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Commander in Chief (2-Disc Inaugural Edition Part 1) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 June 2006

“Commander in Chief”:
2-Disc Inaugural Edition,
Part 1

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

If you’re skeptical about “Commander in Chief”, I don’t blame you. I was too. The premise of this ABC TV program, now on hiatus, imagines the first female president of The United States. It smacks of political correctness and a feminist agenda. It conjures up visions of a Spice Girl starring in “The West Wing”. It suggests freakin’ Girl Power in The White House, for heaven’s sake! The good news is that none of these nightmarish summations describe the actual program. By the time you’re finished viewing these ten episodes, it won’t matter at all that this president was portrayed by a woman. Instead, you’ll be hooked on a smart political drama – one that just happens to star a woman in The Oval Office.

Ah, but this isn’t just any woman; it’s the marvelous Geena Davis, who sparkles in the role of President Mackenzie Allen. Her character understands the corrupt nature of American politics, yet has more than enough strength to do the right thing most of the time.

Our story begins with President Teddy Bridges on his death bed. Allen is his Vice President, but not his first choice as a replacement. It’s quickly revealed that Allen was primarily added to the presidential ticket to help win the “soccer mom” vote. On his death bed he specifically asks Allen top resign as VP, in order for his friend and Speaker Of The House Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), to succeed him instead. But when Allen refuses to step down, and instead takes her rightful place in The Oval Office, a rivalry between Templeton and Allen begins to unfold.

Contentious give and take between Allen and Templeton drives much of the drama in this series. Templeton is painted as the evil and power-hungry politician he truly is, whereas Allen is not quite so power-hungry, or at least she doesn’t show it. In fact, it’s obvious that she actually likes Templeton as a person. Why else would she forgive Templeton for continuously undermining her administration? Every time somebody resigns from Allen’s administration or betrays her in some way, Templeton is behind it. Templeton often comes off like a spoiled child: If he doesn’t get his way, somebody’s going to have to pay for it.

In one episode, Allen is given a videotape that captures a younger Templeton spouting off racist trash about African Americans. Many in Allen’s administration are overjoyed at this discovery. Now they’ll finally have something to hold over Templeton’s head to keep his mean-spirited mouth shut. In fact, it’s the kind of damning evidence that could well end a man’s political career. But instead of jumping at this opportunity to put her enemy underfoot, she gift wraps the original copy instead, and hands it over to Templeton. When she passes along this diffused time bomb, she explains to Templeton that if they should run against each other come reelection time, she wants to defeat him fair and square. This act spotlights Allen’s pure integrity. If only we had real politicians like her.

Sutherland is never less than brilliant in his role as Templeton. He’s mean, but he’s also smart. His character truly believes that politics is a game where you’re either a winner or a loser, and to be that winner you must use every tool at your disposal – whether it is a moral one or not. This characterization sets the show apart as one that honestly reveals how Washington really works. You can talk all you want in civics class about how bills become laws, but the bottom line is that those who apply brutal power are oftentimes the ones that have the last word in this town.

The only fault with Sutherland’s character is something the actor cannot help at all. You see, he plays a Southern Senator from Florida, but he has no discernable accent. In fact, this Halifax, Nova Scotia native’s Canadian accent comes out in his dialogue more often than any hint of Southern roots. His “outs” come off as “oats,” and he uses expressions like, “bloody hell!” multiple times throughout. Bloody anything is not a Southern expression! I should know this, because my dad was also from Halifax, and that was one of his favorite expletives.

Along with its political drama, this program is also a series about a family. You can well imagine how hard it would for a woman to run the country and her family at the same time. Allen has two teenage children, daughter Rebecca Calloway (Caitlin Wachs) and son Horace Calloway (Matt Lanter). She also has an elementary age daughter, Amy (Jasmine Anthony). Her teenage son must deal with kids at school that call his dad a wuss, and her teenage daughter must repel boys at school who’d like nothing more than to say they’ve slept with the president’s daughter. Being a teen is confusing enough, just getting through those teen years. But to have the Secret Service monitoring your every step, and even every kiss, makes even the most mundane day into a trial. On a lighter note, the youngest Amy has a severe sweet tooth. Allen is constantly replacing her breakfast, lunch and dinner goodies with something more substantial.

Allen’s husband, Rod Calloway (Kyle Secor), is one of this series’ most fascinating propositions—that is, after you get past the fact that actor Secor is a dead ringer for news reporter Stone Phillips. Most men, whether they care to admit it or not, are strongly challenged if their wife makes more money than they do. But what if your wife is the most powerful person in the free world? Is your role simply to support your wifely president, or is it still okay to find (nearly) equally significant work to occupy your time? In one episode, Rod Calloway is offered the Baseball Commissionership. His pride is so low by this time he nearly takes the job without even consulting with Allen. Secondarily, most First Ladies are usually wrapped up in the décor of The White House and such, as well as entertaining guests. But this First Gentleman rightfully comes off as a fish out of water.

With steamy shows like “Desperate Housewives” eating up rating points, it’s a miracle something as sophisticated as “Commander in Chief” was ever made in the first place. It’s hard to imagine anyone else carrying it with as much class as Davis does. If this country ever elects a female president, please let it be Geena Davis rather than Hillary Clinton! Sure, Davis is just an actor. But don’t forget that Ronald Reagan also practiced the same profession before he entered politics. What a shame this program only lasted a short while, because it featured the sorts of strong characters that make network television worth watching. Hail to this chief!

“Commander in Chief” doesn’t use aural elements to its advantage nearly enough. There’s one episode that involves an endangered submarine, where familiar submarine beeping sounds are worked into the soundtrack. It’s a nice touch, and one that makes you wish the creators would have worked in more of these similar audio components. The program’s musical scores are always proper, if rarely memorable. It also would have been a little more entertaining if a few more popular songs were played during the show, especially whenever the teen kids were on screen. This is something The WB always did so well.

more details
sound format: English Dolby Digital 5.1
aspect ratio: 1.78:1
special features: None
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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