Way back in 1988, when Geena Davis and Adam Baldwin co-starred in "Beetle Juice," you knew that one of them would go on to play the president. OK, maybe not. Amazingly, it's Davis who gets to portray the "Commander in Chief" (8 p.m., ABC) week after week. And she does a pretty good job.
The show opens in Paris, where Vice President Mackenzie Allen (Davis) is attending to ceremonial duties. Secret Service agents converge on her, informing her that the president has suffered an incapacitating stroke. Seconds later, the president's chief of staff, Jim Gardner (Harry Lennix), insists that she resign. A political independent, Allen was chosen as window dressing, a sop to women voters. The president's party insists that she leave office so conservative Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland, looking like he's channeled the spirit of Raymond Massey) can continue the president's agenda.
Conflicted about her situation, Allen mulls resignation and even draws up a speech. Then Templeton's overt sexism and unbridled condescension prove too much to take. After the president suffers a fatal relapse, she takes the Oath of Office.
Unlike "The West Wing," which exults in the nitty-gritty of policy, "Commander" focuses on domestic dysfunction. Allen's husband, Rod (Kyle Secor), finds himself demoted from his wife's chief of staff to the awkward position of being the first male "first lady." Allen's twin teens adjust very differently to their new public roles: Her oversexed and conservative daughter, Rebecca (Caitlin Wachs), overtly sides with the Templeton wing of the (presumably) Republican party. She tells her brother, Horace (Matt Lanter), "You can be John-John, and I'll be Patti Davis!" Look for trouble ahead.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The second apology is harder to approach on "My Name is Earl" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ "Bob Dylan: No Direction Home" concludes on "American Masters" (8 p.m. PBS. He's invisible now. He's got no secrets to conceal.