Screen Savors: Statecraft, virgins and hip hop

This week on the small screen.

‘Madam Secretary’ TV series (photo credit: PR)
‘Madam Secretary’ TV series
(photo credit: PR)
There is a lot to like about the new series that have started in 2015. Madam Secretary, about a female secretary of state in the US, is fun to watch, but isn’t a great series. It’s a kind of combination of The West Wing, Homeland and a less comic version of Veep. Téa Leoni, with her gorgeous WASP princess looks, is supposed to be Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA operative and honest academic whom the president, played by Keith Carradine, knows he can trust. She isn’t given as much access to the president as she would like and spends a lot of time sparring with his scheming chief of staff, played by Zeljko Ivanek.
She’s married to a serious but stunning religious studies professor (Timothy Daly, who played the drug-abusing screenwriter on The Sopranos), a US Marine with a background in espionage. To make Leoni look like a dowdy academic, they make her hair a little messy and put her in gray turtlenecks, the modern equivalent of having a woman wear glasses and have her hair in a bun.
The first episode starts out strong, with Elizabeth learning that two naïve Americans have been arrested by the Syrian government and are accused of being US spies.
She has to get them out of Syria before it hits the paper, so the president won’t have to negotiate with the Assad regime. It’s a good premise, but it turns out that virtually every episode has this basic template: McCord has to balance the need to rescue one or a small group of individuals against the political demands of the president’s agenda. The quips and dramas among her staff are very similar to what we’ve seen before on a lot of other shows, and a simmering back story about the death of the previous secretary of state doesn’t have the kind of suspense it should.
That said, Madam Secretary is still quite entertaining, and it’s always a joy to see Leoni.
The show airs on YES VOD and YES Drama on Tuesdays at 9:15 p.m.
Imagine Gilmore Girls directed by Pedro Almodovar, and you’ll have some idea of what Jane the Virgin is like. It runs on YES VOD and YES Drama on Sundays at 9:15 p.m. Loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, this silly but charming series tells the story of a Latina young woman, Jane (Gina Rodriguez, who just won a Golden Globe for her role), who was raised in Miami by her young unmarried mother and her religiously devout grandmother.
Determined not to make the same mistakes as her mother, she is determined not to have sex with her boyfriend until they marry.
But through an implausible mistake, she is artificially inseminated at her doctor’s office. The father of the child is Rafael, a gorgeous young hotel owner whom Jane once had a flirtation with. His scheming wife, Petra, played by Israeli actress Yael Groblas, wants to adopt Jane’s baby. The story is played for comedy in a mock-telenovela style.
Everyone and everything is gorgeous and sweet. At the center of it all is Jane, and Rodriguez is extraordinarily appealing – not conventionally beautiful or skinny but with a lovely presence.
After Breaking Bad ended, did you ever wish you could see more of Walter’s scheming lawyer, Saul? I didn’t either, but someone must have because AMC has created a new series, Better Call Saul, which follows the continuing misadventures of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the Albuquerque lawyer whose real name is Jimmy McGill. The series will debut next month on HOT. Even though it’s an odd idea for a show, it was created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the show runners for Breaking Bad, so it will likely be smart and darkly comic.
If you enjoy dramas about the music business such as Dreamgirls, you won’t want to miss Empire, which runs on Sundays at 10 p.m. on YES Drama and YES VOD. It’s an updated version of the King Lear plot, about a dying mogul (Terrence Howard) of a hip hop music empire who must decide which of his three sons – a tightly wound businessman, a tough guy, and a sensitive gay genius – should inherit his business. Taraji P. Henson steals the show as his ex-wife who was just released from prison.