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In likable new miniseries, 'Mrs. Pritchard' goes to Parliament

Jane Horrocks plays a British supermarket manager turned accidental - and plucky - prime minister in a five-part 'Masterpiece Theatre.' Jane Horrocks plays a British supermarket manager turned accidental - and plucky - prime minister in a five-part "Masterpiece Theatre."

It's not unusual for candidates to stand against "politics as usual" when they run for office. Indeed, dissing "politics as usual" is, essentially, politics as usual. It's a meaningless sales promise, and perhaps only Stephen Colbert, who plans a stunt-run for the presidency, would really follow through on it. Stephen Colbert, Mr. Jefferson Smith, and the no-nonsense Mrs. Pritchard, who is the lead character in the season's first "Masterpiece Theatre."

"The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard," a five-part miniseries that premieres tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 2, is about a British supermarket manager who despises politics as usual, particularly on the day that two male candidates come to blows outside her store. She breaks up the fight while the TV cameras are rolling, she becomes a sensation, and soon she's running for Parliament with such mottos as "Politics isn't rocket science." With her new political party, the Purple Alliance, she wins in a landslide and quickly finds herself serving as prime minister.

Like most of what appears on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre," "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" isn't a masterpiece and it isn't based on a masterpiece. Written by Sally Wainwright, it is an uneven but likable comedic drama about whether or not honesty and politics can truly coexist. The miniseries starts in a rush of fantasy as Ros Pritchard - pronounced Pritch-ARD - is hoisted to the top by a disenfranchised nation. But then it settles down into an issue-based "West Wing"-like tone, and we see Mrs. Pritchard dealing with the war in Iraq and a plane that explodes over London. The longer she's in office, of course, the more her integrity is tested.

Like "The West Wing," "Mrs. Pritchard" is largely liberal wish fulfillment, as our heroine puts down President Bush and prevails over the childish skepticism from other parties. Wainwright's dialogue isn't as hyper-intelligent as Aaron Sorkin's - whose is? - but it's smart enough to keep you thinking. Whether Mrs. Pritchard is forwarding some Capra-esque notion about the working class or dealing with life-and-death national crises, the script always works to unearth interesting conflicts and debate. Wainwright's subplots involving Mrs. Pritchard's family are a lot less engaging, such as the secret that haunts her husband or her daughter's inappropriate response to sudden fame.

As Mrs. Pritchard, Jane Horrocks ("Little Voice," "Life Is Sweet") is just right. She makes the accidental politician plucky, but not prudish or smug. And Janet McTeer, who is going strong in the miniseries "Five Days" on HBO, is a powerhouse as Pritchard's deputy. In one scene tomorrow night, the two women face off in a ladies room, and you can see the power flowing back and forth between the two actresses. It's one of the moments when "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" is something more than just TV drama as usual.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard

Starring: Jane Horrocks, Jodhi May, Janet McTeer

On: PBS, Channel 2

Time: Tomorrow night, 9-11

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