This article was corrected on Sept. 27, 2001.
Rare is the series pilot that consists solely of backstory. “Citizen Baines” uses its first on-air hour to show Elliott Baines (James Cromwell) lose the Senate seat he has held for three terms and how his family, and he, will adjust to life in Seattle away from politics and D.C. Episode two is about his options — there are few, and none sound all that fulfilling — which means CBS will ask viewers to stick with this soap opera at least three weeks to learn where it is headed. But after two hours, Baines and his three daughters show themselves as self-centered and hardly familial, two traits that could well keep viewers from making this a Saturday night destination despite the lead-out of “The District.”
Baines is a rather cold politico who is accustomed to winning and who likes to be surrounded by winners; daughter Ellen (Embeth Davidtz) is one of them. She has run his campaigns and after the election loss, finds herself transitioning back to lawyer and, on a noisier note, wife. Husband Arthur (Matt McCoy) has nothing but complaints about her time away from home and if that doesn’t torture her enough, her partners at the law firm quiz her on whether she’d like to see “Citizen Baines” added to the masthead.
Middle daughter Reeva (Jane Adams) fears her husband Shel (Ayre Gross) is having an affair at the college where he teaches, and seemingly everything in her life is overwhelming and stressful. She seems inadequately prepared to be a mother, a friend, a worker — is anyone that pitiable? Her mealy-mouthed approach to problems will earn her character few fans.
Dori (Jacinda Barrett) is the wild child. She sleeps around, she does drugs, she doesn’t have a job — a brat spoiled by her father’s success. Judging by their interaction in episode two — the new boyfriend manages a percussion ensemble and she finds out he has pulled strings to help get her a job as a photographer at a Seattle daily — it appears she will be the one cast to bring out Baines’ more playful and adventurous side. She will also be the one who is chastised the most and forced to be held accountable for her deeds. Barrett gets stuck exhibiting one note at a time in the first two weeks, but the contentious father-daughter relationship could be the show’s anchor.
Relying on these four characters, however, to be involved in something pithy or prosaic seems to be a moot point. To succeed strictly from a storyline point of view, it needs to draw viewers in through one-on-one perspectives. The law firm situation, for example, through the eyes of dad and daughter; marital fidelity from Reeva and Elliott, etc. It appears, though, that it will attempt to bowl over the viewer with dilemmas from every angle, a return to “Sisters” but without the empathy or the strength of the characters.
Cromwell is a great character actor and his work here is in line with what has been seen of him in pics such as “L.A. Confidential.” There are no warm and fuzzies in Baines; he’s steely and hard-edged, a pillar no matter what he faces. And in his daughters he doesn’t necessarily find a contrasting softness, even in the meek Reeva, who Adams plays with a toxic selflessness.
“Citizen Baines” starts with two good-looking episodes and its sharpness in the plotting and direction are certainly consistent with John Wells’ other series. Ernest Holzman’s lensing uses each setting as a separate character, allowing auds to clue in that much quicker as to what rests ahead for this one citizen.