Pilot Perception: Madam Secretary

Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.

The Show: Madam Secretary, CBS in the U.S. and Global TV in Canada, Sundays at 8/7c

The Pedigree: The show was written and created by Barbara Hall (Judging Amy), who executive produces with actor Morgan Freeman. The pilot was directed by David Semel (The Strain).

The Cast & How You Know Them: Madam Secretary stars Tea Leoni (The Naked Truth), Tim Daly (Private Practice), Geoffrey Arend (Body of Proof), Erich Bergen (Jersey Boys), Kathrine Herzer (American Horror Story), Zeljko Ivanek (True Blood), Patina Miller (All My Children), and Bebe Neuwirth (Frasier).

The Premise: College professor and former spy Elizabeth McCord becomes Secretary of State after her predecessor is killed in a suspicious plane crash, and must learn how to work within the system and deal with public life without losing the unconventional skills that made the president choose her. In addition to the diplomatic crises of the week there’s a slow burn conspiracy plot about what happened with the plane crash as well as interpersonal drama among McCord’s staff and her family.

A Taste:


What Works: Overall, nothing here jumped out at me as amazing, but the pilot was solid and I enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing more. Leoni is a likeable lead and made me root for her character immediately. There were enough plot threads to set up interesting stuff to come without being confusing in the pilot. I enjoyed McCord’s family — the teenagers were interesting and not just obnoxious, and her husband was loving and supportive while still involved in his own career as a religion professor, which allowed for some interesting references (like Aquinas) that you don’t often see on TV.

What Doesn’t: The show avoids espousing any particular political viewpoints, and I understand that the intention is to not alienate half the audience, but it’s limiting and comes across as very weird to be watching a show set within an administration and not even know which party the president represents. It also weirdly mixes in real political events – next week’s episode is called “Another Benghazi,” which makes the audience start wondering whether this is supposed to be set after the current administration or what. The president mentions McCord’s lack of ambition as one of the reasons why he chooses her, and while that makes sense from his point of view, it was disappointing to see in a show about a powerful woman. The writing is extremely clunky at times and McCord’s staff needs more personality, but the cast is decent and that’s a relatively fixable issue.

Our Favorite Line: “I feel like it’s been done.” “That’s why they call it history, Jake.”

You Might Like This Madam Secretary wants you to compare it to The Good Wife — both shows about brainy women in their forties who opted out of their original careers and then are thrust back into powerful positions where they have to prove themselves without compromising their ethics. As far as White House shows go, so far, at least, it’s more similar in tone to the idealism of The West Wing than the soapiness of Scandal.

If You’re Interested: Catch up on the pilot on the CBS or Global TV sites or on demand, then set your DVR for Sunday at 8/7c. (With a football buffer, probably.)

(Photo courtesy of CBS.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *