Arts Desk

Inside the Box: D.C. TV Shows, Analyzed

inside-the-box

While the District’s lack of film incentives has prevented it from attracting shows filmed in D.C., TV writers remain infatuated with lurid, trench coat-wearing Washington. This fall brought the premieres of two new D.C.-set shows (The Blacklist, Hostages)—and that’s in addition to the glut of D.C. shows that are already on the air. Spend some time with any of these series, and despite their distinct genres, many of them raise similar questions. Such as: Why do so few of them identify their characters’ political parties? Why do they moralize so damn much? And why haven’t these shows pioneered more original Washington archetypes? We don’t have answers, but we do have a charticle.

SorkinHeadAaron Sorkin head = one unit of preachiness

The Americans
Two deeply entrenched Russian sleeper spies pose as a good-looking, suburban-dwelling Americans in the early 1980s. Fortunately, the show’s complex characters defy typical D.C. stereotypes. FX, back in 2014.

Preachiness: SorkinHeadSorkinHead
Blatant D.C. stereotyping: 2/5
Political party waffling: 1/5

The Blacklist
The world’s “Concierge of Crime” (James Spader) teams up with FBI rookie Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and exposes a bunch of international criminals. Its first two episodes are amusing, though ridiculously implausible. NBC, Mondays at 10 p.m.

Preachiness:  SorkinHead
Blatant D.C. stereotyping: 3/5
Political party waffling: 2/5

Homeland

Brilliant, unhinged Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a dedicated CIA operative; Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is her boyfriend/key suspect. Though Brody is an elected official in the second season working closely with the vice president, neither seem to belong to any party in particular. Democrats and Republicans don’t exist in this paranoia fest. Showtime, Sundays at 9 p.m.

Preachiness: SorkinHeadSorkinHead
Blatant D.C. stereotyping:
 4/5
Political party waffling: 5/5

Hostages
A doctor and her family are taken hostage the day before she is scheduled to perform major surgery on the U.S. president. It’s as dumb as a sidewalk (the president is told by one of his aides, “Women’s groups are going to love this lady doctor”), and these characters appear to be based on Martian versions of D.C. archetypes. CBS, Mondays at 10 p.m.

Preachiness: zero Aaron Sorkins
Blatant D.C. stereotyping: 1/5
Political party waffling: 1/5

House of Cards
In which Kevin Spacey plays Rep. Frank Underwood, puppetmaster of Congress. Political parties are named, but parties don’t matter when it comes to the kind of hardcore, triple-X powerbrokering conducted by Underwood and his wife/partner in manipulation, Claire (Robin Wright). Netflix, back in 2014.

Preachiness: SorkinHeadSorkinHead
Blatant D.C. stereotyping:
 5/5
Political party waffling: 0/5

Scandal
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is the District’s go-to fixer, style beacon, and stare-down champion—one withering grimace and Pope will end your career and slurp up your last drop of self-esteem. ABC, Thursdays at 10 p.m.

Preachiness: SorkinHeadSorkinHeadSorkinHead
Blatant D.C. stereotyping:
 2/5
Political party waffling: 2/5

Veep
A salad spinner of invective, Veep focuses on Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her outrageously stereotypical staff as they bound from one political infelicity to the next. HBO, back in 2014.

Preachiness: zero Aaron Sorkins
Blatant D.C. stereotyping: 4/5
Political party waffling: 5/5

Graphics by Carey Jordan

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  • jane

    You forgot Covert Affairs, which seems to feature clandestine meetings on the Mall in every.single.episode this season. There are other picturesque parts of the city.

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