- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

Hail to the ‘Chief’

When we meet MacKenzie Allen, America’s first female vice president, she’s summoned from a spur-of-the-moment diplomatic mission in France to deal with a more urgent matter: The president has suffered a stroke and now it’s up to her to do the right thing, top aides urge — not by assuming the presidency but resigning from office and letting a man run the country.

And so begins “Commander in Chief,” the much-ballyhooed ABC drama, debuting tonight at 9 with Oscar-winner Geena Davis in the title role.

It’s good stuff, but not the groundbreaking series the network has hyped.

Like other political dramas, “Chief” is filled withbipartisan skullduggery, dutiful and over-zealous aides and pompous windbags who deliver tiresome speeches. The show’s main selling point is the notion of a woman as president (Miss Davis’ Vice President Allen is an independent, we learn, and a former university president and multiple Nobel Prize-winner) who not only multitasks as a wife and mother, but also battles the sexist forces of evil hoping to take her down.

In tonight’s pilot, nearly all the action centers on calls for Allen to step aside for the good of the order when President Teddy Roosevelt Bridges (Will Lyman) dies. Demands come within “Chief’s” first few minutes from Jim Gardner (Harry J. Lennix of “Ray”), Bridges’ chief of staff; from the dying president; from White House secretaries; and from the deceptive Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (masterfully played by Donald Sutherland).

“You were put on the ticket to attract votes,” Templeton tells Allen. “This is not the time to make advances for the sake of making advances.”

Indeed, Allen’s only support comes from three of her four children — daughter Katheryn (Ever Carradine, the niece of actors David and Keith Carradine) supports Bridges’ policies — and her husband, Rod (Kyle Secor), who encourage mom to fight the good fight.

As if this weren’t enough, Allen will also have to deal with Cabinet resignations and send U.S. troops when a woman accused of adultery faces death by stoning in an African nation.

And this is just the beginning. Battles with Congress and within Allen’s political inner circle are on the horizon along with growing concerns that Muslim nations simply won’t accept a woman as president.

How Allen will handle it all remains to be seen. Miss Davis, returning to episodic TV after the short-lived “Geena Davis Show” a few seasons back, has chosen to play Allen as a dour and austere leader (despite strutting about in form-fitting designer duds) who’s not quite sure what to make of her newfound power.

But it’s Allen’s on-the-job training that gives “Chief” its momentum and will, hopefully, take viewers on what should be a long and eventful ride.

‘Shield’s‘ new star

The list of big screen stars who’ve signed up for a stint on “The Shield” continues to grow.

Actor/director Forest Whitaker will join the cast of the acclaimed FX police drama in January, Reuters news agency reports.

Following in the steps of Glenn Close, Mr. Whitaker will portray Det. Jon Kavanaugh, an ambitious newcomer to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs division who’s assigned to investigate rogue cop Vic Mackey (series star Michael Chiklis) and the strike force he leads.

Miss Close, who starred in “The Shield’s” 13 episodes this past season (its fourth), earned an Emmy-nomination for her role as Capt. Monica Rawlings, Mackey’s boss.

As an actor, Mr. Whitaker’s extensive resume includes roles in such films as “Phone Booth,” “Phenomenon” and “The Crying Game.” He also directed the box office hit “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) and last year directed the feature “First Daughter” with Katie Holmes and Michael Keaton.

‘Race’ returns

CBS’ “The Amazing Race” kicks off its eighth season tonight, fresh from its third consecutive Emmy win for TV’s best reality show.

Unlike earlier years, this season’s “TAR: Family Edition” (airing at 9 p.m.) breaks from the show’s usual two-member team format by featuring 10 teams of four family members as they trek around the globe in hopes of winning the $1 million prize. Add the “Are we there yet?” factor and you’ll get the picture.

Otherwise, it’s still the same game. Contestants will compete in a series of challenges at each destination and will pick up new itineraries after completing the tasks. Among this year’s contestants are the Black family — parents Reggie and Kim with sons Kenneth, 11, and Austin, 8 — of Woodbridge, Va.

Compiled by Thomas Walter and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff and wire reports.

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