A female President? Only if you watch US TV

Sound familiar? But this isn't George W Bush dispensing platitudes to the real world. This is Geena Davis of Thelma and Louise fame, in the make-believe world of primetime television, reincarnated as the first female US president.

The debut of ABC's series Commander in Chief might just be a case of art anticipating life. Davis plays Mackenzie Allen, Vice-President when the series opens, an independent brought in on the Republican ticket by candidate Roosevelt Bridges to appeal to women voters.

But Bridges suffers a sudden and devastating aneurysm. "Mac" cuts short a visit to Paris to return to Washington, only to be told by the dying President and sundry Republican grandees that she should resign and make way for Nathan Templeton, the House speaker and Bridges' intended successor, who is next in line according to the constitution.

But Templeton, played with delicious arrogance and malice by Donald Sutherland, comprehensively blows it. "The world is in turmoil," he informs her. "Now is not the time for social advances."

Her job as Vice-President had been "pure theatre ... and you got great reviews." But, sweet young thing, the curtain has fallen."

An outraged Mac tears up the resignation letter she had drafted and takes the oath of office. And off we go. Commander is the latest variation on a well-worn theme. Magically remote yet almost overpoweringly familiar, the US presidency is irresistible material for film-makers and TV scriptwriters. We've had every sort of President, from a doppelganger ( Kevin Kline in Dave) and a matinee-idol widower (Michael Douglas in The American President), to stuntman-hero (Harrison Ford in Air Force One'). And now a woman - an idea whose time may have come.

ABC's new offering is up against The West Wing on NBC, about to return for a seventh series and which has long had the fictional small screen White House beat to itself. But that show is now oddly dated, harking back to one William Jefferson Clinton.

Commander by contrast, could be harbinger of a future Clinton administration, headed by Hillary Clinton.

Sooner or later, a woman will occupy the Oval Office. Already 14 of the 100 US senators are women.

Women have led governments in Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel, not to mention a clutch of Nordic countries. Germany may soon join their ranks - so why not America?

Right now indeed, it's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton not being the Democratic nominee in 2008. And, in the absence of a male heir apparent to George Bush, websites have sprung up to press the cause of Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State (and former provost of Stanford University) on the Republican side. A Hillary/Condi match-up in three years time? Don't rule it out.

Even so, this show may struggle to gain the cult following of The West Wing, with its razor-sharp dialogue between young aides racing down corridors as they sort out their love lives, resolve budget rows and settle the fate of the universe - all in a stream of one-liners. With its treacly background music, and sappy family interludes, Commander has an old-fashioned feel, for all the novelty of its premise. Already conservatives decry it as another example of Hollywood wearing its liberal politics on its sleeve. In particular, they object to the portrayal of Templeton, the top Republican, as a schemer so ruthless that Karl Rove comes across as a kindergarten innocent by comparison.

In truth, Commander - to judge by the first episode at least - could be the tale of an upwardly mobile soccer mom. Womens' groups have complained that despite the ground-breaking veneer, at heart the show is still sexist. Its heroine, they note, only becomes President by accident; and what male chief executive would have to juggle global strategy deliberations with helping the kids with their homework?

In some respects, however, the shows are similar. Soon-to-be-departing President Josiah Bartlett(Martin Sheen) on The West Wing is an intellectual; so is Mackenzie Allen, a former university head who spent four years in Congress before retreating in relief to the purer groves of academe.

And while Commander has a less coruscating script than The West Wing, it has some good lines nonetheless. "If Moses had been a woman," Bridges' widow tells "Mac", "he would have stopped to ask for directions after leaving Egypt, and the Jews would have been in Israel in a week."

Such role reversal provides some of the best situation jokes in Commander. Fired up by Templeton's sneering, even by the end of the first episode, the lady has taken firm charge. But every male assumption of her model husband Rod has been turned on its head.

No longer can he serve as her chief of staff, he is told. Even his wife agrees: "As the first female president, I can't have it appear that my husband's running the country," she says at one point. Thus a bewildered First Gentleman is shown into his new premises in the residential and ceremonial East Wing, decorated in shocking salmon pink, and told to confine his political involvement to the menus for state dinners. In the end, of course, all will be well. They make up with a cuddle and Rod, reassured, says to his powerful wife: "Go run the country, honey."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May