Here’s your high-concept, one-sentence description of “Commander in Chief”: Geena Davis is the first female President of the United States!
In a nutshell, Mackenzie Allen (Davis), the independent Vice President of the United States, finds herself in a dilemma when the President has a stroke and wants her to resign so that the Speaker of the House, Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), who shares the President’s political agenda, can take over the reigns of the country; instead, the President dies, Templeton patronizes Allen, and she decides that, despite the deathbed request, she’ll be damned if she’s going to bow out…so she doesn’t. And, voila, history is made.
Given that their show was coming on the air just as “The West Wing” was working its way through its final season, the producers of “Commander in Chief” must’ve been gleeful at the thought that they’d be able to pick up the demographic who enjoys a good political drama. And the political stuff is good. There’s a lot of backstabbing, particularly by Sutherland, who does sneaky and conniving better than just about anyone; allegiances are bouncing all over the place as President Allen wins over various people, and you’re never sure if someone’s a leak, a plant, or if, amazingly enough, they’re actually on her side. Davis does extremely well in the role, and, given that she’s an executive producer of the show, one has to wonder how close the politics of President Allen mirror her own, and if that’s how she’s able to come off as so believable.
Unfortunately, the drama isn’t limited to just political. President Allen has a husband and three kids, and she’s very pro-family, so she tries to blend her family life into her political life; in turn, “Commander in Chief” attempts to find a middle ground there as well. We see how her husband, Rod Calloway (Kyle Secor), deals with being shifted from being the Vice President’s Chief of Staff into his role as First Gentleman; there’s an interesting plot where he’s tempted by the offer to become the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, but, inevitably, the President creates a new position to keep her husband happy and within her political inner circle. There’s also a running joke about how there’s rarely any opportunity for the President and her husband to get any hot lovin’; if it’s not a political crisis, it’s a kid having a nightmare. (“POTUS interruptus,” cracks the President at one point.) What doesn’t work nearly as well, however, are the attempts to incorporate the teen angst of the President’s twin teenagers, Horace (Matt Lanter) and Rebecca (Caitlin Wachs). While the character of Rebecca has a great deal of potential, given that she disagrees with her mother’s politics, can’t stand being under the microscope of the press, and is trying to find a boyfriend while under the watchful eye of the Secret Service, Horace starts off as a goody two shoes, then all of a sudden develops into a moody bastard who’s failing his classes and is trying to coast through high school because his mother’s the President. One gets the idea that the network said, “Okay, let’s get the teen demographics raised! This ‘nice guy’ thing with Horace isn’t working; all the teenybopper girls love boys who are rebels, so let’s see if we can’t make him a complete fuck-up, thereby wooing all the little girlies.” Then, during the show’s Thanksgiving episode, President Allen’s mother, played by Polly Bergen, is invited to move into the White House. Another demographic rises!
“Commander in Chief” wasn’t renewed for a second season, which is a bit strange, given how high its ratings were when it first came out of the gate. Indeed, it started with a lot of potential; even with the apparent attempt to capture the “O.C.” and “Matlock” audiences, all ten of these episodes stand relatively strong. It’s when they lost track of the fact that the President was the main character of the show that things started lose their luster…but, then, that’s a topic for another review, isn’t it?
Did you check out the descriptor of this set? “2-Disc Inaugural Edition, Part 1” is just as ominous as it sounds; it means that some genius at Buena Vista Home Entertainment…or maybe it was Touchstone; it’s hard to say…decided to take a show with only 18 episodes to its name and, instead of releasing it as one set, split it into two. (“Part 2,” which includes episodes 11 – 18, is scheduled for release on September 5th.) Even worse, the last episode on this set ends with three of the most obnoxious words imaginable: “To Be Continued.” It’s bad enough to rip off fans of the show and make them buy two sets when one would do, but it’s just downright shady to split up a cliffhanger like that.