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Commander in Chief on DVD: Part 1 • Part 2

"Commander in Chief" Part 2 DVD Review

Buy Commander in Chief: The Complete Series - Part 2 (2-Disc Inaugural Edition) from Amazon.com Commander in Chief: Part 2 (2006)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Rod Lurie / Repeat Directors: Bobby Roth, Dan Lerner, Rick Wallace

Regular Cast: Geena Davis (Mackenzie Allen), Donald Sutherland (Nathan Templeton), Kyle Secor (Rod Calloway), Harry Lennix (Jim Gardner), Ever Carradine (Kelly Ludlow), Matt Lanter (Horace Calloway), Caitlin Wachs (Rebecca Calloway), Jasmine Anthony (Amy Calloway)

Recurring Characters: Anthony Azizi (Vince Taylor), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Dickie McDonald), Polly Bergen (Kate Allen), Natasha Henstridge (Jayne Murray), Samantha Eggar (Sara Templeton), Alex Fernandez (Anthony Prado), Eyal Podell (Eli Meltzer), Larry Sullivan (Dan Pierce), Pamela Dunlap (Gilda Rockwell), Peter Coyote (Warren Keaton), Hira Ambrosino (Laura), Chris Ufland (Thad Thibideau), Mark Thompson (Gordon Blake), Phil Reeves (General Krieger), Patrick J. Adams (Colin James)

Notable Guest Stars: Robert Harper (Owen Latimer), Jamie McShane (Captain Andrew Duggan), Kristen Shaw (Norah Woodruff), Hayden Panettiere (Stacy), James Handy (Bernard Hendrix), Judith Hoag (Syndi Saltzman), Ted Porter (Agent Elderson), Leslie Hope (Melanie Blackston), Adam Arkin (Carl Brantley), Orson Bean (Bill Harrison), Elizabeth Dennehy (Sue Brantley), James Eckhouse (Paul Vitagliano), Nestor Carbonell (Dr. Kyle Brock), Tim Daly (Cameron Manchester), Rick Hoffman (Lance Addison), Sarah Clarke (Christine Chambers)

Running Time: 341 Minutes (8 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006
Part 2 Airdates: January 17, 2006 - June 14, 2006
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Standard-Width Black Keepcase with Side Snaps

By Albert Gutierrez

"Commander in Chief"'s term is not quite over yet, as her final eight episodes arrive on DVD with a few choice but somewhat lacking bonus features. For a refresher, here is my review of Part One, in which we left President Allen (Geena Davis) as she was trying to save a U.S. submarine downed in Korean waters.
Part Two finishes up with the last couple of episodes overseen by Steven Bochco, and then gives us the series' final six episodes, helmed by third showrunner Dee Johnson. Bochco’s vision, as I said before, is of a quicker-paced, tenser show than the one which Rod Lurie created. Such intensity is downplayed once Johnson’s episodes air, as the drama takes a more emotional turn and becomes truer to Lurie’s vision of the show. Action is secondary to character, and stories with action are given a more emotional point of view.

Perhaps a testament of ABC’s faith (or lack thereof) in the show, after Bochco’s run, the series went on a two-month hiatus, and returned in a very competitive timeslot, Thursdays at 10 pm, and against powerhouses “Without a Trace” and “ER” (on CBS and NBC, respectively). Viewership by now was hovering around the 8 million mark, only half of what it had been in the fall, and the series was pulled yet again at the end of April. ABC opted instead to burn off the last three episodes in June, and its conspicuous absence on ABC’s Fall 2006 schedule was an industry head-scratcher, especially considering the fact that “What About Brian”, a romantic dramedy with even lower ratings than “Commander in Chief”, was renewed.

The second opening title logo used for "Commander in Chief." Geena Davis and her award-winning smile

By the time these episodes aired, "Commander" had already headed into the standard political-centered-show territory. It wasn’t tiresome yet; after all, “The West Wing” lasted in this format for seven years. But its novelty of a female president was already wearing thin. Mac was put into situations that any president could face, and writers tried hard to make things Mac-centric, in that as a female president, decisions would be tougher for her to make and for others to accept. Perhaps it was too difficult to maintain this theme from episode to episode. As writers tried to revise it, Mac was slowly becoming just another president... except she was female. Unlike early episodes, which gave this tiny but important detail its due, the episodes here downplay it greatly, which perhaps strengthen her character and make a female president stronger than one would expect. Campaign advisor Dickie McDonald (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) probably said it best in the episode "Unfinished Business": "You've reached a point in your presidency where the people finally see you as The President, not a female president."

Still, at the heart of it, we’ve got the Mac and her family, struggling to adapt to their newfound celebrity status, and their attempts at a normal life. It’s perhaps the most endearing focus of the series, and the only element consistently present. Each showrunner knew how to write for the family, how to keep the chemistry among the actors, how to make them believable. Even if this wasn’t about the first female President of the USA, it would be the best family drama on the air.

Zack Morris in the White House...seems odd, doesn’t it? Mother (Polly Bergen) and daughter share a moment and cookies together.

There's not much else to say that I haven't already said in Part One. I view this as an extension of that review,
Disney Movie Club (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
so that readers have already acquainted themselves with the information from Part One. They know who the main characters are, so going through another summarization of them, their portrayers, and my thoughts on each would be redundant.

More can be said, however, for two characters: Dickie McDonald and Kate Allen (Polly Bergen). Since their introductions late in Part One, these two figures have been fleshed out much more within these episodes. This is especially true of Dickie, a character often at heads with Mac on decisions that affect her public image, proving him to be one of those personalities that is a pain in the neck and one you don't want to root for, but is still fun to watch. (It's Zack Morris!) The tension between Mac and Dickie culminates in his firing by the last episode, and the fallout from that would have been very interesting to see in Season Two, had the show been renewed. Kate Allen, Mac's mom, comes to live with the First Family, and while she's still just a sounding board for characters to go to, she's got some...gusto to her that makes her enjoyable to follow. It remains a somewhat small role, but perhaps more interesting on screen than daughter Becca (who I still don't care for in Part Two).

Jim, Mac, and Rob appear tense as they wait for more news about the sub. Dickie glares outside searching for the truck bomber. He tripped, okay?


11. No Nukes is Good Nukes (43:14) (Originally aired January 17, 2006)
Part Two of the DVD set aptly begins with part two of “Sub Enchanted Evening”, the cliffhanger aired on January 10th. North Korea has declared the sub’s presence an act of war, with advisors pushing for a war, and giving them even less time to rescue the crew. Meanwhile, Jayne considers rejoining with Templeton.

12. Wind Beneath My Wing (41:28) (Originally aired January 24, 2006)
Mac and Templeton dedicate the President Bridges Presidential Library, which leads to Air Force One being held hostage by an embittered veteran who is demanding health insurance for his sick wife. And perhaps the only bad storyline to be done on this show involves the twins throwing a party in the White House... only to have the Gettysburg Address go missing (little sis Amy hid it because she wasn’t allowed to party with the older kids).

13. State of the Unions (42:42) (Originally aired April 13, 2006)
Another change in showrunners, as Dee Johnson’s first episode begins with Mac’s first State of the Union, along with a clichéd sexual-harassment “Did he or didn’t he?” storyline involving the First Gentleman. He didn’t, and by April, viewers didn’t care.

14. The Price You Pay (41:17) (Originally aired April 20, 2006)
Keaton’s given a chance to shine as a missing cargo plane allows him to use his military skills to recover it. Templeton finds a source with damaging information on Carl Brantley, a nominee for Attorney General and close friend of Mac. She stands by him regardless of the negative publicity he’s receiving for granting parole to a small-time thief who later killed an old woman.

15. Ties That Bind (43:16) (Originally aired April 27, 2006)
Mac comes under fire for visiting and trying to improve a violence-ridden city, many calling it a personal favor for Jim. Dickie tries to convince Vince not to invite Mac to his commitment ceremony, which doesn’t sit well with her when she finds out. Keaton nays the Templeton Act, and among other things, resigns from the vice presidency in order to take care of his dying wife.

In "Ties That Bind", Mac goes forth and speaks directly to the people of Hyattsville. Tim Daly guest-stars as VP candidate Cameron Manchester in "Happy Birthday, Madam President." As expected, someone falls asleep at the Town Hall Meeting...it’s just a surprise that she does it on stage.


16. The Elephant in the Room (42:27) (Originally aired May 31, 2006)
On a trip to California aboard Air Force One, Mackenzie collapses from appendicitis and is hospitalized in Omaha. She invokes the 25th Amendment, hoping Templeton would decline (as he’d have to give up his voting rights and resign as congressman), but instead, Templeton swears into the office.

17. Happy Birthday, Madam President (43:07) (Originally aired June 7, 2006)
Mac once again searches for a VP, few of which meet Dickie’s approval. American hostages in Turkey also take up her time, and in an unrelated note, apparently I share the same birthday with the fictitious president (based on the airdate at least).

18. Unfinished Business (43:05) (Originally aired June 14, 2006)
The series comes to a close with a few twists and turns, as Mac pushes to pass her Equal Rights Amendment. Jim accepts her offer as VP, while a fired Dickie joins Templeton. Finally, in a homegrown town hall debate between Mac and Templeton, it’s clear who the winner is. And isn't it ironic that the last episode of the series is called "Unfinished Business"?


Though I don’t expect much to change, video and audio here are just as good as Part One’s. The show is crisp and clear in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which thankfully has lost the “Family Friendly Widescreen” banner.

Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. Unfortunately, this time I could only play the discs on regular surround, but it’s still just as even as it could be expected.

Geena Davis enlightens us with her views of her character and of the show in "A Conversation with Madam President." Kelly and Rob give Jim dirty looks when he tells them their scene "Spiked Drink" is deleted...and that he stole the cookies from the cookie jar. "I flubbed a line, you’re gonna cancel the show now, aren’t you?".


The first bonus feature, “A Conversation with Madam President” (5:54), is a letdown for those expecting a meaty featurette about the show. In this all-too-brief piece, we get quick clips of an interview Geena Davis gave about her work on the show. She starts off talking about how she got the part, and it segues into a mix of her thoughts on the character and her love of working on the show. There are show and behind-the-scenes clips to accompany what she’s talking about, and you can tell that she has a lot more to say beyond six minutes, which makes me wonder what substantial bonus features this set could have received.

Up next are 20 deleted scenes, which run 21 minutes and 41 seconds long with the "Play All" option. Scenes are listed at ten to a screen, though the menu makes no mention of which episode it was cut from. They appear in non-anamorphic widescreen and have inferior video quality compared to the episodes. A commentary or introduction for each scene could have better explained why they were cut, but viewers will have to make do with watching a scene, and trying to remember which episode this could have been from.

“White House Humor” (3:18) is a short series of bloopers and outtakes. It’s mostly flubbed lines, odd faces, and in one instant, Geena Davis making noises with her tongue. It’s not a rip-roaring hilarious blooper reel, and contains only a few chuckle-worthy moments, ending with perhaps the best outtake of all. Like the deleted scenes, this is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Two solo audio commentaries were recorded for this set. The first, in a huge surprise, is by creator Rod Lurie for the Pilot. Yes, the pilot episode is back! A pleasant surprise, but it makes me wonder why they didn't bother tacking this to Part One. This is probably the best bonus feature offered in the set, and Lurie’s got a lot to talk about in his 40-odd minutes. He mentions a lot of good-to-know production tales and responses to some criticisms about the series. Early on he sets the record straight about speculation that the show was nothing more than a “Trojan horse” for Hillary Clinton. He's not even a big fan of Hillary. So there.

Hey look!  Bonus Features! Hey look!  Deleted Scenes!

The second commentary is for the episode “The Elephant in the Room”,
and is given by the show’s third showrunner, writer/producer Dee Johnson. She's been with the show from the start, and I have to say I enjoyed her episodes a bit more than Lurie's or Bochco's. Her commentary is not quite as engaging as Lurie's, however, since she's more focused on explaining the story within the episode and describing characters and their backgrounds. There's still a wealth of show information here, but I think Johnson should have been paired with someone here. She sounds uncomfortable talking by herself, and having a companion could have lessened that while yielding an enhanced discussion.

The discs are labeled Disc 3 and Disc 4, and retain the same design theme of the first set, even down to the menus, which are still static 16x9 with a loop of background music. Episodes 11-15 take up Disc 3, and the remaining four (#16-18, plus pilot) are on Disc 4. Nine chapter stops are provided on each episode, all of which open with their broadcast recaps. Like Part One, there are no individual episode menus for scene selection and there are no airdates provided.

The original ad for Part 2 posted a blue version of Part 1's cover art. This was later changed to its final form, which features President Allen and her family. The two discs are packaged in a dual amaray keep case, with the swinging page for the first disc. There are side snaps, as usual, and inside is a two-sided insert, with Episode Listings on one side, and an ad for "Desperate Housewives": Season Two - Extra Juicy Edition on the other. Also provided is a coupon with a code that gives you special rebate based on which of the Touchstone Television season sets you buy this year. It’s good for this set, as well as the second seasons of "Desperate Housewives", "Lost", and "Grey’s Anatomy", and expires October 31.

Disc 4 opens with the trailer for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, along with DVD trailers for “Alias”: The Complete Fifth and Final Season, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (which could easily pass for a theatrical trailer), “Lost": The Complete Second Season, and the Touchstone film Annapolis. From the menu, you can also find trailers for DVD releases of “Scrubs”: The Complete Fourth Season, “Grey’s Anatomy”: The Complete Second Season Uncut, and “Desperate Housewives”: The Complete Second Season. It also features promos for Goal! The Dream Begins, and “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC.

Nathan (Donald Sutherland) and Mac are all smiles before their Town Hall Meeting. Both Jayne (Natasha Henstridge) and Templeton look surly for a reason: "What About Brian" got renewed but they didn’t.


The release of Part Two brings a bittersweet sense of finality to “Commander in Chief”, and it joins the ranks of other brilliant but cancelled shows. Perhaps the only good news to come from this is the prospect of a television movie, which has been confirmed by both creator Rod Lurie and star Geena Davis. In the meantime, one can find solace and entertainment in this one-season wonder. While I will never like the fact that this series was split in two (costing consumers about an extra $20), Part 2 is still well worth the price, and still highly recommended. I can only hope when the eventual TV movie comes to DVD that they don’t split it into two 45 minute discs as well...

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Commander in Chief: Part 1 (2005-06) | Grey's Anatomy: Season One (2005)
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Commander in Chief on DVD: Part 1 • Part 2

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Reviewed September 4, 2006.

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