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Commander in Chief (2-Disc Inaugural Edition Part 2) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 September 2006

“Commander in Chief”:
2-Disc Inaugural Edition,
Part 2

Touchstone Television/Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: TV PG DLS
starring: Geena Davis, Donald Sutherland, Harry J. Lennox, Kyle Secor
director: Daniel Attlas
series release year: 2005
DVD release year: 2006
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

Right when “Commander In Chief” was cancelled, this fascinating exploration of the first female presidency was just starting to heat up. President MacKenzie Allen, played by Geena Davis, was fixing to square off with Donald Sutherland’s Nathan Templeton character, her conservative arch political nemesis. But before this unusual run for The White House even heard the starting gun, it was all over. Poor ratings cast the final and deciding “no” vote for this prematurely cancelled program. What a shame.

The first half of this initial season went to great lengths in introducing its cast of characters. But this last part, fortunately, gets straight to the action. It begins where the first half left off, with a confrontation between The United States and North Korea. Then after that, it’s a continuous stream of one national and/or international crisis after another.

This Korean standoff involves the crew of a damaged U.S. submarine, which unfortunately experienced mobility troubles off the coast of North Korea. Allen, with surprising help from Templeton, brokers a deal with the Chinese to step in and assist with rescue efforts. This situation is particularly frightening; especially because North Korea—in real life—is seemingly always looking for any excuse to show off its growing nuclear arsenal.

Allen’s next crisis isn’t any easier, however, as it involves a man who holds Air Force One, the presidential aircraft, hostage and threatens to blow it up. In a sidebar to this episode, her teenagers, Horace and Rebecca, hold a party at the White House while their parents are out. The White House narrowly escapes permanent damage from this sudden influx of teen partying.

MacKenzie Allen is not just someone’s utopian concept of the first female president; she is also the ideal president—regardless of gender. She is an independent public servant who is not in bed with any particular party. This integrity angers Templeton, yet it no doubt thrills her growing base of admirers. It also makes “Commander in Chief” a fantasy or sorts. That is because it is impossible—at least within today’s political climate—to secure a permanent room in The White House without first owing one of the two parties a few mighty big favors. Allen slid into her position because she was the vice president to a president who died in office. It’s hard to imagine her being elected to office on her own merits—even though these merits may be many. She caught a break, which gave her the chance to prove her worth.

In addition to setting up the show’s premise, the first half of season one focused much of its attention on Allen’s first family. She has a son and daughter of high school age, a daughter in grade school, a restless husband and a mother who moves in with the President’s family. The final section of the premier season, however, doesn’t peek into her family’s life nearly as much.

One family member who does get into a little trouble—although it’s no fault of his own—is Allen’s husband, Rod. After his drink is spiked at a party, he is set up to be caught in a suspiciously romantic pose with an intern. Somehow, such presidential compromise with interns sounds vaguely familiar.

Rather than spotlighting her immediate blood relatives, Allen’s administrative family gets put to the test most often during this second half. One episode, “The Price You Pay,” concerns Carl Brantley (Adam Arkin), Allen’s nominee for attorney general, who is forced to defend his toughness (or lack thereof) on crime. Templeton’s cronies dig up isolated incidents where lifetime criminals beat the system and went on to commit more crimes during his watch, in order to portray Brantley as soft on wrong-doers. Allen shows her loyalty—which is sometimes loyalty to a fault—by standing by her man. [This episode title is one word away from a Bruce Springsteen song off “The River” album—the full title is “The Price You Pay.” The next episode is “Ties That Bind,” also a song name on the same Bruce album. It may be coincidental, but I suspect there is a big Boss fan lurking in the production staff for this show. Nevertheless, there are no Springsteen songs used in the series.]

Whereas Allen is strictly dedicated to serving the people, her rival Templeton is a transparently power-hungry politician. During “The Elephant in the Room” episode, Allen is suffering from appendicitis. This illness strikes right after her vice president stepped down due to family matters, but before Allen had decided upon his replacement. When Allen herself replaced the previous president after his death, it was with great reluctance. But Templeton wastes no time in acclimating himself to The White House, as he knows full well that the Speaker of the House is next in line. Instead of fulfilling a merely ceremonial role while Allen convalesces, as would be expected, Templeton strikes while the iron is hot—so to speak—by throwing a Band-Aid on a labor dispute. His aim is to show himself as a man of action, even though this particular act flies squarely in the face of Allen’s labor agenda.

This final Commander in Chief package also includes a few bonus features. There is one segment titled “A Conversation With Madam President,” which is a one-on-one interview with Geena Davis. In it, the actress reveals how she was originally hesitant about doing a TV drama. But after she read the script and saw what a quality program was being proposed, she could not resist the offer. There are also a few deleted scenes as well as some bloopers and outtakes.

Now that “The West Wing,” another fine political drama, is history, presidential television is looking to go through a dry spell for a while. It may be redundant to keep saying “Commander In Chief” will be missed, but it bears repeating. It would have been such a pleasure to watch this show grow and expand even more. It would have also been fascinating to see how Allen reacted to making mistakes—assuming she made any. It does take some suspension of disbelief to accept that Allen is so squeaky clean. If Davis’ character has any flaws at all, it is that she is just a little too good, a tad too close to perfect, to be true.

I read recently that there is a “Commander in Chief” TV movie in the works. That is great news! Hopefully, it will find a large audience; one that demands a resumption of the weekly series. With another dreaded presidential election right around the corner, it is so much more heartening to imagine this fictitious Davis character fulfilling the presidency, instead of whomever we are forced to choose between the next time around. “Commander In Chief” is such a beautiful dream; I don’t ever want to wake up from it. I’m pathetic, I know.

more details
sound format: English Dolby Digital 5.1
aspect ratio: 1.78:1
special features: A conversation with Madam President—One-on-one interview with Geena Davis; Deleted scenes; White House humor—bloopers and outtakes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
front speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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