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TV REVIEW: Commander In Chief v. West Wing: For a Start – No Balls

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1.3 Episode aired Oct. 18

Not to speak of the obvious, but Commander in Chief lacks balls. But let’s put the blame where it belongs, not with Geena Davis, but with the scriptwriters.

In his effort to discredit President Mackenzie Allen, House Speaker Nathan Templeton successfully got three cabinet members to resign and went after chief of staff Jim Gardner (Harry Lennix), who used to be now-dead Republican President Bridge’s chief of staff, as well. In blunt, tactless language he urged Gardner to also resign and for that duty “you can be my vice president.” Templeton tells the man – who is black – think of the history – the first black vice president. Don’t just think of the office of the president; think of the the history of your people.

Well, being the first woman as president is arguably a greater fictional landmark and why wouldn’t Gardner aspire to the presidency himself?

So there’s that and the fact that Gardner in Episode 1 already wanted Allen to resign so Templeton could move in as president. But in this episode you can see his disgust at Templeton’s massive grab for power.

So, bear with me here a moment.

West Wing at its best was both about the grand gestures and the subtleties; about a president unafraid. One of such stand-out moments was when President Bartlet humiliated a talk radio host, loosely based on Dr. Laura Schlessinger. (and “loose” and “Dr. Laura” have often appeared in the same room together. Except visually.).

In “The Midterms” episode which aired exactly five years ago – Oct. 18, 2000 – from when this third ever episode of CoC aired, Bartlet walks into a room of on-air talk radio “personalities” and sees a few people he really dislikes, including one Dr. Jenna Jacobs, daintily eating crab cakes, who has called homosexuality an “abomination”

“I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an “abomination!”

“I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.”

“Yes, it does. Leviticus!”

Which then causes Bartlet to rip through a few Leviticus and Exodus verses of what the Bible says – freely sell your sons and daughters into slavery, kill those who work on the Sabbath, don’t touch pig skin. And Bartlet ends it with ::: “One last thing. While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in this building when the president stands, nobody sits.

It’s just a glorious smackdown. Even if it was heavily “cribbed”. (Leviticus also says eating shellfish – like crab – is perhaps – a greater abomination, though this isn’t referenced in the show)

Reel it back in to Commander In Chief, 2005. We’re at the state dinner and Templeton’s assistant, tells Gardner, “Now’s the time.”

Oh yeah. We’re going to get a glorious smackdown where the writers shine and points are both made and scored into foreheads; a dressing down that will severely damage – like a knife wound in the stomach – Templeton’s plans and probably any chance of any future presidency.

But, … sigh … here’s what happened. Gardner simply walked to a quiet corner, catching Templeton messily scooping up melted chocolate, and simply said, the loyalty of the office was more important and that everyone should be doing their best to give her a chance.

“Think of your people” Gardner belatedly rejoins, referring back to the earlier conversation.

“My people?” Templeton asks sneerfully.

“The American people.”

Ooof. Ugh. That fell flatter than first daughter’s chocolate pancakes.

Let’s just say, my poll numbers went down.

Hire me. I would have memorialized that moment like Washington’s mug on Mount Rushmore.

For the sake of the program, for the sake of delivering a killer blow to be remembered by viewers and characters alike, that little Gardner-Templeton non-conversation was the wrong move; the least dramatic; the least confrontational.

The nuance was there. President Allen delivered a copy of the biography of President John Tyler to Templeton. Tyler, we are informed, was the first vice president to succeed his president (They mean, in emergency circumstances and without being elected to office; in Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Johnson and Gerald Ford circumstances.) Allen reached the presidency under similar cirumstances; as her predecessor President Bridges died while in office.

That was the subtle touch; very well finessed into the story line. But what use was the gentle nuance without the harsh bravado?

Instead of quiet, isolated reason, Gardner needed to stand up and talk about Templeton’s power play with the idea of giving him the vice presidency. Not for any skill set – none was mentioned – but for “and here Speaker Templeton referred to African Americans in the most dismissive of tones, not for my skills, but for ‘your people.’ ” Gardner needed to stand up and talk about how Templeton had orchestrated the three resignations. He needed to stand up and ask, what kind of American undermines their president in such a callous way in such trying times?

Templeton also needed to be told his lust for power and control of people was very unbecoming and very unpresidential. Publicly. Throwing in a little mention of Templeton the rat couldn’t hurt either.

No balls.

It’s a shame because this episode for the first time had some meat on the bone. Hope was handed to viewers that there would be plot, past the “she’s a woman president” shticker shock.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.
  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Temple,

    The funny thing about this review is that you mention The West Wing in past tense. As if it wasn’t still on the air. It is, of course, but I suspect you’re really tacitly acknowledging that it’s no longer worth watching.

    So maybe the question is not so much about how this show measures up to The West Wing at its best, but at its now-unwatchable state. Which of the two is worthier?

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    The West Wing is still better. I’m talking past tense on the episode(s) that are past :-)

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    On second thoguht and a reread – You’re right Michael, it does come across that way.

    I keep on missing West Wing because of its new time. I managed to remember it about 20 minutes in last Sunday and I was struck with the comfortable familiarity. It’s in its seventh season and I think it’s still compelling.

    Also, someone somewhere I read thought all the scenes with lame duck Bartlet were old and not worth it compared to the campaign. I think it was the Jeers column in Tv Guide.

    As I watched, I thought a combination of the two would be grand. Move some of the best characters and/ or plot lines over from West Wing into this show.

    And Mary Louise Parker (Amy on the show, right???) and Matlin I would love to have stay.

    Fire female president. First deaf … Labor Secretary or DefSec (get it?) – or whatever.

  • http://childoftv.blogspot.com/ Brent McKee

    You’ve agreed with what I’ve been saying for a while. I’ll go further and suggest that the best of “Commander in Chief” is still worse than the worst of “The West Wing” and the current season of “The West Wing” is scarcely its worst. Moreover, “The West Wing”, now languishing in a death slot, is better than virtually every new drama that NBC debuted this season.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I should have typed “first female president” in my last post, not “fire …”

    On West Wing – people can be swayed by the “it’s no longer cool to watch the show” factor and when your network shitcans you to a weird timeslot (which probably isn’t that bad, but I’m just not used to it), the anti-momentum builds and then it’s “buh bye.”

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I don’t often say, “I told you so,” though recent events here bring the phrase to mind.

    But, I told you so, this series died. It was just forced and fucked up.