Lunchtable TV Talk: Madam Secretary

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Sometimes this show is attempting to be like something else… something self-important or something like The West Wing but it isn’t.

It’s not the greatest show, but I like it. I realized that it’s cast chemistry that makes it work even though it is not the best show on tv. And other shows – more starkly this season than any other in recent memory – may have a decent premise but fail largely because they seemed to cast in a vacuum. Like, “Oh, John Stamos is available. We’ll get him for Grandfathered.” But then the rest of the cast was assembled, one by one, in the same way, with no actual testing to see if chemistry existed – or just in a calculated but ad hoc way, i.e. trying to come up with racial equations to make the show look diverse or something similar. And the result is annoying and disruptive to storytelling.

Madam Secretary is fairly formulaic in its storytelling, but the cast gels well. Téa Leoni seems like someone who could have been a CIA officer who ends up in cabinet-level government service quite by accident. Željko Ivanek – well, he fits in everywhere. And Tim Daly – well, I love him. Well, you know, Wings.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Grandfathered

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The back-to-back line-up of The Grinder and Grandfathered includes two 80s pretty boys, now middle-aged, with each character struggling with the “growing pains” of letting go of youth and relevance. In The Grinder, Rob Lowe is an actor whose long-running, popular legal drama comes to an end, and he’s lost, not knowing what to do. And while the premise is silly, the show seems to work. The chemistry among the actors, improbably, works (I wouldn’t expect Rob Lowe and Fred Savage to be likely siblings, but they play off each other well. Something I never imagined, actually, during Lowe’s pretty-boy heyday would be his ability to take his own quirkiness to the level he has cultivated and use it to mesh well with all the ensemble casts of which he has been a part). The Grinder is underperforming, though, and it probably won’t survive its low ratings.

This is sad because it’s a much better show than the other show with a tangentially related premise – John Stamos as the middle-aged guy fighting age, trying to pretend he is younger than he is – preening and vain – but he discovers that not only is he a father, he’s also a grandfather. It’s not very funny, not very entertaining, and the people in it just don’t gel together as a group. This show probably won’t survive either.

But ratings are not always the whole story, but that seems to be depend largely on the network. AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire has been renewed for a third season despite consistently low ratings. Of course, Halt has redeeming qualities, and these other two shows won’t really be missed.