NEW YORK – The most far-fetched things seem to happen to young Bill Sterling in tonight's premiere of Mister Sterling on NBC.
One minute he's teaching a class full of federal prison inmates wearing orange jumpsuits and the next thing you know, the governor of California is appointing him to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by a senator who suddenly died.
And then, on his first day in Washington, a question about his party affiliation turns the whole Senate upside-down and leaves the young freshman senator in a unique power position.
In real life, of course, the odds of all this happening at once are a million to one. And yet, the producers of Mister Sterling make it all seem plausible -- not to mention enjoyable.
Sterling (a name chosen no doubt to reflect the character's unblemished reputation) is played by Josh Brolin, who brings just the right amount of bewilderment and self-righteousness to the role of a young man who grew up hating politics because his own father was too busy serving as a multi-term governor of California to pay much attention to his family.
That, of course, is why he was appointed to his new job in the first place -- because his father was a pretty popular governor in his time.
As charismatic as Brolin is as the reluctant young senator, the show's producers give him plenty of support from a group of wily veterans, and therein lies the secret ingredient that lifts Friday's premiere.
Foremost among the scene-stealers are craggy-faced James Whitmore as Sterling's dad, Gov. William Sterling Sr., and the incomparable Harris Yulin as the powerful democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee whose pet poodle has the run of his Senate office.
Also look for Bob Gunton -- who's best known as the sadistic, corrupt prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption -- as the California governor who sends Bill Sterling to Washington, and Randy Oglesby as the democratic Senate majority leader, the most powerful figure in the Senate.
With their egos and eccentricities, the senators in Mister Sterling possess an aura of authenticity. The same can be said of the aides and staff members who roam the halls of the Senate office building in the series -- particularly the ones whom Sen. Sterling inherits from his deceased predecessor.
Mister Sterling will inevitably be compared by some to its Washington-based network stablemate The West Wing.
But like Sen. Sterling himself, Mister Sterling has the right stuff to stand on its own.