Politics, Playful Pals and Pure Panic

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More new arrivals in prime time this week: The Oval Office gets a new chief, a "Melrose"-like ensemble of friends bonds in California, and a reporter tracks creeps and crime. The three hourlong dramas range in tone from serious to lighthearted to gruesome. Which one's for you? Keep reading . . .

"Commander in Chief"

Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC

The tagline you'll never see: Move over, "West Wing": There's a new "Chief" in town.

The basics: Call her Madame President. Geena Davis plays Mackenzie Allen, the vice president of the United States, who gets an unexpected promotion when her boss suffers a fatal aneurysm. But, despite what the Constitution says, she's not going to get the new gig without a fight from the president's cronies. Turns out the late leader only gave her the job so she could deliver the voters who didn't look so fondly upon him: women. His chief of staff (Harry Lennix) demands she resign so House Speaker Nathan Templeton (the deliciously evil Donald Sutherland) can assume control. But just try and stop her from taking the oath.

The lowdown: ABC hopes "Chief" can revive the political drama on network television and create the buzz that the first few seasons of the now-fading "The West Wing" did for NBC. It's got some backbone with its creator Rod Lurie, who directed the Oscar-nominated political thriller "The Contender." (The star power of Sutherland and Davis doesn't hurt, either.) It's in a tough time slot, however, with some very different competition: NBC's funny "My Name Is Earl," Fox's compelling hospital drama "House" and CBS's heart-thumping reality series "The Amazing Race."

Reality check: If you're a sucker for a good political drama, "Chief" is where you'll want to be on Tuesday nights. The pilot, in which the newly minted president orders an improbable military action, is a little overdone -- and some of the idealistic dialogue may have you rolling your eyes. But that's half the fun in this juicy political drama, which gives us plenty of plot points to chew on. Davis plays her role admirably, but it's Sutherland's portrayal of the cranky congressman that makes "Chief" worth your while.

-- John Maynard

"Sex, Love & Secrets"

Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on UPN

The tagline you'll never see: Relationships, music and . . . animal behavior voice-overs?


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