Fall TV Preview

Fall TV First Impression: CBS' Madam Secretary

Madam Secretary PreviewThe broadcast networks have more than two dozen shows debuting this fall, including a new Shondaland drama, and a trip to Gotham, a third NCIS and a Flash-y Arrow offshoot. To help you prep for it all, TVLine is offering First Impressions of the not-for-review pilots.

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PHOTOS Fall TV Preview: Your Guide to What’s New!

THE SHOW | CBS’ Madam Secretary (Sundays at 8/7c, premiering Sept. 21)

THE COMPETITION | NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Fox’s The Simpsons/Brooklyn Nine-Nine

THE CAST | Tea Leoni (The Naked Truth), Tim Daly (Private Practice), Bebe Neuwirth (Blue Bloods), Geoffrey Arend (Body of Proof), Keith Carradine (Dexter), Zeljko Ivanek (Damages) and Sebastian Arcelus (House of Cards)

THE SET-UP | Retired CIA agent Elizabeth McCord (Leoni) finds her bucolic existence upended when her former boss — and current POTUS (Carradine) — shows up at the rural home she shares with her husband (Daly) and two kids and asks her to serve as his Secretary of State, after a plane crash claims the life of the current SoS. Elizabeth’s low tolerance for bureaucracy and red tape immediately puts her at odds with the president’s scary, Stalin-esque chief of staff (Ivanek), while pretty much everyone else sees her as a breath of anti-D.C. air.

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THE FIRST IMPRESSION | A confident, rousing performance from Leoni and a strong script from Homeland alum Barbara Hall elevates what could’ve been a derivative fish-out-of-water tale. Whether diffusing an international hostage crisis, throwing shade at her personal stylist or brokering a peace treaty with her dyspeptic teenage daughter, Elizabeth is someone you will instantly root for. A strong, believable supporting cast (particularly Neuwirth as Elizabeth’s chief of staff and Carradine as the prez) adds authenticity to the political backdrop.

The show’s biggest challenge will be making Elizabeth’s home life as compelling as her work life (something the pilot struggled to do despite some nice chemistry between Leoni and Daly). Also, the government cover-up subplot will likely elicit a collective eye roll from conspiracy-fatigued TV viewers.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | Madam Secretary will serve as the perfect Sunday companion to CBS’ similarly highbrow and female skewing The Good Wife, although the network’s annoying fall football overruns could make building an audience difficult. (Then again, there’s perhaps greater upside here with such delays, as Good Wife fans might catch some of Madam Secretary and get hooked.) Either way, strong critical support should compel CBS to exercise patience.

Watch a video preview for Madam Secretary, then vote in our poll below.