Television reviews for week of May 18, 1990
VOICES WITHIN: THE LIVES OF TRUDDI CHASE
ABC, PART 1: SUN., MAY 20, 9-11 P.M.; PART 2: MON., MAY 21, 9-11 P.M.
Well before its first commercial break, this misshapen miniseries about a victim of multiple-personality disorder threatens to veer into the realm of the silly, never to return. ”Ah’m Mean Joe,” snarls Truddi Chase, played by Shelley Long. ”Ah’m big, ah’m black, and ah protect the children.” Uh-oh.
Seconds later, she isn’t Mean Joe anymore; she’s Lady Catherine, who sounds suspiciously like Shelley Long as Cheers‘ Diane Chambers. ”They think of me as stuffy,” she says in a fluty little voice. ”Actually, I’m merely civilized.” And there are many, many more Truddis to meet. ”We’re a lot of people in one package, not 5 or 10 or 20. . .We’re the Troops,” Chase says. ”And we have our marching orders tonight.”
Voices Within, based on the first-person account When Rabbit Howls, by The Troops for Truddi Chase, aims to accomplish what Sybil achieved in 1976 — namely, to draw huge audiences to an up-close gawk at the most lurid of all mental illnesses, and to allow a comedy actress to give an all-stops-out, tears-and-hysteria dramatic performance. Shelley Long doesn’t have the quiet reserves of strength that Sybil‘s Sally Field showed; what she does have is a big, surprisingly deep voice that allows some of Truddi’s personalities to sound like Joan Crawford, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and Piper Laurie in Carrie. But most of the time, she just sounds like a woman in a very bad mood.
The misbegotten script doesn’t allow Long to do much more than yell, snap, and cry; it’s given the tackiest of melodramatic framing devices (Truddi reviews her life in flashback while planning to kill someone), and lurches disjointedly through time, omitting years on end. After a start that hastily sketches in the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse that young Truddi bore at the hands of her mother and stepfathehe the drama rejoins Chase as a fully functioning adult, working as a graphic artist, falling in love, and marrying her boss (John Rubinstein), who seemingly takes years to notice his wife’s bizarre mood swings. ”Where are you? Who are you? How many of yoo are you?” he finally bellows in head-slapping confusion.
We never find out; although the film shifts its focus to Chase’s therapy with a sympathetic psychiatrist (Tom Conti) and eagerly lifts the veil on more of her childhood horrors, the script never s: How can Truddi manage? Can she be cured? How often does she lapse into another personality? By the time of the strangely cheerful, unilluminating conclusion, viewers are likely to find themselves more mystified than ever. ”The Troops for Truddi Chase” has a consultant credit at the end; perhaps only they know the answers. C- (Mark Harris)
LAST FLIGHT OUT
NBC, TUE., MAY 22, 9-11 P.M.
You’ve seen some of this in the movies, but don’t dismiss Last Flight Out as a low-budget variation on The Killing Fields. It’s at once a little worse (much soppy dialogue) and a lot better, with as strong an ensemble cast as has appeared in a TV movie in a long while.
Richard Crenna stars as Pan Am pilot Dan Hood. According to this fact-based film, Pan Am was the last American airline left in Vietnam by April 1975, and Hood decided he would use the last flight out to help as many people as he could. He worked with a Pan Am manager, played here by James Earl Jones.
Like most TV fare, Last Flight Out tries to avoid politics, and there’s a sense in which the plot here could have been set during any war — the story comes down to a great escape.
But to its credit, Last Flight Out doesn’t devolve into a mere adventure story-there are solid characterizations and a wonderful array of acting styles on display.
Crenna, TV’s most consistently satisfying dramatic actor, and Jones, engagingly boisterous and energetic, make a good team. As a tough U.S. embassy staff member, Eric Bogosian gives the first unself-conscious, unmannered performance I’ve ever seen from this overpraised performancc artist. And Arliss Howard, who appeared in the recent movie Men Don’t Leave, is wonderful as a smart, cynical airline employee who had been smuggling people out of Vietnam on his own during the preceding months. The cast also includes, in a small role, Haing S. Ngor, who won an Oscar for his acting in The Killing Fields.
Last Flight Out suffers from corny dialogue: ”Rules are just crutches for people without imagination.” Crenna must say at one point. But it’s a pleasure to see this diverse crew of actors interact. B (Ken Tucker)
RETURN TO GREEN ACRES
CBS, FRI., MAY 18, 9-11 P.M.
Twenty years after the word ”Hooterville” was last heard on CBS, the network has dusted off the sets and cast of Green Acres for an affectionate, shamelessly hokey reunion movie. Returning as the not-quite-countrified city mice Oliver and Lisa Douglas are Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, looking quite hale and (unlike many actors in TV revivals) happy to be back. They’re joined by most of the original characters, although farmers Fred and Doris Ziffel have died, something we learn when Arnold the Pig visits their grave with a snoutful of flowers.
Arnold also gets to cry, ride in a taxi, and get a New York hoof-shine in a ridiculous plot that finds Oliver and Lisa fleeing the farm for New York, only to head back to the Acres when they learn that a land baron plans to raze Hooterville. What happens seems to take forever (ideally, sitcom reunion movies should last about 45 minutes), and includes some tediously hip leather-jacketed teens who talk about progress and Guns N’ Roses. They have no business in Green Acres, which, like CBS’ vanishing Newhart, exists in an insane fantasyland of rural whimsy. Giant carrots, learned pigs, and Eva Gabor’s accent may be among TV’s silliest nostalgia fixes, but a quick revisitation can’t hurt. C+ (Mark Harris)
IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD
CBS, SUN., MAY 20, 9-11 P.M.
Meg Tilly thinks her ex-husband (Michael O’Keefe) is sexually abusing their 5-year-old daughter (Marta Woodward).
He denies it, but the child has violent nightmares, screams and cries whenever she sees her father, and points to a statue of two nude figures kissing and says, ”That’s what Daddy and I do.” Tilly goes to her cousin, a lawyer played by Ed Begley Jr., and resolves to get sole custody of the little girl.
The movie sets up the situation as intolerable for Tilly: Her daughter tells a slew of doctors and psychiatrists that she has been abused, but the courts say there’s not enough proof and insist that the child continue to see her father.
What a waste it is that skilled Meg Tilly, low-key Michael O’Keefe, and especially expressive Marta Woodward should have to labor in this creepy little movie, written with breathtaking manipulation by Hal Sitowitz.
This is a feel-bad movie that wants to make you think that, at any time, no matter how nice and respectable a person you are, something horrendous like this could happen to your child. As such, it communicates little but paranoia and dread that no one can be trusted-not parents, not children, not doctors, not lawyers, not ”the System.” In the Best Interest of the Child is a profoundly cynical creation. D (KT)
HOW TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE CBS, WED., MAY 23, 9-11 P.M.
Gutless when it means to be offensive, and offensive when it means to be heartwarming, this slapdash satire about a ”brainless rich bimbo” (as the script calls her) who discovers there’s life beyond Rodeo Drive ends the TV season on a note of utter shabbiness.
Joan Rivers plays Beverly Hills housewife Irma Summers, a crabby,,pampered poodle who ignores her spouse, mistreats her servants, and abuses her credit cards. After close encounters with an electrified bathtub and a carbon monoxide-spewing car, she begins to suspect that her fed-up husband (Alex Rocco, looking sheepish) is trying to kill her. Hiding out, Irma hits the skids and hooks up with Teresa (Telma Hopkins), a maid and occasional thief. Suddenly, Irma finds herself learning about life. ”You know something?” the rich, white matron rasps to the poor, black housekeeper. ”You’re my only true friend!” Yes, the first Driving Miss Daisy rip-off has arrived.
Daisy isn’t the only source for this movie; the jabs at California’s idle rich — originally heard in Down and Out in Beverly Hills — are reconstituted in pallid form in Millionaire‘s script, which seems to poke more fun at Spanish- speaking servants than at their employers. Joan Rivers barrels frantically through the film without changing her stand-up comic persona one bit (”Oh, grow up!” and ”Tramp!” are two of her punch lines). When all else fails, the cast bursts into a flabby-looking version of the lambada — ”the forbidden dance,” someone explains — not once, but twice. Fair warning. D (MH)