‘West Wing’ fans rejoice: ‘Madam Secretary’ will bring you your politics fix

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

Observer Correspondent 

Fans of “The West Wing” can finally rejoice. After seven years without a major political drama that really takes on issues as “West Wing” did, you’ve finally got a show on TV that brings you into the White House.

And even better, the major player in this new CBS show is a woman.

The show debuted last Sunday night — just before another great drama, “The Good Wife” — and it didn’t disappoint one bit from the very first scene.

The show follows the leadership of the nation’s new Secretary of State Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, played brilliantly by Tea Leoni. We first meet the secretary after two twenty-something boys from Hartford, Conn., are taken hostage while in Syria. The hostage takers think these kids are jihadists. Truth is, they’re not — they’re just two kids, really, who wanted to help seek peace for the Syrian people.

But they’re in serious trouble right away because the government of Syria says they’re going to be executed in just a few days — the days following their capture.

As all of this happens, the current Secretary of State is involved in a plane crash, and the President of the United States, Conrad Dalton, played by Keith Carradine (you may remember him as Frank from classic episodes of “Criminal Minds”) wants McCord to be his new Secretary of State.

She and her husband, Henry McCord, played by Tim Daly, are both living comfortable lives. She’s a political-science professor and he’s a religion professor at the University of Virginia.

But it all turns upside down when the President shows up to their Virginia ranch — and gives McCord a day to decide if she’ll accept the position.

You don’t say no to the President of the United States. No one does in reality. And no one ever did to other fictitious President, like Josiah Bartlet, most notably.

And so two months later, we’re rejoined with Mrs. McCord serving at the White House while her husband finds himself with a great job as a religion professor at the Jesuit university, Georgetown.

It’s a religion professor’s dream to work with the Jesuits, isn’t it? And that’s precisely what we learn about him when he gets there.

But Mrs. McCord is immediately faced with a crisis — and that is, to get these two hostages freed from the Syrian prison. That’s no easy task, given the political climate there in reality.

And the reality of it transcends into this new show.

From the get-go, we’re treated to just how difficult it is to be a member of the President’s cabinet. And perhaps too stereotypically, we’re shown, right away, that it’s often more challenging for a woman to get the President’s ear than it is for a man to get his ear.

Her covert plan to get the two hostages freed is immediately dismissed by the President — her long-time friend from days back in the Central Intelligence Agency — in favor of a plan presented by the chief of staff, a man.

So while there are some trite themes that one might expect a woman new to the White House to experience, the bottom line is the show has taken — and will continue to take — serious modern- day, post-9/11 themes and it will run with them.

This is perhaps even more exciting than “The West Wing” was, as that show never directly addressed the change to the world after 9/11 (the show began pre-Sept. 11, 2001 in 1999, and while it did occasionally touch on terrorism, it never did so based on real-time events).

“Madam Secretary” is different. The subjects are real. We finally get a very strong woman in a very high position of authority — and she’s the focus of the show, not the President at all.

In fact, this show doesn’t work one bit if the Secretary of State is a man. But it works with her as a woman (sure there have been other shows with women in a powerful position — think “24” — but those characters have always had major flaws and weaknesses.

Elizabeth Faulkner McCord is by no means weak. She’s anything but it.

And because of that, “Madam Secretary” is one that will absolutely last. It should draw tremendous ratings following football and “60 Minutes” on CBS.

And finally, “West Wing” fans can rejoice because they’re more than likely going to get the politics fix from Hollywood so desperately missed since that show went off the air seven years ago.

The Observer Staff