / or forward thinking?”).
But there is also a conspiracy theory, which I won’t divulge, which forms part of a B-plot that will doubtless unfold across the series.
Téa Leoni is a producer of this drama, which also counts Morgan Freeman as another producer. Leoni is strong in a role that is clearly more Hillary Clinton than Madeleine Albright. McCord has the ability to speak her mind and (thanks to an assigned stylist) sport a sense of fashion, while still reminding us she is a caring mother at home.
The script by Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia) remains broadly appealing without ever delving too deep, while the score by trio Transcenders is never short on schmaltz. The pilot is entertaining without being as brilliant or as challenging as The West Wing.
Tim Daly is given little to do as Elizabeth’s husband (apart from looking like Phil Keoghan a lot) but I am encouraged by the casting of both Bebe Neuwirth and Željko Ivanek in support roles -both are excellent actors.
With Elizabeth McCord in charge -almost- America is in safe hands, and with Téa Leoni at the helm audiences are not too far behind.
Madam Secretary premieres 9pm Thursday on TEN.