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On the Tube: 'D.C.' follows the exploits of up-and-coming twentysomethings

Friday, March 31, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The WB needs another youth drama the way UPN needs more testosterone-laden programs. And yet ...

"D.C.," a new ensemble drama about twentysomethings working in Washington, D.C., is actually a good little show.

"D.C." gives off a sense of idealism, sort of a less sophisticated, less intelligent "West Wing." That's not a knock on "D.C." These kids are in their early 20s, you can't expect them to be bursting with wisdom and experience.

As for the writing, series co-creator/writer John August is no Aaron Sorkin, but he develops characters viewers may actually care about. It's easy to get involved in their lives because their dilemmas ring true, at least to someone not that far removed from his first job.

Premiering Sunday at 8 p.m., "D.C." was co-created by "Law & Order" vet Dick Wolf. It might seem unusual to see his name attached to a seemingly lowbrow show, but the guy has made such schlock as "Players" and "Nasty Boys." "D.C." easily surpasses those programs in taste and intelligence. But don't be surprised when the guys take off their shirts once an episode. This is the female-friendly WB network, after all.

Gabriel Olds stars as Mason Scott, an eager-to-achieve legislative correspondent for the senior senator from Virginia. Mason encounters office politics of the worst kind in Sunday's pilot, trying to do what's right even if it's at the expense of his own advancement. He's naive, but in a believable way.

His roommate, lobbyist Pete Komisky (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), is a b.s. artist and cynic who will do what it takes to get ahead. This makes him an ideal match for Finley (Jacinda Barrett), Mason's sister who zooms into town after ditching grad school. She's a schemer, but not evil.

Finley finds the trio a sweet home to house-sit -- the show's most unbelievable element -- and they rent a room to a network news producer (Kristanna Loken) and her boyfriend (Daniel Sunjata).

Mason's infectious hopes and dreams make "D.C." compelling TV. Patriotism -- Mason has already written an inaugural speech just in case he gets elected president -- mingles easily with unexpected plot turns and requisite relationship melodrama.

As for reality, "D.C." seemed pretty genuine. But I wanted an expert opinion, so I sent the "D.C." pilot to Chris Hill, a friend who spent more than three years as a legislative correspondent for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Hill, now 27, worked in Lieberman's office as his first job out of college, and he found "D.C." semi-realistic, if overly dramatic.

"I experienced more drama in one hour of 'D.C' than I did in 3 1/2 years on the job on Capitol Hill," he said. "They took a fair amount of creative license, but they portrayed pretty accurately the ambition a lot of the young up-and-comers have in Washington."

Hill, who is now a consultant to a presidential commission, said the depiction of a senator who doesn't know the names of his employees wasn't his experience in Lieberman's office. He also questioned the portrayal of the hierarchy in a senator's office, especially Mason's ambitious boss.

"There wouldn't be a guy that young trying to screw you over," Hill said. "They're trying to get a leg up, but they're not necessarily trying to get ahead at the expense of other people in the office. I never had that experience, but I suppose it could happen."

One aspect of Mason's job in "D.C" particularly hit home for Hill.

"In that job you're kind of overqualified," he said. "After you've gotten a handle on how to be a legislative correspondent, you look around to see what else you can do. You really have to fight for some of those opportunities as

he did."

"D.C." premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on WCWB.

"The Peacekeepers" (10 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday on BBC America)

It's official. The people who run American television networks think viewers are stupid. What other conclusion can you draw after watching this comparatively complex, moving British miniseries?

"The Peacekeepers" airs this weekend in two 90-minute installments and stars Ioan Gruffudd, best known for the title role in A&E's "Horatio Hornblower" movies (more are on the way in 2001).

Gruffudd plays Lt. John Feeley, a British career officer sent to lead a U.N. battalion protecting Bosnia in 1992. Even during the worst of their encounters -- the charred bodies of children, mothers begging to be saved, the death of a friend -- Feeley remains stoic.

The other peacekeepers have their own ways of coping. Lt. Neil Loughery (Damian Lewis) needs companionship, even if it means cheating on his pregnant girlfriend back home. Pvt. Alan James (Matthew MacFadyen) hangs out with his best friend and fellow soccer fan, Pvt. Peter Skeet (Darren Morfitt).

If "Peacekeepers" has one failing, it's the lack of clarity in introducing these characters in Part One. Once they're in fatigues in Bosnia, riding atop white U.N. tanks and wearing blue helmets, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart. The accents make some dialogue tough to grasp, too.

By the second night everything falls into place. The relationships between the men become more distinct. Viewers and the characters see the true horror of the Bosnian war and the lack of aid the peacekeepers provide. Made powerless by a bureaucracy that forbids interference, they frequently abandon civilians, knowing what the fates of the blameless women and children will be.

"The Peacekeepers" is anything but facile TV. It's an unflinching look at man's inhumanity. "Peacekeepers" is rated TV-M (somehow BBC America never got the memo when the rating was changed to TV-MA several years ago) and has moments far more upsetting than any of the profanity sprinkled throughout.

A scene of a soldier searching through a truck of dead bodies to find one man alive was so powerfully staged I found my hand unconsciously covering my nose and mouth for fear I too might smell the stench of rotting flesh.

BBC America, which is only available to viewers with satellite TV or digital cable, deserves credit for bringing this important import to America. It's the kind of riveting TV drama PBS should be airing.

"The Peacekeepers" is the best miniseries of the TV season. It's a shame it won't have a larger audience.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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