The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review For "Streaming" Enthusiasts
Madam Secretary & The Crown
By Elyse Sommer
New: Madam Secretary
The Original Review With Update About Season 6 now available on Netflix
Being the editor and critic in chief of a theater-zine like Curtainup doesn't leave much time to see, let alone write about, what's being offered on screens in movie houses or any other screens. — especially the multi-episode offerings from streaming networks like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Acorn, and a constantly growing list of other organizations catering to those who appreciate a finely produced and performed absorbing show in a way that insures a convenient and up close viewing experience.
With more and more theater professionals have divided their time between film work and live theater, with the former actually making the stage work financially possible, we've long tried to cover the synergy between stage and screen entetainment with our Talk about Large and Small Screen Shows at CurtainUp feature. But with the ever growing influence of streaming networks and the popularity of multi-episode offerings with audiences whose preferred length for attending a show on or off Broadway tends to be 90 minutes, we've decided to add a special review feature for "Streaming" Enthusiasts.
While access to content from several streaming organizations can make a substantial dent in one's discretionary spending budget, it's still cheaper than tickets for a show on Broadway; nowadays even off-Broadway. What's more, for "streamers" a close-up of an actor's expression is not limited to having a prime seat ticket. That said, though multi episode storytelling does allow for complex plotting and diverse physical presentations, there's nothing like the never really frozen live feature.
After several months of immersing myself in the binging experience I did note that these eight or more episode show do have a tendency for a slump to set in and trigger the urge to fast forward a scene here and there, something you can't do at a movie or play seen in a "regular" venue. Granted, TV viewers can do this by taping an episode.
Below our first of these multi-episode shows or "bingers" — review of The Crown, a lavishly produced Netflix original and Madam Secretary first serialized on TV which also became available on Netflix where it gained enough new audiences to produce a final Sunday night TV season.
Elizabeth McCord and her Husband, Henry (Tea Leoni and Tim Daly), a noted religious scholar and teacher, have nothing in common with the Richard the Third -like Frank Underwood and his equally deplorable spouse. The McCords not only have a happy and healthy relationship with each other and their children but are committed to do-the-right-thing public service. She's a former CIA analyst and was happy as a college professor until the secretary of state died in a suspicious plane crash and her former CIA colleague who's now President, Conrad Dalton, recruits her for the job. Husband Henry has also been recruited by the National Security Agency to apply his ethical know to their problems. Dangerous work that provides plenty of opportunity for tense interludes.
Besides picking up the mantle of West Wing's liberalism Madam Secretary borrows from the format of the much loved The Good Wife— not only by having a smart, charismatic female lead but by adapting the setup of a weekly legal procedural intertwined with the personal story. In Madam Secretary that means giving Elizabeth a political-crisis-of-the-week.
Each episode calls for Elizabeth to apply her diplomatic skills to trouble shooting a variety of global issues that have gone awry, saving lives, and keeping important national or international agreements from falling through. This being very much a story championing female empowerment, one episode even has her dealing with the inappropriate sexual behavior of a nutty dictator.
The way these torn from the headlines situations are dramatized and resolved does tend to be less than realistic. But who cares about problems being resolved too easily and with intelligence, when it's all so bracingly upbeat, well staged and performed. Leoni and the others inhabiting the key roles are terrific. Given my many years as< i> Curtainup's Madam Edtor and Critic-in-Chief, it wwas also lots of fun to spot so many actors I've seen in plays and/or musicals popping up in occasional and frequent guest roles.
As for actors I haven't previously seen on stage. . . that includes the show' s star, Tea Leoni, and the young thespians playing the McCord offspring ( Wallis Currie-Wood and Katherine Herzer as daughters "Stevie and Alison, and Evan Roe as son Jason). I did see Henry (Tim Daly), just a year ago in Downstairs a play Theresa Rebeck wrote especially for him and his sister Tyne Daly
Most of the actors playing characters who are regularly in Elizabeth's orbit — including her boss, President Dalton—, have musical creds. Keith Carradine is a seasoned songwriter and singer as well as actor. His POTUS doesn't get to sing, but the show's writers have smartly provided a few fun musical riffs for Nadine Tolliver (Bebe Neuwirth) Elizabeth's chief of staff for the first three seasons, publicist Daisy Grant (Patina Miller ), and executive assistant Blake Moran (Erich Bergen). Ultimately, what's really great to see is how smart and dedicated all these characters are, with Dalton's right-hand man Russell Jackson (the superb , Zeljko Ivanek) managing to make an often hostile character admirable and more hero than villain.
As I've already stated, without Netflix to expand the audience, Season 5 and the soon to come Season 6 finale of Madam Secretary probably wouldn't have happened . That windup season during which Elizabeth is no longer Madam Secretary but Madam President will run parallel with the actual 2020 presidential campaign and Donald Trump focused on winning a seonc term..
True to the series structured to echo real history but taking liberties with it, the Dalton administration was not affiliated with either party. And so, the former Madam Secretary too will be campaigning as an independent, even though no Independent has ever made it into the Oval Office.
Whatever happens to this fictive candidate, I fervently hope that a candidate with the charisma and savvy of Leoni and her character will make us all feel good about our country again.
The Crown, Seasons 1 and 2. . .including an update of season 3 with a new cast!
Being somewhat less fascinated with the British Royal family than some, the Netflix original multi-episode The Crown, didn't immediately have me gung-ho to watch the currently running first season (2016-2017). But the fact that it was created by Peter Morgan famous for Downton Abbey, did tweak my curiosity— even more so, when I learned that Morgan's movie The Queen and his Tony-winning play The Audience which I reviewed during its 2015 Broadway run (review) were the springboard for this series.
Season 1 of this decade spanning saga takes us from Elizabeth's young adulthood, to her fairy tale wedding , through her coronation. We follow her struggle to deal with the duties of being Queen and its effect on her marriage, as well as her relationship with her sister and Uncle David, the King who abdicated the throne for the woman he loved.
It was a treat to see a cast of outstanding British thespians strut their stuff. Some, like Ben Miles and Harriet Walters, I've seen during trips across the pond, others our London critic, Lizzie Loveridge, has written about. Winston Churchill, the first of the many Prime Ministers with whom Elizabeth held her weekly audiences, is potently portrayed by the always worth watch nag American actor, John Lithgow. Some of the most compelling scenes focus on Churchill (retired and now himself an amateur painter) having his portrait painted by Graham Sutherland (a marvelous Stephen Dillane).
Morgan clearly had access to some fascinating material— like the devastating fog that almost ousted Churchill from 10 Downing street. I also didn't know much about her personal religious beliefs and meetings with the Evangelist Billy Graham (played by another American actor, Paul Sparks, whose work I've long admired).
But even when the focus is on the most familiar aspects of the Windsor dynasty's history, The Crown manages to be a fresh and fun to watch entertainment. It's a feast for the eyes with s gorgeous scenery and costumes. At times you feel as if you're e stepping into a museum and find yourself mouth agape at a spectacular painting before you.
While The Crown is hardly likely to match the super-hit status of Like Downton Abbey, it does manage to imbue this behind the scenes look at the personal ups and downs of these famous public figures with a highbrow flavor. And the cast so far couldn't be better. For starters there's Claire Foy who plays this fictive queen for just this and the next season. Her performance is wonderfully subtle . Matt Smith also gives a nicely nuanced interpretation to the role of the macho husband who has to adapt to the constraints of being the royal consort .
Alex Jennings is a standout as the Duke of Windsor who hates the way his family has exiled him from the perks of the royal life. Also excellent are s Vanessa Kirby as siser Margaret and her lovers — first, the unsuitable Peter Townsend (a superb Ben Miles) , later the photographerAnthony Armstrong-Jones ( a fascinating performance by Matthew Goode).
Jeremy Northam is very fine as Anthony Eden, Churchill's deputy prime minister and Foreign Secretary who becoms his successor. Harry Paton-Smith, who I last saw as Henry Higgins in Lincoln Center's revival of My Fair Lady here plays the young Queen's private secretary Martin Charteris.
Seaeon 2 continued to make the story I thought was too familiar to need yet another long replay, pull me in, thanks to the eye popping staging and the actors assigned to let us see what makes these familiar headliners really tick. If you need a royal drama fix before the next season of The Crown arrives, Netflix also has a detailed documentary called The Royal House of Windsor as well as a drama about another royal family, The Tudors.
The Crown, Season 3- (See Production Notes for new cast list)
And so, once again, my sense of does Downton Abbey style luxurious stagecraft make a decade by decade rehash of Elizabeth and company's binge worthy. Fortunately, Peter Morgan's own imaginative behind the scenes take on the Royals and the cast taking us into the 1960s delivers the goods. While it required the viewer as much as the actors to adjust to inhabiting characters already impressively inhabited by others. But Olivia Coleman as the middle-aged Elizabeth is so amazingly watchable that I was pulled right in. Just a look into Coleman's eyes once more underscores the pleasure of close-up views that are possible only when watching a filmed drama.
Tobias Menzies is also superb as the new Prince Philip, as is Helena Bohnham Carter as Priness Margaret. Philip at one point of the series has something of midlife crisis about his own unheroic life choice prompted by the first manned lunar landing. As for Margaret she gets a major turn charming President Lyndon Johnson into granting her cash poor country a loan. Not that this gives her a more influential role in the family business. And a business is — though when Philip regains his mental equilibrium and spearheads a documentary intended to insure the Windsors' popularity by preseniing them as ordinary folks it unsurprisingly fails to convine anyone.
Other transitioning cast members include the terrific Josh O'Connor as the now grown-up Prince Charles, Erin Dohertyl as his high spirited, fun loving sister Prncess Anne, and their Machiavellan uncle Lord Mounbatten (the always reliably excellen Charles Dance). While Mountbatten is key to putting the kabash on his nephew's love affair with young Camilla Shands (Emerald Fennell), the twists and turns of the Charles-Camilla story will be revisited in future series.
With Morgan's focus on the Royal Family's continuity and how it's ahieved, a lot of major events of this and other decades are omitted here. While I have no problem with that or the liberties taken to enrich the drama and humanize its persona, I had a hard time accepting his portrayal of the king who gave up his crown for the woman he loved in this season. Despite the always great Derek Jacobi and Geraline Chaplin now playing the couple's exit from the stage of life, I found it hard overlook the failure to mention the couple's shameful support of the Nazis.
As the Queen is going through the actural challenge of having to support her curreen PM's Brexit bound policy, Season 4 is being fillmed -- so get ready to revisit Diana and the Windsors' having to deal with that traumatci chapter in their history. Stay turned to see Peter Morgans own binge-able version of what's probably the most successful family business in the world.
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Madam Secretary, Created by Barbara Hall
The Secretary of State's Family
Tea Leoni-Elizabeth McCord
Tim Daly-Henry McCord
Wallis Currie-Wood -Stephanie "Stevie" McCord
Katherine Herzer -Alison McCord
Evan Roe Jason McCord
Keith Carradine-President Conrad Dalton
Zeljko Ivan -Dalton's chief protector,Russell Jackson
The Secretay of State's Saffers
Sara Ramirez - Kat Sandova
l Patina Miller - Daisy Grant
Erich Bergen- Blake Moran
Sebastian Arcelus -Jay Whitman
Bebe Neuwirth Nadine Tolliver
Go to https://www.imdb.com for full cast and other credits
The Crown Created by Peter Morgan (Seasons 1 and 2))
Cast Membersbr> Claire Foy- Queen Elizabeth II
Matt Smith- Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Jared Harris -King George
Victoria Hamilton- Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Alex Jennings- David, Duke of Windsor
Lia Williams- Wallis Simpson
Vanessa Kirby- Princess Margaret\
Ben Miles- Peter Townsend
Matthew Goode-Antony Armstron-Jones,Earl of Snowdon
John Lithgow- Winston Churchill
Harriet Walters-- a Clemmy Churchill
Stephen Dillane-Graham Sutherland
Jeremy Northam- Anthony Eden\
Harry Paton-Smith- Martin Charteris
John Lithgow- Winston Churchill
Harriet Walters-- as Clemmy Churchill
Clive Francis- Lord Salisbury
Greg Wise- Lord Mountbatten
Anton Lesser- Harold MacMillan
Reverend Billy Graham-Paul Sparks
Update: The Crown Season 3
Olivia Colman-Qwueen Elizabeth
Tobias Menzies - Prince Philipt
Helena Bonham Carter- Princess Margaret
Josh O'Connor-Prince Charles
Erin Doherty-Princess Anne
uis Mountbatten (Charles Dance--Lord Mountbatten
Ben Daniels-Anthony Armstrong Jones
Jason Watkins-Harold Wilson
Marion Bailey-the Queen Mother
Emerald Fennell- Camilla Shan
Andrew Buchan- Andrew Parker Bowles
Derek Jacobi-Duke of Windsor
Geraldine Chaplin -Wallis Simpson