Hey Hollywood, here's a political series pitch:
The United States is in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that happens to coincide with an election year. The president, who refuses to follow protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, holds regular press conferences during which he often openly contradicts his own medical advisers and blames the media for everything. His opponent, who, like the president, falls into the at-risk category of being over 65, continues to abide by his state's shelter-at-home order, communicating with the world and American voters from his basement. Subplots include the Postal Service teetering on bankruptcy even as the potential of a mail-in election becomes a distinct possibility and the federal government stockpiling medical equipment while hard-hit hospitals go begging.
No one would believe it, you say? Maybe not. Fortunately, we have a welter of what suddenly seem like far more plausible politically themed television series to choose from.
Before we had a reality star in the Oval Office, political series fell, for the most part, into four categories: aspirational ("The West Wing"), instructional ("The Wire"), satirical ("Veep") and sensational ("Scandal"). Because television is character-driven, all examine the effects of power on the individual and the inevitable tension between people -- good, bad and complicated -- and the democratic system, also good, bad and complicated.
At times like these, viewers need some of all of these things. So here is a list of some of the best.
"Madam Secretary" (Available on: CBS All Access, Netflix)
Former CIA operative Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) is enjoying an academic life far more aligned with her highly sensitive moral compass when a Tragic and Suspicious Event throws her back into the snake pit that is Washington politics. There, she and her professor/Middle East expert husband (Tim Daly) and their three mature and maturing children attempt to keep the U.S. on the straight and narrow, even as all manner of outside forces, from terrorists to the realities of international relationships, threaten and tempt. Aspirational politics never looked so good. Leoni is fabulous, the depiction of a two-career family marvelous; the plots are always complicated, resonant and realistic. Well, realistic enough. And where else are you going to see scenes shot in the U.N. or cameos by actual former secretaries of state, including a fine and necessary conversation about the evils of nationalism between Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell? Only on "Madam Secretary."
"Mrs. America" (FX on Hulu)
The story of the failed Equal Rights amendment told through key women on either side is a chilling reminder of how easily a vocal minority can overturn the efforts of a complacent majority, even in a democracy. Thwarted in her attempts to influence American foreign policy, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) chose to mobilize a relatively small group of American women to fight the nascent Equal Rights Amendment, which most people, including Republican congressmen, considered a slam dunk. The success and repercussions of her campaign are with us today, and by showcasing many of the players, including Schlafly, Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Allman), "Mrs. America" offers a brief master class in women's history, and terrific acting.