Compelling Television?

If you’ve been paying attention to the TV the past six weeks, you know Political Animals ended on Sunday with a thrilling slightly-longer-than-an-hour finale to its inaugural six-episode miniseries. Is there anything that can’t be condensed and solved in a six-episode miniseries? I think not.

Political Animals was the story of Elaine Barrish, former First Lady-turned Governor-turned Presidential Candidate-turned Secretary of State (huh, that sounds really familiar), who deals with the stress of being the nation’s top diplomat for her rival, and the drama of being the former First Family after divorcing her husband, former President Bud Barrish.

The show started off strong. Elaine’s oldest son is her chief of staff and her youngest son, who came out of the closet while the family was in the White House, still struggles with a drug addiction. Elaine clashes with President Garcetti (the Italian-American Barack Obama), Vice President Fred Collier (a more folksy, asshole version of Joe Biden), and Elaine’s former campaign manager-turned Garcetti’s Chief of Staff Barry Harris.

In all this is Elaine and the Barrish family’s relationship with Susan Berg, a reporter who won a Pulitzer for her work on Bud’s sex scandal while in office. At first thoroughly disliked by Elaine, Susan comes to earn her respect and becomes integral as the series progresses.

Elaine decides she is going to challenge Garcetti in his re-election attempt, despite some members of her family less than thrilled. To head her off, Garcetti offers her (again) to be his running mate. While she decides whether to run with him or against him, on a trip to France, Air Force One, with the President, crashes. VP Collier assumes the temporary duties of the President (after Elaine convinced him to assume the duties under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — he initially wants to be sworn in as President, which would pose a Constitutional crisis should Garcetti still be alive, effectively giving the US two Presidents). The series ends ambiguous to whether Elaine will run again or allow Collier to run in Garcetti’s place (assuming he is deceased, the series does not confirm at the end).

Political Animal was a great show capitalizing on the phenomenon of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with a backstory that mirrored Hillary and the 2008 campaign and rumors of her challenging President Obama in 2012. Whether or not the show will be picked up for a full season (or another small miniseries) has not been decided, but seeing as how most “progressive” political dramas have died, I am not hopeful.

I speak, of course, of Commander in Chief. President Teddy Bridges dies and Independent Vice President Mackenzie Allen becomes the nation’s first female president. Commander in Chief was a show ahead of its time, as it aired on ABC before Hillary Clinton ran for President in 2008. TV shows depicting female Commanders in Chief/Presidents rarely get rave reviews. These female leaders are too weak, too unable to separate personal lives from their jobs, etc. They did it to Geena Davis in Commander in Chief; they did it to Mary McDowell in Battlestar Galactica (42nd in line of succession after a nuclear attack). Surprisingly, the only one that I’ve heard get good reviews: Cherry Jones as President Allison Taylor in 24 (defeated incumbent President in the serious, the only one of the 4 mentioned to have won on her own).

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