TV Review: “Madam Secretary”- It’s Been Done

Written by Michelle Young April 20, 2015


When it comes to political television, there are a few shows that rise to the top. Shows like “Scandal”, “House of Cards”, and “The West Wing” were innovative in their style and actually made political stories seem sexy and exciting. “The West Wing” famously pioneered the “walk and talk” style of dialogue, which is now abundantly used all over television. This is my main problem with CBS’s “Madam Secretary”; it’s not particularly original. It’s an okay show, but it just feels like it’s all been done before.

“Madam Secretary” follows Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni), a highly ethical, and highly Liberal, university professor and former CIA analyst. Elizabeth’s life seems perfectly simple, complete with a horse farm and a cute little family that is just as brilliant and opinionated as she is. But this all gets flipped upside down when the President (Keith Carradine) comes a knockin’, asking Elizabeth to fill the newly vacant role of Secretary of State, left after the sudden (and mysterious) death of the current Secretary, Vincent Marsh (Brian Stokes Mitchell). She cautiously agrees to take the position and moves to Washington D.C with her family in tow. And while Elizabeth proves to be more than competent at her new job, her sudden return to the fast paced world of US politics leads to some issues in both her professional and personal life.

“I believe I can effect real change in the world. I want you to help me do that. I know you won’t let me down.”

The format of “Madam Secretary” combines the basic procedural drama with a more serialized storyline that runs throughout the season. The overarching mystery of the former secretary’s death is a twisty and exciting plot line, but it often gets bogged down and drowned out by the disappointing, lack-luster ‘day-to-day’ stories. These stories often deal with the typical political subject matter: volatile Middle Eastern relations, Chinese human rights violations, and the ever-present “kooky” Canadian diplomatic fiasco. And while some of the story lines are plucked straight from current news headlines, they generally feel like they have all been done before by much better shows.


Ultimately, the stories are just too neat and tidy, which makes them overly predictable. The show employs quaint parallels which are fun, but sometimes a little too ‘on the nose’, like Elizabeth struggling around the ethical issues with keeping tabs on her teenage daughter, while simultaneously battling a government surveillance scandal. Each story always seems to resolve itself perfectly, so some of the tension gets taken away. After about six episodes, you start to not really care about the problem, because you know it’s inevitably going to be fixed.

”Nice work, Madam Secretary.”

Another big issue I have with the show is how it deals with its secondary characters. The interactions between Elizabeth and her husband Henry (Tim Daly) are great and along with the rest of her family, they feel natural, authentic, witty, and entertaining. The scenes of them all together are some of the best. I also really enjoy the combative relationship between Elizabeth and White House Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek), but he is severely underused.

madam secretary

The characters that seem to fall down are the State Department employees. These characters are either underdeveloped, like Blake (Erich Bergen) the ‘type A’ assistant, or so poorly developed that they become annoying and unnecessary. The hapless affair between Matt (Geoffrey Arend) and Daisy (Patina Miller) gets tirelessly beaten over our heads to the point that I find them both unlikeable. Every time I see any of these characters on the screen I just want to skip ahead; I just can’t find a good reason to care about them.

“You don’t just think outside the box, you don’t even know there is a box.”

It is safe to say without Téa Leoni at the helm, this show would not survive. Her portrayal of Elizabeth is fantastic, as she has just the right amount of gravitas to pull off being a powerful government official, but is still grounded enough to be relatable in her private life. The duality of Elizabeth’s life really shines through in her performance.


For a show that really hasn’t added anything new to the format, I think “Madam Secretary” does an okay job. The show is still watchable and is a nice compliment to a CBS Sunday lineup that already includes the powerful, female driven, “The Good Wife”. The show’s season finale airs on May 3 and it has already been picked up for a second season. Hopefully the second season will see “Madam Secretary” have vast script improvements.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Madam Secretary

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