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TV Reviews: 'Citizen Baines' wins vote

Saturday, September 29, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

From pig farmer to U.S. senator, James Cromwell ("Babe") makes for an engaging elder statesman who finds himself back in Seattle after losing a re-election campaign in the premiere episode of CBS's "Citizen Baines" (9 tonight).

 
 
"Citizen Baines"

When: 9 tonight on CBS.

Starring: James Cromwell

   
 

In the premiere, the widowed United States senator goes through the rituals of Election Day, confident his record will get him elected once again.

Eldest daughter Ellen (Embeth Davidtz), a lawyer who ran his campaign, isn't so sure. Middle daughter Reeva (Jane Adams, "Frasier") doesn't care and wishes for a life away from politics. Youngest daughter Dori (Jacinda Barrett, "The Real World: London") almost misses her opportunity to vote after waking in the bed of a man whose name she can't remember.

Executive produced by Christopher Chulack, Lydia Woodward and John Wells -- all veterans of NBC's "ER" -- the first episode of "Citizen Baines" borrows a bit of the tone of "The West Wing" (another Wells production). That may diminish in future episodes, but it was heartening to see in a preview of next week's show that the political story continues as Baines sets about closing his office. It just doesn't all evaporate as it would on less realistic TV series.

The second episode also has some nice moments as Baines tries to help constituents, but the show feels forced in a concluding scene when Dori finds her father dancing alone in his living room. It fits the episode's theme but is out of sync with the character.

Once Baines ends his political life, "Citizen Baines" will apparently settle into the rhythm of a domestic family drama dealing with turmoil in the lives of each of his daughters. Politics may not disappear from the series entirely: Ellen is considering a run for public office.

Anyone watching tonight's premiere may notice some recognizable faces in supporting roles. Actors from other Wells series appear, including Eddie Cibrian ("Third Watch") as a pilot, John Aylward ("ER") as a boat captain and Paul McCrane ("ER") and Penny Johnson (formerly of "ER") as Baines staffers.

With well-conceived characters and a dignified performance from Cromwell, "Citizen Baines" wins this viewer's vote of approval.

'Law & Order: Criminal Intent' (9 p.m. tomorrow, NBC)

In the television broadcasting industry, the viewers are underestimated by two separate but equally important groups: the network executives who schedule the programs and the producers who create them. This is another of their follies.

Chung chung.

 
 
"Law & Order: Criminal Intent"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on NBC.

Starring: Vincent D'Onofrio

   
 

Do viewers really need another "Law & Order" spinoff? "Criminal Intent" proves the answer is no.

It's not a bad show, just nothing special or innovative. It's another plot-driven, bland character drama from executive producer Dick Wolf.

The supposed twist this time is that viewers get to see the crime from the point of view of the perpetrator, and then watch the detectives piece it all together. It's pretty well executed in tonight's episode as detectives Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) track down murderous diamond thieves (including Jake Weber from HBO's "Mind of the Married Man").

But a preview of a future episode points out a potential problem with this approach: It's possible for guest stars to get more air time than the regular cast. As it is, series regulars Jamey Sheridan (as the detectives' commanding officer) and Courtney B. Vance (as a district attorney) have few scenes in tonight's premiere. ("Law & Order" star Dianne Wiest also has a needless one-scene cameo as District Attorney Nora Lewin.)

In tonight's episode, the puzzle pieces of the crimes fall into place too easily as Goren makes connections that require a pretty large leap.

D'Onofrio plays the seemingly all-knowing Goren with a mix of determination and arrogance that makes Erbe's character come off as a kid sister who's just tagging along.

"Bad guys do what good guys dream," he says in one pronouncement.

Whatever its intent, all this "Law & Order" can muster is more of the same stuff.

'UC: Undercover' (10 p.m. tomorrow, NBC)

Despite a national debate on gun control, bullets are sprayed at will in this testosterone-filled, mindless, action-packed series about undercover agents.

 
 
"UC: Undercover"

When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on NBC.

Starring: Jon Seda

   
 

Grant Show stars in the first and second episodes as the team leader, but soon Oded Fehr ("The Mummy" films) will take his place.

In the first two episodes, agent Jake Shaw (Jon Seda, "Homicide: Life on the Street") takes center stage as he goes undercover to bust a murderous thief (William Forsythe) whose menacing mustache screams "I'm the bad guy!"

There are all sorts of conversations through clenched teeth -- that way you know it's supposed to be tense and important -- and hints at love affairs among the agents.

Next week's episode has a bit more humor, but tonight's show is pedal-to-the-floor action, much of it patently ridiculous. Do any real Justice Department agents cross their arms and pull two guns from holsters at their sides? Or do they just do that on silly violent TV shows?


Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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