Dr Elizabeth “Bess” McCord (Téa Leoni), CIA-operative-turned-academic, has a nice life in the country with her attractive, amiable husband Henry (Tim Daly), also an academic, their kids, and some horses. The news that the US Secretary of State has died in a plane accident which is obviously totally not an accident doesn’t really affect her, until the President himself (Keith Carradine) – an old friend who recruited her at the CIA – turns up on her doorstep wanting her to fill the vacancy.
Fast forward two months, and we catch up with Bess and the people surrounding her: her Chief of Staff Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth), who hates her; speechwriter Matt (Geoffrey Arend); Samar off of The Blacklist (Mozhan Marnò) as her newly-recruited stylist; her assistant Blake (Erich Bergen); and Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek).
Her immediate foreign policy challenge is that a couple of stupid American teenagers have managed to get themselves taken hostage in Syria; Bess wants to use some of her old contacts to get them freed, but is prevented by Jackson from getting to the President to discuss this option. She also has to plan for a dinner with the multi-wived King of Swaziland. And a former CIA colleague named George (William Sadler, John McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0) turns up at her house at night, in order to give her an off-the-books warning that the accident which killed her predecessor obviously and totally wasn’t an accident.
Much of this is comfort viewing, both in terms of characterisation and plotting. No-one is playing against type: Carradine is the iron fist in the avuncular velvet glove; Neuwirth is frosty; Arend is geeky; Ivanek radiates malevolence. (My internal jury is still out on Leoni.) As for the storylines: will Bess be able to melt Bebe’s heart? Will she be able to circumvent protocol and get to the President? Will she be able to bring the idiot teens home? Will she face Željko down? Can she handle the King of Swaziland and his dozens of wives? Will George make it to episode 2? And will her husband prove too good to be true?
Well, we don’t know the answer to the last one yet, but otherwise it all unfolds much as you might expect. Which is my main problem with an episode I otherwise enjoyed: it all seemed a bit… frictionless? But I liked it, and I’m encouraged by reports that it gets better as the run goes on. What with everything else we’ve got on at the moment I don’t anticipate regular reviews, but I’m going to keep watching.