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A CurtainUp Review For "Streaming" Enthusiasts
Madam Secretary & The Crown

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.

Madam Secretary
Since I saw this fun to watch, feel good domestic- political series l only in its streaming format, I resisted watching the final season a week at a time, but instead opted to update my comments after it arrives at Netflix on May 15 th. Anyone who never saw the show, can now watch the whole shebang, or just get enough details from my review below to plunge into the much shorter final season (the earlier seasons each featured 20 to 22 episodes) .

To cut to the chase: Given the reality of the world we live in, it was a much needed and delightful release from the stressful uncertainty of that reality to once again spend time with the wonderfully likable, smart, honorable and happily married McCords as portrayed by Tea Leoni and Tim Daly. (I binged my way through all ten episodes in just a few evenings) .

Elizabeth, a.k.a. Bess, is now Madam President and husband Henry , who brings outstanding scholarly credentials and government service to his new job as the First Gentleman. Their pillow talk is no longer in their Georgetown town house but in the presidential suite.

>Each episode still combines Elizabeth's personal and politicsl life, with the political situations fairly obvious fictive parallels to actual events and people. The way critical national and global situations requiring thoughtful, often risky, action play out here more than ever tends to be a credibility stretch. But who cares! With a decidedly unheroic, unwise president and equally unheroic staffers and politicians in charge during an unprecedented world and economic crisis, we need to believe in heroes and happy endings.

This abbreviated season skips right to the first quarter time frame of the McCord presidency. . However, the writers have smartly a created a number of flashbacks to fill us in on events leading up to our seeing Elizabeth fight for her presidency.

As is the case for any long running series, the story line and actors' schedules call for a new season to adjust their casting. For the final season some of the regulars' appearances have been downsized; staffing jobs changed. or while others have become more prominent members of Elizabeth's staff. Thus, with President Dalton passing the torch to his Secretary of State, Keith Carradine appears only twice, but he does finally get to strut his talents as a singer-songwriter. And his crotchety but dedicated chief of staff Russell Jackson (the terrific Zeljko Ivan ) comes out of retirement to take on the same post for his successor.

Erich Bergen's Blake Moran is still very much a regular, and has in fact been promoted to a more prominent position. And yes, he will have another chance to sing. Another now and then appearomg character, Mike Barnow (Kevin Rahm) is now a regular. While he'd prefer to remain a consultant, he takes over as press secretary when Daisy Grant (Patina Miller) is forced to resign due to revelations about a well-intentioned misdeed.

While both Vice President Carlos Morejon (Jose Secretary of State Susan Thompson (Tonya Pinkins) and FBI Director Amelia Banks (Linda Powell) how up none are regulars. Neither are the two youngest McCord children Alison and Jason (Katherine Herzerand Evan Roe). But eldest daughter Stephanie, , a.k.a. "Stevie" (Wallis Currie-Wood) is very much in the picture. Like her father she is put into the unpleasant limelight during a totally uncalled for attempt to impeach her by hostile members of the politicaal establishment as unwilling to accept and support a female commander in chief.

At the risk of being a spoiler, Stevie is crucial for the season to have a truly bang-up happy ending by marrying her true love, Russian emigre and ex spy Dmitri (Chris Petrovski). The emergency that results in this being a White House wedding is an unmistakable contrivance but it works its magic in that it brings together everyone who's played a part in the McCord saga. Lke the finale of a musical, this celebratory event unites not just Stevie and Dimitri, but pairs u[ young and old.

But hold on. . . . that enormously enjoyable wedding has a coda that takes us nine months turther into Elizabeth's presidency . She's busy legislating for public good — specifically an amendment to the Equal Rights Act. Since a hallmark of this series is to never let Elizabeth go too long wthout having a problem problem to deal with, two unexpected political opponents turn up: Ohio Senator Amy Ross (Tyne Daly, the First Gentleman's sister) who finds the bill unnecessary and ineffective. . . Flo Avery, who was born the day women were granted the right to vote and declares herself against a bill that she feels should have gone further. Ms. Daly's cameo also also makes for nice little interchange with her brother. And Cicely Tyson is a treat to see any time.

As I watched the the McCords ride off on a whistle stop tour to take their message to the public, I found myself fervently hoping that a president of Elizabeth McCord's caliber will soon occupy the real Oval Office.

Madam Secretary
Tea Leoni
Unlike House of Cards, the Netflix political drama that launched the whole binging concept, Madam Secretary is a political feel good show — more a descendant of White House power players like The West Wing's liberal President Bartlett and his followers than the scheming Underwoods.

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!
Claire Foy
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," wrote Shakespeare. Netflix's new series about Britain's Queen Elizabeth II certainly confirms the Bard's words.

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Madam Secretary, Created by Barbara Hall
Cast Members

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 Staffers
Sara Ramirez - Kat Sandova
l Patina Miller - Daisy Grant
Erich Bergen- Blake Moran
Sebastian Arcelus -Jay Whitman
Bebe Neuwirth Nadine Tolliver
Go to 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

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