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Commander In Chief: The Inaugural Edition Review

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It’s all about the Big Man in the White House — except he’s a woman

★★★★★

Republicans are a sensitive bunch. All it takes is the whiff of a liberal agenda for right-wing pundits to throw their toys out of the pram. But even if conservatives are prone to seeing bleeding hearts in every shadow, with Commander In Chief they may have a point.

This Washington-set drama nails its colours to the mast with no apology, coming out of the blue corner with both fists flying. Republicans here are portrayed as villainous, sexist, racist bigots, led by an over-the-top Donald Sutherland who all but twirls an imaginary moustache while scheming to steal the Presidency. It’s far from subtle but, providing it doesn’t offend your political sensibilities, Commander In Chief still has a great deal of merit.

A well-cast Geena Davis plays the
title role with charming determination as America’s first female President, Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Allen. Ascending to the position under less than auspicious circumstances, she finds herself searching desperately for allies within a hostile, right-wing administration. The writing is tight and the dialogue snappy, which is nothing less than you’d expect from Rod Lurie, the man behind 2000’s similarly feminist-friendly political drama, The Contender. The series splits
its focus between government and the difficulties of balancing the Presidency with motherhood. The new President’s children are difficult, being largely unimpressed by having their normal lives turned upside down, and her husband’s emasculation in the role as First Gentleman manifests itself in a series of petty rebellions.

The potential of Commander In Chief was, however, strangled when Lurie was shown the door after only two episodes — the result of late scripts and a reluctance to take creative direction from the network. His replacement, veteran TV producer Steven Bochco, took steps to moderate the anti-Republican slant, but also quashed the more interesting sub-plots (an HIV-positive aide and a secret canoodling tape of the President’s daughter), homogenising the show for mass-market consumption. Even the dynamic between Allen and her overshadowed husband was removed when Bochco gave him a pivotal role on the President’s staff. Bochco jumped ship a few months later, but by this point audiences had switched off and this promising series was given the axe.

But despite its quiet demise on TV, Commander In Chief remains highly watchable and the 17 episodes included here (the final one rather aptly titled Unfinished Business) are entertaining enough. For Lurie the experience must have come as a bitter lesson in the cutthroat world of network TV, but he may have accomplished what some claimed to be his real goal for the show — to prepare America for a Presidential campaign by Hilary Clinton in 2008.

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