Marching in Place
DAG is a sitcom about a top Secret Service agent named Jerome Daggett (David Alan Grier) who was once head of the Presidential Detail’s elite A-team. The series’ backstory is that he failed in his original assignment—to protect the President—by leaping in the wrong direction (away from the President) when an assassin opened fire. Unfortunately, this took place in front of a group of photographers, so though the bullet missed President Whitman (David Rasche, of Sledgehammer!), Agent Daggett was publicly humiliated.
As the series begins, then, Agent Daggett has been reassigned to head the B-Team, something of a dumping ground for agents who just can’t make the grade. Here he is charged with providing security for the First Lady, Judith Whitman (Delta Burke, Designing Women), and her adolescent daughter Camilla (Lea Moreno Young). So, rather than being transferred to a remote field office to work out the remainder of his career logging the numbers of counterfeit bills, which is probably what would have happened in real life, Daggett is obliged to march in place, in an uncomfortably public way. His mother sends him all the newspaper clippings that mention him, and the self-deluding also-rans of B-Team can be counted on to remark on his failure at regular intervals, lest the audience forget.
The White House residents amount to simplified versions of the Clintons, who were about to depart office when DAG first aired. Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton has been dumbed down into President Whitman, who pats himself on the back for any success by drawling, “Ain’t I smart?” The humanitarian and politically savvy Hillary has been reduced by characterization to First Lady Whitman, a compassionate sucker who takes any hard luck story at face value (she hired her secretary, Ginger Chin [Lauren Tom, of Grace Under Fire], after meeting the grifter during a charity visit to the Maryland State Women’s Center). And Camilla is surging with hormones and longs for a visible expression of what she perceives as her own wild nature, namely, a tattoo of Tinkerbell with a whip.
Although Daggett is a Secret Service Agent, Judith Whitman habitually treats him as a servant. In one episode, she has him making coffee for her, insisting, “This will be not just a White House, but a White Home.” Behind her public mask of propriety and good humor, however, is the wounded wife of a typical politician. Looking for revenge in small ways, she is determined to assert herself and take a more proactive role in the administration, though doing so sets up a rivalry between her staff and the President’s team.
In one instance, the First Lady is supposed to give a speech in honor of Olympic gold medallist, Becky Jo Jensen (Kimberly McCullough), celebrated by an adoring media as “America’s Sweetheart.” The young gymnast is gratingly over-exuberant and Judith blows up at her during the media event. The press has a field day with the gaffe. Now embarrassed herself, the First Lady shares common ground with Dag, and he offers his boss advice on what to do when you’re too mortified to face an angry populace—hide out until you decide what to do. Other B-Team members suggest that the First Lady’s blow-up was due to her over-caffeination, and Dag might be held accountable for the First Lady’s actions since he served her the coffee. “Blame it on the coffee,” the team votes nearly unanimously, as if to say, “Blame it on Dag.” The First Lady’s PR corps decides that a private apology and a public kiss-and-make-up reconciliation will suffice, and dispatch over-achiever Agent Susan Cole (Emmy Laybourne, Superstar) as diplomatic courier to Becky Jo. Agent Cole returns wearing Becky Jo’s own oversized Olympic medallion on loaner: she’s champ of the day.
Dispirited, Dag heads to his favorite bar to wash down his daily serving of crow. There he is joined by his friend, Agent Morton (Mel Jackson, who starred in NBC’s Little Richard). Morton not only replaced Dag as top man on the A-Team, but is becoming the President’s friend and enjoying the perks attached to position. The President was called away “on business” and suggested Morton take in a basketball game using the President’s own season pass, including use of the Presidential box seating, access to the never-ending supply of nachos that comes with such preferred seating, and a chance to meet Michael Jordan (whose ring he managed to steal). As if all this isn’t bad enough, Morton adds, “Thanks, man. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.” Clearly, the President’s own A-Team will not let the sun set on B-Team’s winning even a small moment of any day. And in any male bar room boast-a-thon, Michael Jordan’s purloined ring has more brag value than any little girl’s Olympic medal.
On paper, this episode might sound better than it actually was on screen. It was a long half-hour. Before watching the Becky Jo episode, I was rooting for David Alan Grier, as he can be a great ensemble player. I didn’t expect the show to be wickedly funny or a wild comedia dell arte. But if a group of producers, writers, and players can find something amusing about talentless times or loss of faith in government, I say, give it your best shot. Have at it with vigor, and I will gladly cheer you on. In the next episode I saw (which had been postponed for over a month—and you can’t really have a weekly sitcom if the show isn’t aired regularly each week), Grier and company gave it another shot. Here, Dag was tasked by the First Lady herself to carry the B-Team to victory in a basketball game played against the F.B.I. The First Lady also insisted that Camilla lead cheers for the B-Team. The First Daughter shook her pompoms and shouted, “Yeah, pancakes!” When her mother demanded an explanation, Camilla said only, “You asked me to lead cheers, not to make sense.” Dag’s team finally won one at last, and I nearly chuckled.