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A Few More Shows

November 25th, 2005

I figured I’d just finish off the list of new shows I’m interested in. I won’t go into the CSI: New York, because essentially it’s the same show as Miami or Vegas, just different characters–but then, with CSI, the characters aren’t really the stars of the show. They’re interesting and well-played, but the murder and the science (which is not always accurate) are the real draws there. I also won’t get into the Stargate series; the original has worn out somewhat and lost a lot of magic when Richard Dean Anderson left, and the new series is too involved in the original to get into on its own. Instead, let’s look first at Commander in Chief.

CinC, to save typing, can perhaps be viewed as “West Wing Lite.” It centers on Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis), a political independent, who gets drafted as a conservative president’s vice president, a sop to soccer moms to bring his ticket to the center. They win, and she is more or less tossed aside. But then the president becomes gravely ill–and commands her to resign, so a properly conservative, and male, leader can be put into office to take over when the president dies. That man is Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), who plays the bad guy in the series. At first, Allen plans to step down, but after a particularly condescending speech to her by Templeton, she changes her mind and takes the presidency. Her husband and three kids are dragged along into it with her, and play a big part in the series.

It’s really West Wing Lite because it centers more on sketchy and sometimes corny melodrama rather than on real issues. And for a series that pretends to be about empowering women, you know that if the character were a man, his family would not be as central to the storylines–the focus on the family seems less a happenstance or an independent choice, and more a matter of she’s-a-woman-so-we-have-to-have-her-family-involved-more. But the real failure of this series is the cardboard nature of everything–the characters, the issues, and the situations. Everything is stark but not deep. The husband is pressed into service as the First Gentleman, but the situation is unrealistic and forced–at first, people seem to assume that he’ll be picking out linen swatches and deciding what’s on the menu for dinner, and his desire to press his manly role is similarly overemphasized. The problems the kids have are also exaggerated and oversimplified. The same can be said for the situations this president meets. Sutherland as Templeton is a classic mustache-twirler, taking every chance to shoot Allen down, stabbing her in the back while claiming to be all lightness and sweet. The issues presented by the circumstances faced are glossed over, not delved into like The West Wing does.

But the worst flaw is the infallibility of the main character. Obstacles are thrown up almost to the point of being comical, and yet every situation is dealt with adeptly and successfully. This president always lucks out and never loses. It always works out in the end. And at the end, we end up learning almost nothing about the issues presented. Aaron Sorkin could make an episode of The West Wing about something as mundane as the census, and manage to make it funny, intriguing, engaging, and informative. CinC struggles to achieve half that, and doesn’t seem to even attempt the other half.

I’ll keep watching it for a while though–series creator Rod Lurie is stepping aside, and successful Steven Bochco (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) is coming in as the show runner; it’ll be worth it to see if the show can get better than this.

The other show is an unqualified hit: Boston Legal. Despite the strength of the secondary characters, Candice Bergen and Rene Auberjonois, the real stars are James Spader and William Shatner. Spader, introduced on another David E. Kelley show, The Practice, is brilliant in the extremely well-written and -conceived role of Alan Shore. Shore is a rude, gallant, saintly evil, sexually forceful, hedonistic and completely uninhibited silver-tongued attorney, a mass of weaknesses, strengths, and seeming contradictions, prone to burst out joyfully in completely inappropriate behavior. Shore is one of the best characters to come to television in a long time, a character who is endlessly entertaining and promises to be deep and complex–and they got the best actor possible for the role.

Just Spader himself would be enough to make the series worthwhile, but they got an added bonus: William Shatner. Now, I’m not the biggest Shatner fan, but one thing you have to admit, the man has a brilliant sense of his own absurdity and can play it to comic effect to no end. In this series, he plays Denny Crane (motto: “Denny Crane!”), a delightfully arrogant, bombastic, narcissistic, dyed-in-the-wool conservative, an over-the-top male chauvinist, gun-toting, homophobic fuddy-duddy with a combination of mental acuity and fuzziness, the latter brought on by either Alzheimer’s or Mad Cow Disease (he prefers the latter). Shatner plays the role to the hilt, but the role is reigned in to the perfect degree by the writers. Crane, in the hands of different writers or another actor, would be ludicrous and unappealing, but with this team, Crane is human and endearing, not to mention hilarious.

Everyone else helps a good deal, but Spader and Shatner make the show. If you aren’t watching it, pick it up.

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  1. Tim Kane
    November 27th, 2005 at 01:05 | #1

    I get together and watch Boston Legal with friends. Shatner has excellent comedic timing. I wish the music were different and I must say I liked it better when it was at the very end of the practice. Spader is brilliant and as you said the back ground actors are fantastic. Great fun, three thumbs up.

  2. November 27th, 2005 at 07:03 | #2

    Your descriptions of the characters of Shore and Crane are nothing short of spot on:

    Shore is “…prone to burst out joyfully in completely inappropriate behavior.”

    Denny – “…delightfully arrogant, bombastic, narcissistic, dyed-in-the-wool conservative.”

    Oh, man. I don’t know where or how or if you’ll let me, but your attributed comments NEED to be on my Boston Legal website (http://Boston-Legal.org). May I?

  3. Luis
    November 27th, 2005 at 15:17 | #3


    Sure, just give a link back to cite where it came from. Thanks for asking!

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