Picks and Pans Review: First Among Equals
When we see American politicians on TV—in miniseries, in the Iran-contras hearings, even while they are being arraigned in scandals-there is always a hint of glamour. They have power, secrets, entourages and newshounds forever at their heels. That's what makes this 10-hour British mini so refreshing: The politicians here aren't glamorous. They're just pols, just people. Jeffrey (Kane and Abel) Archer, who resigned from Parliament in financial difficulty and resigned a Conservative Party post in a sex scandal, put his experience to good use when he wrote his best-selling novel First Among Equals. High drama it isn't. But a good soaper it is. Equals follows four pols from the day they enter Parliament in 1964 to the day when each tries to become Prime Minister: one snooty, snippy, rich conservative; one young turk conservative; one dumpy but smart liberal, and one dashing Scottish conservative-turned-liberal. You have your sex scandals (but in this bit of fiction, they're kept secret), your financial scandals, your loyal political wives, your ruthlessly ambitious wives, your dealmaking. The plot is sometimes simplistic and often stretched, and there are lots of references only a Brit could understand. Still, like any good soap, Equals becomes addictive. I was dying to know which man would move into No. 10 Downing Street. But the show cheats. Like the British and American editions of the novel—which Archer rewrote and simplified for the U.S. audience—the miniseries comes with two endings, each with a different winner. That means stations can let viewers vote on who should run Britain (revealing once and for all whether PBS people are liberal or conservative). This experiment in democracy makes for a neat pledge-week gimmick, but it also makes for a dud of a denouement. Silly me for thinking that any exercise in politics could be completely satisfying.