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Mixing family and politics

'Jack & Bobby' bids for success

By Todd Leopold

"Eye on Entertainment" talks about the weekend's happenings on CNN's "Live Today" between 10 a.m. and noon EST Thursday.
Eye on Entertainment
Christine Lahti
Paul Weller
Joyce Carol Oates

(CNN) -- Movies and television shows often start with the "high concept," a shorthand way of describing the story.

The "high concept" is usually one sentence, or even one phrase: "Movie star gets even" ("Paparazzi"), " 'Jaws' meets 'Blair Witch Project' " ("Open Water"); " 'Some Like It Hot' meets 'Thelma and Louise' " ("Connie and Carla").

Sometimes those phrases don't do justice to what's actually a complex, multilayered project.

Witness "Jack & Bobby."

It would be easy to be glib about this show, from its Kennedy-evoking title to its clever conceit. (It's "The West Wing" crossed with "The Wonder Years"!)

But "Jack & Bobby," thanks to some thoughtful writing and fine acting, shouldn't be so easily dismissed.

Eye on Entertainment shows up at the (Oval) office.


The idea of a family drama about a character who -- almost 40 years later -- becomes president could easily fall apart.

First of all, besides "The West Wing," presidents haven't fared well on television, in ratings or creativity. Remember "Mr. President"? "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer"? "The Powers That Be"? (OK, that last one was about a senator, but still ...)

And then there's the idea of combining such an idea with a standard family drama. Would it be treacly? Overwhelmed by taking on "important" subjects? Full of fake, pretentious dialogue intended to foreshadow some war council, circa 2043?

In its pilot -- which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on The WB (a network which is, like CNN, a division of Time Warner) -- the show manages to avoid most of these pitfalls.

Jack and Bobby McCallister (Matt Long and Logan Lerman) are teenagers growing up in Hart, Missouri, in the present day. Their mother, Grace (the always wonderful Christine Lahti), is a forthright college professor raising the kids alone. The McCallister brothers aren't without flaws, and neither is Mom: She's got a bad marijuana habit, can be abrasive, and isn't afraid to stomp all over ceremony while sometimes pushing her kids too hard.

Eventually, one of the McCallister brothers -- the pilot doesn't reveal which one until the end -- is elected president in 2040. The show is alternately told in the present day and in flash-forwards to historians and confidants discussing the just-concluded McCallister administration.

I have to admit, I've been fascinated by the show's concept ever since I first read about it. As a fan of presidential biographies, I couldn't resist the idea of a show playing with the whole idea of molding a leader. And yet, I wasn't sure "Jack & Bobby" was the show -- or, for that matter, that any show on a broadcast network, so hoping to please -- could do a good job.

"Jack & Bobby" could still falter. All I've seen is the pilot, and pilots are notoriously poor predictors of a show's future prospects. But it's off to a good start.

On screen

  • "Cellular" concerns a kidnapped woman (Kim Basinger) who manages to make one call -- to a guy's cell phone. Will she be rescued? Opens Friday.
  • I'm not sure the first one did well enough -- financially or otherwise -- to warrant a sequel, but here it is: "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," with Milla Jovovich facing down some zombie-like infected humans in Raccoon City. Among the reasons it's rated R: "Nonstop violence." Well, whatever floats your boat. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • If you were a "Friends" fan -- and I know there are a few of you out there -- you'll probably want to sample "Joey," the new spin-off starring Matt LeBlanc. His character has gone west to live with his sister (Drea De Matteo) and pursue stardom. The premiere is 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
  • NBC's got a new show on Monday as well -- "LAX," starring Blair Underwood and Heather Locklear as the airfield chief and terminal manager of the Los Angeles airport. According to Entertainment Weekly, the producers manage to get Locklear in a bikini in the third episode. I wonder if they'll have her eating overpriced Snickers bars and reading lousy paperbacks, too. Begins 10 p.m. Monday on NBC.
  • Sound waves

  • Paul Weller's new album, "Studio 150" (V2) -- a CD of cover songs -- comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • Kitty Kelley turns her gossip-dishing talents on some very important people -- the president of the United States and his family -- in "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty" (Doubleday). One wonders what the "first lady of unauthorized biography" (as the jacket copy says) will have left to find. Releases Tuesday.
  • Another year, another broken family, another book by the prolific Joyce Carol Oates. This one is called "The Falls" (Ecco). It comes out Tuesday.
  • The originals were almost scandalous in the '40s and '50s -- hard-boiled fiction with covers of women and guns in various states of undress. Now Hard Case Crimeexternal link, a new series of reprints and new works, brings back those noirish days. Among the titles: "Grifter's Game" by Lawrence Block and "Fade to Blonde" by Max Phillips ("She was a little taste of heaven and a one-way ticket to hell!") The first titles are just out, with more to come each month.
  • Video center

  • Richard Linklater's "Slacker," the shaggy-dog story of a strange (or average?) day in Austin, Texas, gets the deluxe DVD treatment in a new edition from the Criterion Collection. Releases Tuesday.

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