Commander-in-Chief (ABC)

West Wing is limping towards the inevitable cancellation (well, everyone’s going to call it an official end of the show – after all eight seasons for a drama is very, very good – but we know that the show has suffered a lot since Aaron Sorkin and Rob Lowe left). There are hardly any other political dramas on TV these days. Which makes it even a bigger surprise that it took so long to come up with a clone of West Wing – and what a pretty good clone it is.

ABC knows family entertainment, and so they take a proven and winning formula and add some parents and kids themes to it. The result is a little off-balance, but it makes for great entertainment. It’s West Wing Light. It’s West Wing with a bachelor’s degree, and not a PHD. It works.

Commander-in-Chief is about a woman president (Geena Davis). No, she wasn’t elected into office (that would be science fiction, right Smile) She is a reluctant vice-president who has to take over after the president kicks the bucket. Being an independent, she’s immediately under pressure from both parties – pressure to resign, to give in, to comply with the boys’ club rules. But right off the bat she shows backbone, goes through with the oath of office, shuffles the cabinet, and jumps right in. The problem is – Speaker of the House (Donald Sutherland) was next in line for the presidency, and this outcome makes him a perfect enemy. Close, powerful, and constantly motivated.

Other problems – her husband – who played a big role in her vice-presidency, now has to fill smaller shoes – be the first lady, be the face of the office, make appearances, but no decisions. More problems – two teenage kids who must deal with celebrity status in schools. And finally, the staff that supports either the republicans or democrats, and cannot effectively communicate the president’s ideas or messages.

And, of course, there’s a gender thing. She’s a girl, they are all men. The power grabs are stunning, and the consequences are deadly.

The cast is amazing – every scene with Geena or Donald is priceless. He’s the serpent, the serpent from the bible, offering the apple, and knowing well in advance the wrath of god. She’s smart enough to see through his traps, but wise enough to take the bait – to keep some appearance of relationships, and to avoid an all-out rebellion.

The crises are nowhere near West Wing levels, but they are also handled a little more realistically – with haggling and trickery more similar to lawyers than diplomats.

And while the husband and kids stuff is less engaging – it does offer a few family moments, and some laughs. Easier to follow, easier to like/dislike characters, it’s watered down version of a great show. And, it’s got Donald Sutherland.

Tuesdays on ABC.

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