Tag Archives: The West Wing

The Trouble With Politics on Homeland

3 Oct

Homeland’s great; the new season has just started, but based just on the first season alone, it’s one of my top four hour long programs on TV (along with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones), a very prestigious group.  However, no show is completely perfect and it’s always fun to slightly pick at the ones we love, in good fun, of course.

There’s something that rings false about talking about politics in a serious way on a television show or movie and trying to keep everything non-partisan.  With a show like Veep, it’s mostly doable, because it’s a comedy, and because the show is short on policy and long on silliness – the whole show is based around the idea that the Vice President essentially has no real power.  It’s still not ideal, but it’s simply less important – it still feels false that party never comes up, but it’s less of a big deal that it feels false, because of the above reasons, and because the stakes are so low.

As long as politics is on the fringes, like it was in most of the first season of Homeland,  this isn’t an issue.  The Vice President was mostly important because of his being a target, and his relationship with CIA director David Estes.  In this limited role, where the Vice President was mostly acting as a particularly political figure, it didn’t feel like party was necessarily relevant.  However, once Brody’s name was brought up as a Congressional candidate, Homeland veered into the trouble area.  There is simply no way you go into a congressional campaign, and the meetings and parties which Brody attended, without party coming up.

This season, with Brody a congressman, and being talked up in the first episode as a potential vice presidential candidate, already looks to be entering the more political sphere of Washington D.C.  Party is so wrapped up in today’s political scene that it feels false to have meetings with the Vice President talking about political matters without it ever coming up, even offhand.  Homeland tries to skirt this by only dealing with the Vice President, rather than the President or other prominent political figures, but now that the Vice President is clearly revving up his Presidential campaign, honestly avoiding parties just feels forced.  It feels like the otherwise natural conversations were jury-rigged to remove any natural hints of political party.

Sure, I understand the benefits of avoiding mention of political parties – choose the wrong one, and you immediately alienate half of your audience.  That’s a problem for TV sure, and it’s a calculation weighed against the negative lack of lack of naturalism, and as for the limited relationship with the CIA, in the first season of Homeland, it’s not really important.

Several other shows have had this issue.  Boss, in which I assumed from the get go that the mayor was Democratic, because there hasn’t been a Republican mayor of Chicago since the Great Depression.  Particularly in that situation, such a one-party system, not mentioning parties at any point seems to make even less sense than it does in other instances – the benefits to be gained by keeping out partisanship are lessened when everyone will just assume it’s Democratic anyway.  24 went back and forth; initial presidential candidate (and later president) David Palmer was clearly labeled a Democrat which made sense, and even though of course 24 wasn’t really about politics, it made a lot more sense to name the party, especially in the second and third season when he dealt with his cabinet, and his reelection campaign, and had a specific opponent.  However, 24 seems to stop talking about it as the show goes on, and by the time of the final president (there’s an insane number of Presidents in 24, but that’s a story for another day) party stops being mentioned entirely and it can only really be back engineered by figuring out the timeline of 24 that Allison Taylor is a Republican (or the very nature of American two party politics have drastically changed in the fictional 24 world).

In The Wire, which features a very Boss-like situation of a one party city, there’s no shying away from mentioning party.  David Simon, whose aim is to provide as realistic portrayals as possible, clearly labels Carcetti and essentially every other important political figure in the show as Democrats; to go throughout a campaign without party mention would break that naturalism.  The single most politics based show in recent memory is of course The West Wing, and the main characters are basically all Democrats; it would be ludicrous to imagine that show without party identity.  In a recent failed show which heavily revolved around politics, Commander in Chief, which starred Joan Allen as a Vice President, who ascends to President when the President dies, the creators partially cop out by having Allen play an independent (a Republican nominating an independent as his vice presidential candidate in this decade’s political climate?  ha), but at least labels her as a former moderate Republican, and the President she was elected with as a Republican.

Simply put, the fact is that it seems ridiculous to showcase a presidential election campaign nowadays without mentioning party, far and away the most important identifier of a candidate.  I’m not sure how close Homeland is going to take us into a potential Brody run in a presidential campaign as the vice presidential nominee, but the closer it decides to take us, the more limiting it feels to not label the party.

While I find this issue minorly troubling,  clearly it doesn’t deal with the very fabric of Homeland, and thus the show can and will still be excellent without it.  Still, I’m sure they won’t deal with it unless they absolutely have to, otherwise they would have by now.  For a show in which nearly every other interaction and scene feels true (even if it isn’t, what the hell do I know about the CIA, but that’s not really the point),  the political scenes feel off with the deliberate aversion of party.

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The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Geoff Pierson

23 Nov

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

Today we spotlight Geoff Pierson, who got his start in the 1980s, watched his career progress in the ’90s and who has been active as ever in the ’00s.

Pierson’s first role was in 1980 TV movie The Mating Season.  He then appeared in eight episodes of Texas, a daytime soap which existed only in the early 80s and 15 episodes of soap opera Ryan’s Hope as Frank Ryan, a district attorney.  He was just dipping his toe into the television waters in the 1980s, which he finished out with appearances in The Equalizer, Search for Tomorrow, Married with Children, Kate & Allie and Days of Our Lives, and in TV movies Necessary Parties and Mutts.

The ‘90s began with more bit roles, including one episode stints in Alien Nation, Against the Law, Another World, The Adventures of Pete & Pete and New York Undercover.  He was in two very early Law & Order episodes, two of Party of Five, and in TV movie Murder in Black and White as “Father with Boat.”  The rest of the ‘90s were taken up by his two biggest roles.  In 1994, he began a recurring role in Brett Butler’s Grace Under Fire, appearing in 30 episodes over the course of the show’s five season run as Grace’s ex-husband Jimmy.  Jimmy was alternately a trouble-maker alcoholic and a clean romantic intent on winning Grace back, and while that didn’t happen he managed to befriend Grace and deal amicably with their kids.  A year after Grace Under Fire began, Pierson began starring in WB’s Unhappily Ever After, a show about a dysfunctional family which lasted for five seasons.  Originally intended to showcase the mother, portrayed by Stephanie Hodge, within a few episodes the show was changed to focus on Pierson’s father character, Jack Malloy, who was a schizophrenic alcoholic depressive who frequently interacted with a talking rabbit, Mr. Floppy (voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait) who only he could see.  The talking rabbit was one of the only two things I knew about Unhappily Ever After, along with Nikki Cox, who played daughter Tiffany and became the breakout character who took the lead along with Pierson.  The other kids were played by Kevin Connolly, who went on to play Eric in Entourage, and Justin Berfield who later played Reese in Malcolm in the Middle.

After Unhappily Ever After ended, he appeared in episodes of Cosby, The Divison, Becker, three of Nash Bridges, two of Popular, and one of Friends.  He was in two of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and then appeared as a regular in the short-lived That ‘80s Show as R.T. Howard, the father of two of the other main characters, who owned “Videx” a small company which sells personal fitness equipment.  His son is portrayed by Glenn Howerton, now best known as Dennis Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  The show lasted 13 episodes.  After its failure, he was in episodes of The District, Touched by an Angel, The O’Keefe’s, and The Drew Carey Show.  In three episodes of The West Wing, he played Senate Minority Leader Wendell Tripplehorn, who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination before withdrawing.  He appeared in Comedy Central original movie Windy City Heat and TV movie Deal and episodes of Monk, NYPD Blue, and Eyes.

He was in 18 episodes of 24 as President John Keeler.  In Season 3, he is approached to help blackmail President Palmer so that he would have an easy road to the presidency, and after Palmer withdraws, he is president at the start of Season 4.  His reign is short-lived as Air Force One is fired at while he is on it, killing many of the passengers,  He survives but is in critical condition, and Vice President Charles Logan takes over his duties.  It is never revealed if he died or was just too injured to serve again.  Next, he was in episodes of Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, NCIS, Numb3rs, and Medium.  He was in two episodes of Veronica Mars as Stewart Manning, Meg Manning’s father who was abusing Meg’s younger sister Grace.  He was in TV movies The Poseidon Adventure, The Valley of Light, and Sweet Nothing in My Ear.  He was in three episodes of Rodney, two of Life and one of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a prison warden.

Around this time, he began his recurring role in Dexter as Deputy Chief Tom Matthews, showing up in 25 episodes.  Matthews is an officer who was best friends with Dexter’s father Harry Morgan and buried the fact that Harry’s death was a suicide.  He constantly battles with Maria LaGuerta, fighting over credit and blame, haranguing her over her affair with Angel, and being blackmailed by her to be promoted to captain in the most recent season.  Pierson has over the course of Dexter also appeared in episodes of The Mentalist, Better Off Ted, Fringe, In Plain Sight, Glory Daze and Castle.  He appeared in two episodes of Rules of Engagement as David Spade’s character’s wealthy father and so far in three episodes of Boardwalk Empire as Senator Walter Edge, based on a real life senator from New Jersey.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Michael Hyatt

9 Nov

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

For this category, Hyatt has a relatively short career, with her first appearance not being until 1998, but with over 35 titles in the thirteen yeas since then, she’s certainly a worthy entrant and one who will continue to build her resume.  We also have another cast member in The Wire, which is always a treat.

Her first role was in a Dharma and Greg episode in 1998, and her next was in an episode of Oz in 1999 in which she played inmate Hamid Khan’s wife, who suffers when Khan is put in a coma in the Oz boxing tournament by Cyrus O’Reilly (why they allow a boxing tourney in Oz I never understand).  She was in the pilot of Wonderland, an episode of Ally McBeal, and then in six episodes of The West Wing.  She portrayed Angela Blake, who had previously worked for Leo McGarry when he was Secretary of Labor and in Season 5 was hired to be Director of Legislative Affairs.  She played the wife of a man who drove himself to the funeral home to die there in Six Feet Under and appeared in episodes of Joan of Arcadia, Huff and 24.  She was in four separate episodes of Law & Order, each time as a different character, including as a defense attorney in season 15’s License to Kill.  She was in a two part episode of E-Ring and in a second season Veronica Mars episode where she plays a women’s studies professor.

Around this time period, she engaged in her biggest role to date as the villainous Brianna Barksdale in The Wire. Brianna is sister to Barksdale organization head Avon Barksdale, and mother to D’Angelo Barksdale.

(WIRE SPOILERS BEGIN)

Brianna plays a key role in the first season when she convinces D’Angelo, who had all but agreed to cooperate with the police in exchange for a plea bargain, to stand strong for the family and renege on his potential deal.  She makes her argument personal and promises D’Angelo, who now must take a long prison sentence, that he will be taken care of.  This begins the course of events which lead to D’Angelo’s death.  She is suspicious when McNulty tells her that D’Angelo was murdered rather than committed suicide, but eventually comes to believe it, and never gets on with Avon the same way again.

(WIRE SPOILERS END)

She was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and two of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.  She was in ones of ER and Shark, and two of Smith, and three of Drive.  She starred in Spike TV’s one season The Kill Point, about a group of Marines who come home from abroad and execute a bank heist.  Hyatt plays the head of the SWAT team determined to save the hostages who are being held as the heist progresses.  She was then in episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, Criminal Minds and Bones.  She was in TV movies Operating Instructions and a pilot which did not get picked up known only as Untitled Wyoming Project.  She appeared in two episodes of Brothers & Sisters and single episodes of Glee, Southland, Harry’s Law, Mad Love and House of Payne.  She most recently appeared in an extremely brief role in the first episode of this season of Dexter, as an admissions director for a pre-school, which gave me the inspiration to honor her here.