What a likable guy this Jack Mannion is, the new chief of police in Washington, D.C. He’s a movie-loving, showtune-singing crimefighter who has already cleaned up the streets of Newark and is now embarking on a high-tech shakeup of the nation’s capital. Mannion, played by the formerly lovable “Coach,” Craig T. Nelson, is the heart, the soul, the brains — you name it — of “The District,” and he handles the burden well in the series premiere.
Saturday night always comes up with curious winners and losers, and if “The District” makes it through the fall season, it will find itself up against the fourth quarter of XFL games. Nelson, though, is a presence substantial enough to fend off the movies and reality shows opposite it on other nets.
Mannion’s take-charge attitude in New Jersey’s biggest city impresses Deputy Mayor Mary Ann Mitchell (Jayne Brook), and in no time D.C. cops are answering to a new chief. His hiring irks chief of patrol Joe Noland (Roger Aaron Brown) and eventually sticks in the craw of Mayor Don Baker (John Amos) — and there’s more than a fair share of grumbling about the way Mannion conducts business.
In the pilot, a couple of detectives have to shoot a bull in a quarantined area of the local zoo, the sister of a police department employee is killed by her ex-husband, a white supremacist gets into a shootout at the Kennedy Center, and the mayor is concerned about a tape recording that seems to capture him in an extortion scheme. (Tape, however, does not include Marion Berry’s famous line: “Bitch set me up.”)
Mannion — the character is based on former N.Y. Deputy Police commissioner Jack Maple — makes his way through the literal and figurative tombs of the station to find the members of his team.
Ella Farmer (nicely nuanced by Lynn Thigpen) is the statistics clerk sitting in a dark basement chamber who is put in charge of a high-tech crime-tracking system; Temple Page (Roger Aaron Brown), a former Marine, raised and still residing in the projects, is appointed to be the chief’s eyes and ears and driver; and David McGregor (David O’Hara), a cop from Belfast, is suddenly seen as a confidante. Mannion arrived with his own director of public affairs, Nick Pierce (Justin Theroux), whose main duty is to smooth the rough edges.
Mannion shows his allegiance by attending the funeral of Ella’s sister rather than that of a fallen officer, which stirs some controversy. But it’s nothing compared with the firestorm that follows his allegation that the top brass is loafing when it comes to fighting crime.
In the coming months, Mannion’s character will become increasingly serious and the light side will become a thing of the past. Butting heads will undoubtedly be a key component, and one assumes Mannion will be as victorious as Perry Mason.
Despite a lot of dimly lit police station rooms and gray days, direction and editing always place emphasis squarely on Nelson.