Something Good on the Idiot Box
When I was young my father used to warn of impending “brain rot” when he thought we were watching too much TV. To this day I don’t give much time to what he called the “idiot box,” but occasionally I come across a show that rises above the prevailing idiocy. A show like Madam Secretary. Since my family cut the cable cord a few years ago, it’s the only network television show I still consistently follow.
I love looking for evidence of God at work in popular art and culture, including shows like this that feature characters living with goodness and grace in the real world. Throw in engaging story lines with smart dialogue and characters, a consistently positive portrayal of marriage and family, regular affirmations of faith, an
d great character actors like Zeljko Ivanek, and I’m sold.
I just finished with the 4th season of Madam Secretary (replayed on Netflix) and season 5 on CBS just kicked off. If you’ve not seen it, the show is about a fictional female Secretary of State played by Tia Leoni, and her life of balancing that job with all the diplomacy and decisiveness it requires, with her marriage to a renowned religion scholar (who teaches ethics to military leaders and sometimes works for the CIA), and family life with her 3 children.
Political Show Light on Cynicism?
This is no cynical and twisted House of Cards take on the corruption of power. Madam Secretary regularly addresses huge ethical questions and real-world issues, typically looking for the best, even “noble” paths. This a show that believes there are plenty of good people in government and that our country has a moral obligation in the world, without resorting to sappy flag-waving. If the highest levels of our government ever do really run like this, with people this smart, caring, and confident in charge, well, there is hope for the country. Maybe that’s one of the things that sets Madam Secretary apart; it deals with power, corruption, compromise, and current events, but with surprising hopefulness and authenticity. At the same time its gives us an engaging education on modern diplomacy and the workings of the State department.
Tia Leoni’s character Elizabeth McCord is a marvel. She’s strong, whip smart, incredibly insightful and decisive, yet fully engaged with her marriage and family. Leoni has said, “I want it to be believable that this woman can care very deeply and yet can be one of the greatest diplomats of our time.” I want to be like Elizabeth McCord when I grow up. Or maybe her husband.
Strong Religious Character
Henry McCord, played by Tim Daly, is an esteemed religious scholar who quotes saints, theologians, and philosophers, bringing an ethical and spiritual ethos to the show. He is the solid, supportive, yet equally accomplished and strong husband to one of the most powerful women on the planet, and nearly every show brings us sweet vignettes of their playful, remarkably healthy and normal—especially considering the pressure of their day jobs—marriage. It’s rare to see marriage portrayed so lovingly on television. The McCords are real people (good looking TV actor versions of them, anyway) doing the best they can to be good parents and make a difference in the world. It’s an exceptionally intelligent and wholesome approach to a TV program, another very rare combination.
I’m not an advocate of binge-watching—besides risking “brain rot,” for me it can be a selfish waste of time considering that God prepared us all for specific and special good works to do in this world (Ephesians 2:10)—so I wouldn’t suggest catching up on all 4 seasons of Madam Secretary in a weekend. But if you’re ever looking for some smart, uplifting TV that won’t shock you with twisted story lines, might renew your hope for good actions and government, and inspire you to make a difference, you might savor an episode or two of Madam Secretary. Seasons 1-4 are on Netflix and Season 5 is now on CBS, Sunday nights at 10pm.
J. Scott McElroy advocates for the arts and creativity in the local church. He’s the author of Finding Divine Inspiration and The Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation, and director of The New Renaissance Arts Movement, which produces that Saddleback CreativeChurch Arts Conference. He blogs at JScottMcElroy.com. Reach him at Scott (at)TheNewR.org