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Commander in Chief and Off the Map: The Complete Series (October 8/12)

One of the best things about the DVD revolution is the ease with which it's now become possible to catch up with short-lived television shows. It used to be that if you missed the initial run of a cancelled series - say, for example, the season-long Melrose Place spinoff, Models Inc - you were pretty much guaranteed to never see said program again.

These days, however, it's become standard operating procedure for virtually every single network television show to receive an eventual release on DVD and, possibly, Blu-ray. ABC Studios has been especially aggressive in this area, as it often feels like the company is releasing a new series on home video every single week. Commander in Chief and Off the Map both received brief runs on ABC over the last few years, and the shows, though far from flawless, managed to make a positive enough impression that one can't help but wish they had received more time on the air.

Among the two series, Commander in Chief, without a doubt, held the most promise, as it contained a stellar premise and a fantastic group of performers. The show, in essence, follows Geena Davis' Mackenzie "Mac" Allen as she becomes the President of the United States after the sitting President dies of an aneurysm, with the series subsequently detailing the character's ongoing efforts at adjusting to her new position and the effect that it has on the various people in her life.

Series creator Rod Lurie generally does an effective job of blending the characters' behind-the-scenes political antics with the expectedly soapy bent of their personal lives, and there's little doubt that the series receives plenty of mileage out of Davis' charismatic and, pardon the pun, commanding turn as the central protagonist. And while some of the plot developments are lamentable - eg virtually everything involving Allen's annoying, intrusive mother (Polly Bergen's Kate) - Commander in Chief remains a trenchant Washington-set drama that could (and should) have gone on for several seasons.

With Off the Map, ABC attempted to replicate the success of their runaway smash Grey's Anatomy - with the show, which boasts Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, emphasizing the soapy exploits of several impossibly attractive doctors. The twist here is that the series transpires within a remote South American village, where a group of mostly American physicians, including Martin Henderson's Ben, Caroline Dhavernas' Lily, and Mamie Gummer's Mina, attempt to practice medicine under continuously less-than-ideal circumstances.

It's worth noting that Off the Map gets off to a fairly disastrous start, as the series revels in all the tropes and cliches that one might've anticipated - with the far-from-fresh atmosphere compounded by the presence of an almost uniformly unappealing roster of characters. There's little doubt, however, that the show improves steadily as it goes along, as the viewer is reluctantly drawn into the unabashedly melodramatic comings and goings of these one-dimensional figures - to the extent that the various cliffhangers that conclude the series are surprisingly frustrating (ie it's impossible not to wonder what would've happened had the show not been cancelled).


© David Nusair