Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Commander in Chief" Comparisons, Reviews

A large collection of reviews of Commander-in-Chief and comparisons with "The West Wing.
Continue reading the reviews by clicking below:

From Reuters:
"Although Sutherland and Alda share the distinction of having both played Army doctor "Hawkeye" Pierce in their respective film and TV "M*A*S*H" performances, the Republican politicians they portray could hardly be more different.

While Alda's "West Wing" character, Sen. Arnold Vinick, is moderate, thoughtful and likable, Sutherland's Templeton on "Commander" is a politically ruthless ideologue and sexist.

Demonizing that show's leading Republican is almost sure to turn off conservative viewers, some of whom already see the show as the work of "liberal Hollywood preparing the nation for a Hillary Clinton presidency in 2008," according to Stacey Lynn Koerner, director for ad-buying agency Initiative.

Negative advance Internet buzz about the show was revealed in a recent survey of online chat rooms and discussion boards conducted by ad-buying agency Initiative Media. But conservatives are not the only ones upset over the series.

Although some have cheered the arrival of a TV show that imagines a woman in the White House, feminists have complained that the show's protagonist only assumed power through the death of a male president, rather than winning election in her own right, Koerner said.

Others have suggested the power of a Geena Davis presidency seems belittled by depicting her as having to juggle motherhood and politics, while Sheen's character is largely unfettered by such family-workplace conflicts.

Those critics apparently missed the "West Wing" episodes in which Sheen's President Bartlet temporarily ceded power to a Republican when Bartlet's daughter was kidnapped by terrorists."

Washington Post
"Reality check: If you're a sucker for a good political drama, "Chief" is where you'll want to be on Tuesday nights. The pilot, in which the newly minted president orders an improbable military action, is a little overdone -- and some of the idealistic dialogue may have you rolling your eyes. But that's half the fun in this juicy political drama, which gives us plenty of plot points to chew on. Davis plays her role admirably, but it's Sutherland's portrayal of the cranky congressman that makes "Chief" worth your while."

Oregon Live deems it a '"West Wing" Wannabe':
"The stately Geena Davis drama can't overcome the many unrealistic plot points

ABC's new White House drama "Commander in Chief" doesn't just look like a regendered, slightly rejiggered variation on "The West Wing." That's precisely what it is.

Granted, "Commander" isn't the worst drama to hit the airwaves this season. Far from it, in fact. But it's nowhere near as good as "The West Wing" was in its best years. Which is a problem, because "West Wing" raised the bar for realistic White House drama to a vertiginous height, particularly when it comes to verisimilitude.

So if little old me can sit here ticking off the plot points that veer wildly from how the U.S. government actually works, and from the verities of ordinary human behavior, well, it's a problem that no amount of swelling strings and anthemic horn motifs is going to fix.

Like "West Wing," "Commander" sets out to use its White House setting to dramatize how the government might (or perhaps should) respond to various moral and ethical quandaries. Unlike "West Wing," the fictional president is a woman. Which lends her administration a whole new layer of potential crises, such as the what-happens-when-someone-spills-juice-on-you-en-route-to-your-big-speech problem. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
So in other words, "Commander" plans to respect persons of all political stripes. Which is far more encouraging than its willingness to abandon realism both in human terms (e.g., the chief of protocol condescending to Allen's husband, seemingly unaware that he had until hours earlier been the vice president's chief of staff) and political (Allen launches a military strike to rescue a Nigerian woman from government-sanctioned execution).

These lapses punch serious holes in the "Commander in Chief" fictional ship of state. So maybe Allen should have resigned after all. Her show just isn't presidential material."

From the New York Times:
"The character most likely to be uttering such complaints is the speaker of the House, played by the often slithery Donald Sutherland. That, Mr. Lurie said, is one of the things that distinguishes his show from "The West Wing," the White House drama with Martin Sheen in the Oval Office. "We have an antagonist," he said. Oh, and another distinction: "Our president is much taller.""

From Variety :
"Initially, Lurie approximates the patriotic underpinnings of "The West Wing""The West Wing" but has trapped himself in overly starched archetypes. As a consequence, the only real spark of life occurs during in a well-played exchange when Templeton confronts Allen about her rationale for wanting to lead the free world.

Lurie's previous ABC drama, "Line of Fire," was equally earnest, but at least that crime series dealt in moral ambiguities. By contrast, this pilot proceeds like a front-runner that doesn't want to risk tripping up by taking any dramatic chances.

In the past, that might have been a winning strategy. If recent history teaches us anything, however, it's that even the most marketable series premise is just the first primary in a long, grueling campaign."

Des Moines Register:
"If you're looking for a feel-good government show, rent the first season of "The West Wing" on DVD. "Commander in Chief," a dumbed-down take on a woman presidency that debuts tonight on ABC, features Geena Davis as Mackenzie Allen, an independent academic serving as vice president under a conservative leader who put her on the ticket as a publicity stunt.

Any political show featuring an independent politician in America is obviously dealing in fantasy. But this one isn't the fun female power trip you expect. Mackenzie's three children are (respectively) dull, mouthy and irritatingly saccharine. And the prez herself seems pained through the first episode. Maybe it's all those collagen injections that have made Davis' lips so distractingly puffy."

Courier Journal:
Viewers who like "The West Wing" should love this series because it's all about political power games and people trying to do the right thing, or the best thing for their own political purposes.

Unlike "The West Wing," it's going to be much more of a family show because this president is a mom with teenage twins and a 6-year-old, not to mention a husband who isn't too happy about being the nation's first man. In real life Davis, 50, is the mother of three, including 16-month-old twins, so she'll know where this character is coming from."

Calgary Sun:

"If this show seems intriguing to you at all, you’ve probably seen The West Wing.

But that show, at its best, was like eavesdropping on political conversations. Commander In Chief comes across like a soap opera set in Washington, D.C.

Davis and Sutherland are strong actors, so Chief has a chance to develop into something substantial. If subsequent episodes are as hokey as the first one, we’re not sure how much hailing will be done to this chief. "

New York Daily News:
"With such capable performers and such a tempting premise, "Commander-in-Chief," like the best chief executives, has the potential for greatness. But Lurie, who last envisioned a female as vice president in his 2000 movie "The Contender" (starring Joan Allen), comes to the table with a script so unimaginative, and characters so flat and forced, that it begs for a recall vote.

"Commander-in-Chief" is no "West Wing" - not when "The West Wing" was great, and not even now. Nor does it have any of the believable characters, or inventive situations, of "Mister Sterling," the 2003 NBC political drama that cast Josh Brolin as a brand new senator.

It is, instead, a show presented entirely in shorthand - or drawn in broad bold strokes like a coloring book, with none of the figures filled in."

Boston Globe:

"A fan of NBC's ''The West Wing," she said she does not expect to have any trouble juggling two shows about life in the White House. She applauded the casting of Davis, a 6-foot Wareham native who graduated from Boston University and was a semifinalist for the US archery team."

LA Daily News:
"In a nutshell: As soaringly idealistic as "The West Wing" was when it first aired. But subsequent post-9/11-and-Katrina concerns and/or cynicism might affect this show in the same manner in which real- world situations diminished "The West Wing."

Richmond Times Dispatch:

Ijust figured out what bothers me about Geena Davis' character in ABC's "Commander in Chief."

She comes across more as a queen than a president, able to float above petty politics to right international wrongs with a wave of her executive command".

USA Today:
"Commander in Chief's principal achievement tonight is that it bleeds all the first-blush absurdity out of that introduction. This ABC incursion into West Wing territory is hardly home free; there are many creative hurdles ahead. But the show can't possibly succeed if you don't buy Davis' transformation from Thelma to leader of the free world. And odds are you will.


The problem with that fantasy is that it's just that: a fantasy. The joy of West Wing, at least when it was at its now-distant height, was that it realized good intentions without political know-how get you nowhere. We'll see whether Commander is as astute"

Arizona Republic:
"Geena Davis stars as the first woman president of the United States. She's an Independent replacing a Republican over the objections of just about everyone, especially the Speaker of the House (a fire-breathing Donald Sutherland) and the incapacitated president himself. Davis is quite good, as is the show. With The West Wing wobbling, it's a good political fix."

Star Telegram:
"Commander in Chief was created by Rod Lurie, who isn't afraid to say he's a Democrat but still tries to mask that by making Allen an independent. While The West Wing featured a Democratic White House where not all Republicans were tyrants, Lurie's White House is wishy-washy -- as is the show's writing, which lacks The West Wing's smarts and snap."

Boston Globe
"''Commander in Chief," created by Rod Lurie, who wrote and directed ''The Contender," is the kind of drama that will polarize viewers. It's an intelligently written show that looks a lot like ''The West Wing." The White House sets are carefully lit, the camerawork is graceful, and most of the action is verbal and accented with swelling music. As Allen's political foe, Sutherland promises to make an absorbing antihero, with his snowy hair and power-hungry eyes. When his Nathan Templeton warns Allen, ''People who don't want power don't know how to use it," Sutherland projects an almost demonic intimacy with the dark side of human nature.

But some viewers will be put off by the many unbelievable aspects of ''Commander in Chief," and not least of all by Geena Davis. Davis is likable enough as a lead, with her gentle mien. She projects wisdom and patience. But despite efforts to hold herself with stateliness, she's miscast. Just the fact that she has to work for gravitas and savvy undermines her performance. Naivete leaks through her facade. It doesn't help that Davis looks so young, with those glam lips. I wasn't buying her."

San Francisco Examiner:
"Sounds like "The West Wing" for the Lifetime set, right? Wrong. This show, which focuses more on the president's private life, is better than it sounds. Is it realistic? Not really. Not only is Davis' character the first female president, she's also an independent. But the show is entertaining, thanks to the engaging performances by Davis, Donald Sutherland as the speaker of the House and "Homicide: Life on the Street" vet Kyle Secor as Allen's husband, Rod, which makes him the country's First, ummm, Gentleman."

Chicago Tribune:
" It all promises to be addictive watching, especially because, with Sutherland's Templeton, the show's creators give Davis such a smarmy, worthy adversary. Davis' main job is to look dignified and sympathetic, chores she manages quite nicely. Sutherland, meanwhile, is an appetizing, serpentlike villain, so soft-spoken and smiling, exuding the charm that goes back to his "M*A*S*H" movie days, and yet so believably deadly too."

San Francisco Chronicle:
"While comparisons to "The West Wing" are inevitable, the fact is that set alongside the glory days of that show, there simply is no comparison. Not based on one episode, surely. But it's not too early to say that given the steep creative decline of "The West Wing" (yes, it made a bit of a comeback, but not far enough), "Commander in Chief" is every bit the equal and probably the long-term superior show. A moot point, essentially, since they're on different nights."

Cleveland Plain Dealer:
" The storytelling and philosophical directions taken by "Commander in Chief" make it clear that this idealistic rookie is following the presidential path blazed so brilliantly by "The West Wing." Yet "Commander in Chief" writer-executive producer Rod Lurie, whose film credits include the political thriller "The Contender," fails to summon the wit and depth that writer-executive producer Aaron Sorkin brought to those first few seasons of "The West Wing."

While Davis is doing everything she can to keep the series grounded in reality, Lurie is undermining this mighty effort with writing and direction that's at turns outlandish and cartoonish. Peripheral characters turn into caricatures in his hands, and that's something that almost never happened on "The West Wing.""

New York Times:
"It's easy to scoff at some of the prosaic license taken by "Commander in Chief," but the very fact that viewers can quibble with depictions of presidential power or protocol, and not just whether contestants on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" really can, is kind of neat. Crime and medical series demand a leap of faith; most of us are not schooled enough in microbiology or legal procedure to judge just how far series like "House" or "Law & Order" stretch the facts. But most viewers vote, or say they will, and foreign policy is a home game everybody can play."

Hollywood Reporter
"A new series asks if the U.S. is ready for a female president but actually assumes that all but the most neanderthal among us are. Implicitly, it also asks whether Americans will rally around a political drama that, while more than capable by all traditional TV standards, falls well short of the gravitas and realism of "The West Wing," which lays claim to the gold standard of the genre."

Journal Sentinel
"She's apparently made of steel, because before taking the oath of office, Mac pulls off maneuvers that Martin Sheen's president in "The West Wing" would envy: sending a helicopter swooping into Nigeria to rescue a woman who's about to be stoned to death; making an impromptu speech that unites a grieving country; even getting Bridges' loyal aide (Harry Lennix, "Ray") to stick with her in the Oval Office.

The family angle isn't much more credible. How silly would a White House staffer have to be to keep referring to Mac's husband, to his face, as "the First Lady"? What kind of vice presidential daughter, even a snotty teen, would advise her mother to let Genghis Khan become president because the kid can't stand Mom's politics?

Davis isn't terrible, but she's not helped by her movie-star makeup, especially those kissy crimson lips.

For all its flaws, one thing "The West Wing" usually gets right is the rumpled look of the president and his staff. With a change of accessories, Mac could be ready for a Vanity Fair cover in five minutes."

Seattle Times:
""Commander in Chief" is well-produced, and Davis has appeal. But the show feels less like an enticing, uplifting fantasy than one put together by a marketing study. That's the closest it gets to real politics."

Indianapolis Star:
"President Allen comes off as stylish, smart and usually bland, but maybe Davis will grow into the role. For now, the series at least enjoys one important asset: impeccable timing."

Philadelphia Daily News:
"Television, though, isn't interested in voters.
Just eyeballs.
And while the people behind those eyeballs may vote their pocketbooks, their prejudices or their secret (and not-so-secret) fears on Election Day - assuming they vote at all - Hollywood knows that on the couch, voting with their remotes, they want more than the lesser of evils.
They want to be swept away.
NBC's "The West Wing" knew how to do this in its early seasons. Oh, it's still one of the smartest dramas on television - even if fewer than 9 million of its fans were able to find its Sunday night premiere - but the romance was lost long ago, in a morass of MS, cover-ups, congressional investigations and bungled opportunities.
Tonight, as Geena Davis takes the oath of office in ABC's "Commander In Chief," the world, and the presidency, feels new again."

Los Angeles Times:
"FIRST, THE DISCLAIMER: My husband, teenage daughter and I are inveterate watchers of "The West Wing." Having had quite enough of the reality series that is the Bush administration, we have for years used "The West Wing" as both our escape and an ongoing current-events tutorial.Now comes "Commander in Chief," for which my household is surely the target audience, because the only thing that could possibly be better than the Bartlet White House, in our collective fantasy, is a White House with a woman at the helm.
One critic referred to the new series, in which the president dies and Vice President Mackenzie Allen takes the oath of office, as a "liberal fantasy," and my feminist heart began to pound in happy anticipation.
Dismayed, I wondered if my loyalty to "The West Wing" had clouded my vision. Or if I'd fallen prey to the double standard that expects women to be superwomen and lets men be, well, men. Or maybe I'd just failed to appreciate how impressive President Allen is.I don't think so. One of the dubious advantages of having watched so much of "The West Wing" is that I can credibly say that any one of its female characters can run policy circles around both the men and women of "Commander in Chief." And that, disappointed feminists, is the insidious point."The West Wing" staked out virgin territory — we've had sitcoms about presidents but not a successful hour-long series — and the show's creators hired Democratic pollster Pat Caddell and Clinton administration Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers to give the stories verisimilitude. In the midst of an endless parade of intimate dramas about cops, lawyers and doctors, we got our first close look at the workings of the White House. The polyphasic insanity has had a ring of truth."Commander in Chief" chose not to try to beat "The West Wing" at its own game — but as a result, it runs at a more familiar pace; its kinder, gentler approach seems to lack focus. Emphasize life in the West Wing, and critics will complain that the series tries too hard to make a woman president seem believable; emphasize the East Wing, the family story, and critics will complain that the show's creators don't have enough faith in their concept to allow President Allen to run the country. Attempt to do both and you do neither very well.
can't help but wish that the folks at "The West Wing" had tackled the subject instead. I wonder if they didn't because they understood something the staff of "Commander in Chief" is about to find out: If it were easy for all of us to wrap our minds around the notion of a woman president, we might have had one by now.When we do, I doubt she'll resemble this network television version. If the premiere episode is an example, we're getting a valiant woman instead of the real leader so many of us yearn for. One can only mangle Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's classic 1988 put-down of John Kennedy wannabe Dan Quayle: President Allen, you're no Jed Bartlet."

Kansas City Star:
"While not quite the out-of-the-gate obvious hit that “The West Wing” was, this series starring Geena Davis has enough going for it that it may soon become America’s favorite soap opera about a president of the United States.

Because there’s a dense traffic jam of plot explication to get through, we don’t get a strong sense of how the future POTUS (that would be Davis) will interact with everybody else around her, like First Hubby Kyle Secor and Stern Looking Dean of Capitol Hill Donald Sutherland."

Miami Herald

"An absurd fairy tale with drooling Republican beasts prowling the dark woods while brave little Democrat girls work to save Social Security and the corporate income tax, Commander In Chief makes The West Wing look like a Rush Limbaugh production.

It starts with a silly premise: A conservative Republican makes a liberal feminist played by Geena Davis his vice presidential running mate because voters would never elect a ticket that included two Republicans. (Just ask Dick Cheney.) Then it quickly strikes off for whole new uncharted areas of television idiocy when the president dies and Davis' character gets hold of the White House"

Orlando Sentinel:
"The bigger problem: Will she be a character viewers care about? Embodied by Davis, President Allen comes off as stylish, smart and usually bland. Davis bristles well in moments of controlled fury, but the juiciest moments go to other actors.

Sutherland oozes fascinating contempt -- he's more fun to watch than Davis when the new president takes the oath of office. "Homicide" alum Secor humorously bumbles his way through becoming the first first gentleman.

More familiar duties fall to Davis: She must deliver a big speech that unites the country. Speechifying could be another pitfall for "Commander in Chief." Will it be a glossy show that panders to the audience or a thoughtful drama that pushes viewers to think about government? Do such shows help explain politics or raise unrealistic expectations?

Maybe Davis will grow into the role. Perhaps "Commander in Chief" will develop into something deeper than a smooth, self-satisfied show. For now, the series enjoys one important asset: impeccable timing."

Detroit Free Press:
"specially as written by brilliant Aaron Sorkin in its early seasons, "The West Wing" was more vivid, original and compelling than "Commander in Chief" is likely to become.

But impressive Geena Davis and the Oval Office gender twist are indeed refreshing. They're new elements that might still help ABC find success of its own in a fictional White House.

"Commander in Chief (premiering tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ABC) is The West Wing with extra cheese. Rather than a hardheaded, ripped-from-the-headlines political drama, it's a political fantasy that takes place in a Beltway Neverland, where bipartisanship becomes tripartisanship and the fate of the free world is decided by an ill-placed sexist jibe. It's less a vision of what a real female presidency might be like than an extended allegory about gender politics in the workplace. And that's not necessarily a bad thing."

TV Squad - Personal Commentary
"ll in all, a great pilot. I can't wait to see more of this show. I was trying to think up a comparison to West Wing (which is the obvious foil for Commander in Chief), but I just couldn't. It's really totally different. It's not moody, or self-conscious, or full of dialogue that you don't pick up on until days later. It's witty without using five-syllable words or complex plot devices, politically accurate without being obsessively so, and the cast is good and beautiful without being too Elizabethan about it. If I had to pick one thing that bugs me (so far), it's that other guy... the one I never saw an introduction for and isn't in the cast list on the web site. He's on the far left in the picture that accompanies this post. Who is he? Why is he so creepy looking? I bet he'll be replaced by someone more beautiful in no time."

Hail to "Commander in Chief." Democracy is on the march ... in sensible heels."

National Review
"In all this Commander tries to capture something of The West Wing. But it never builds up the necessary speed or suspense. Once viewers wrap their minds around the fact that a woman could be president, the only thing left to be surprised by is Kyle Secor’s performance as he tries to get used to everyone referring to him as First Lady.

Along the way, the producers weave in a president-as-working-mom storyline. President-in-waiting Allen gathers her three kids in the kitchen to ask them how they think she should handle the political crisis. The little girl asks if they’ll put her picture on money. Later she spills juice on mommy’s blouse before her big speech to Congress. Despite Davis’s remoteness, it has a distinctly awkward, sitcomic feel. This does not augur well. Davis’s last balancing-the-career-and-kids role, on The Geena Davis Show, lasted a season and is about as widely remembered as Millard Fillmore’s first 100 days in office."

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