Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Geena Davis, Donald Sutherland
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Interview, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers
From creator Rod Lurie, the short-lived "Commander in Chief" made a bold attempt to envision a woman in charge of the Free World, something that is ridiculously overdue in the real world and yet unforeseeable in the near future. With a smart premise and fine cast, the series appeared to have the makings of a big hit, but the writing and scheduling proved to be problematic, and storylines failed to keep viewers tuning in week after week, causing it to fizzle into TV oblivion. For the dedicated viewers who mourn the loss, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released Part 2 of their Inaugural Edition, featuring the last eight episodes and some worthwhile bonus features.
Geena Davis stars as Mackenzie Allen, the first female Vice President who also turns out to be the first female President after the untimely death of the current leader. An independent candidate, Allen runs into obstacles from all directions and both political parties, particularly the Republican Party who wish to see Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland) inaugurated. Dividing time between her presidential duties and taking care of her three children, President Allen goes with her gut instinct to get the job done, doing what she can to win over a government and a public who are not eager to accept her.
It is not hard to see the attraction with a series like "Commander in Chief." In addition to spearheading the plea for more diversity in the American government, it also provides, in a roundabout way, a bit of escapism from the grueling political atmosphere in which we are enveloped everyday. We are given a President who uses common sense and a genuine love for her country and her people to make decisions, and, as only TV dramas can do it, they always turn out to be the right ones. Mackenzie Allen is essentially a politicized revision of the ultimate mother figure, a caretaker who can soothe the most savage beast with tenderness and love but can still hold up a stern hand when situations get out of control.
Unfortunately, the show frequently becomes bogged down with sentimentality and saccharine-sweet corn that disrupts the otherwise engaging structure. Political conflicts are well established, and the ongoing rivalry between Allen and Templeton is palpable (thanks in large part to the excellent performances of Davis and Sutherland), but dialogue occasionally grows generic and clichéd. Some of the Presidential press speeches take on the upbeat optimism of a football pep talk, complete with looks of deep admiration from the members of the press and the requisite inspirational strings playing in the background. The subplots involving Allen's children and their devoted grandmother (Polly Bergen), who somehow always has cookies fresh from the oven, also smack of artificiality. Bergen is fine, but the young actors don't act so much as pose and look wide-eyed, like catalogue models. These moments do more to stop the action dead in its tracks than to add depth to Davis' character.
Buena Vista's second installment of the series includes episodes 11 through 18. The first five episodes are spread over Disc 1, while Disc 2 consists of the last three and the special features. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the episodes display adequate video quality. Image is clear, with some good grain and no visible edge enhancement. Black levels are very deep, and skin tones look natural. The overall picture is a little dark, and there is some occasional softness, but in general it is quite pleasing.
A 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track nicely presents the audio with clarity and sufficient thrust. Voices sound warm and natural, with dialogue distributed through the front speakers. Ambience and background noises are distributed well around the back, providing a good aural experience that conveys the urgency of the situations. As this is a mostly dialogue-driven program, there's not a lot going on, and this track admirably does the job.
The bonus features on Disc 2 get off to a good start with "A Conversation With Madam President," a brief interview with star Geena Davis. She discusses her initial reluctance to do a TV show and her enthusiasm about the bold subject matter of the series. At a little over six minutes, this interview is short and sweet, showcasing Davis' natural charm that is so evident in the show.
Next, there are over 22 minutes of deleted scenes. Some of these scenes were cut from episodes that were featured on Buena Vista's Part 1 edition (which had no bonus features). A hilarious blooper reel follows.
Lastly, we have a pair of optional commentary tracks. The first is for the pilot episode and is given by series creator Rod Lurie. He gives a good background for the show, how it got started, and some of the compromises that were made in an attempt to reach a mainstream audience. The second commentary is provided by writer/producer Dee Johnson for the episode entitled "The Elephant in the Room." While not as lively as Lurie, Johnson provides some interesting tidbits on the episode, which she wrote.
While "Commander in Chief" did not have the stuff to match its promising beginning, the finished episodes are not uninteresting and give us a look at what might have been. It will always hold significance for its groundbreaking title character who was genuinely intriguing and well-cast. For the dedicated fans of this series, Buena Vista has put out a set that should console them until something else comes along. The show is well worth a look for anyone for its boldness and message alone.