Small screen special explores domestic life -- Seven short films, by directors such as Todd Haynes and Tamara Jenkins, make up "TV Families"

By Ken Tucker
Updated January 27, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Mom, Dad, and the kids get a thorough working-over in TV Families, a remarkable collection of seven independent films by different directors. TV Families offers vivid, sometimes funny, frequently harrowing fictional portraits of domestic life.

In Tamara Jenkins’ Family Remains — a short-film award winner at last year’s Sundance Film Festival — a fractured family is reunited when the dad comes home in a coffin. The beautifully low-key Nightride, directed by Andrew Garrison, follows a teenage boy and his uncle on an aimless, melancholy car trip that is haunted by their memories of the boy’s father — the uncle’s brother —now dead. By contrast, Jon Moritsugu’s Terminal, USA — a takeoff on American sitcoms — is intentionally ugly and crude: It focuses on a squabbling, drug-taking Asian-American clan that gives new meaning to the term dysfunctional.

But the best of the lot may be Todd Haynes’ Dottie Gets Spanked — in which a little boy who idolizes a Lucille Ball-like sitcom actress incurs the contempt of his father (Adam Arkin), who thinks his boy may be turning into a sissy. Director Haynes captures the way preadolescent fantasies of sex and power can become nightmares of anxiety. Father Knows Best this ain’t.