Syndicated (check local listings)
Boys keep vanishing without a trace in the Chicago area. Then a dedicated police detective (Michael Riley) in suburban Des Plaines makes it his business to track one of them down. His investigation leads him to a local contractor, John Wayne Gacy. So begins the uncovering of one of America's most heinous serial killers.
In this true-life miniseries, Brian Dennehy stars as Gacy, who was convicted of sexually torturing and killing 33 teens before his arrest in 1978. (He is currently on death row in Illinois's Menard Correctional Center.)
The mini stiffens up whenever the focus is on the stolid efforts of Riley and his subordinates to crack the case—and that's most of the time. But things get awfully spooky whenever Dennehy is on the screen. His blocky, Mount Rushmore face is wonderfully expressive. You can see feelings pass over him like clouds drifting across a mountainside.
Dennehy, though, is too small a presence in the mini in terms of onscreen time, though he has one brilliant scene on the second night when he lures a young man who works for him into his rec room and tricks him into putting on handcuffs. Even though Gacy knows cops are sitting outside keeping him under surveillance, he starts advancing on the kid, and you can see the depravity overwhelming Dennehy like a narcotic. Margot Kidder has a flamboyant turn as a psychic who volunteers to help with the investigation.
CBS (Sun., May 10, 9 P.M. ET)
A teenager (Kate & Allie's Ari Meyers) is abducted, raped and murdered. Remember the Twinkle Defense, when the lawyer for former San Francisco Councilman Dan White argued that it was a junk-food binge that had driven White to murder Mayor George Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk in 1978? Well, in this movie the killer (Adam Storke) is acquitted by reason of temporary insanity, an imbalance attributed to a combination of asthma medication, Chinese food and diet soda. After that questionable verdict, the dead girl devastated mother (Donna Mills) goes mad with grief and fury. (How-crazed is she? Mills even forgoes eye makeup for a few scenes.) Eventually she exacts a more Draconian measure of justice and gets her own trial.
The movie gets off to a promising start with some nicely sketched family scenes. But once the crime-and-vendetta cycle begins, you must slog through two long, undramatic courtroom segments. Still, this is a generally well acted movie, with a cast that includes John Rubinstein, Lee Grant and John Getz.
ABC (Sun., May 10, 9 P.M. ET)
Stephanie Zimbalist plays a woman who works for a Tacoma, Wash., athletic-equipment firm, signing up celebrity endorsers for sneakers. When a choice account is taken away from her supervisor (William Russ) and given to her, the man responds by opening up a quickly escalating campaign of sexual harassment to drive her out of the company. It's an interesting concept, exploring the often unequal fooling women are on in the office and how quickly an unwanted sexual overtone can poison a working relationship.
But there's also a clunky subplot about Zimbalist's unraveling marriage to a banged-up former footballer (Patrick James Clarke) and an awkward script that keeps the characters from ever seeming real—except Russ, who makes a great corporate jackal.
ABC (Mon., May 11, 9 P.M. ET)
Last week ABC put Cybill Shepherd in this slot as a glib Los Angeleno action heroine in Stormy Weathers. This week it's Farrah Fawcett's turn. She plays Jessie Lee Stubbs, a hard-nosed, beer-drinking scofflaw public defender in a movie based on Ross McDonald's novel The Ferguson Affair. While Jessie Lee is chasing after a deadly bunco artist, she in turn is being followed with more than professional interest by a handsome cop (Al Martinez, the Santa Barbara star who has just signed to go prime-time next fall on L.A. Law).
Fawcell is terrific, all knuckles and brambles. And she has a volatile romantic chemistry with Martinez. Mark LaMura, Dakin Matthews, Cliff De Young, James Gammon, Andrew Robinson and John Hancock costar. Most TV movies that aim for intrigue are duds; this one—spicy and aerobically paced until it runs out of breath in the second half—is a crackerjack thriller.
NBC (Mon., May 11, 9 P.M. ET)
NBC's desultory series of In the Line of Duty movies, inspired by real law-enforcement events, finally sparks to life. Mario Van Peebles and Michael Boatman are a pair of New York City Housing Authority policemen, patrolling the crack-infested projects in the same Brooklyn neighborhood in which they grew up.
One of them has to die. That, after all, is the officer-down premise of these films. Afterward, the survivor becomes bent on avenging his partner's death. Ray Sharkey and Peter Boyle play seasoned detectives assigned to the case. Morris Chestnut and Courtney B. Vance are on the other side of the law.
The narrative is a little scattered, and the tone too heavy-handed. But the movie is atmospheric in a way that recalls New Jack City, which was directed by Van Peebles. This project even uses rap music on the sound track. That's been commonplace in feature films for a couple of years, but on TV it's still the epitome of hipness.
CBS (Tues., May 12, 9 P.M. ET)
In a fact-based movie, Elizabeth Montgomery plays real-estate agent Gayle Wolfer in a small town near Buffalo. She meets a client (Howard Rollins of In the Heat of the Night) for the first time at a rural house she is selling. Things go terribly awry when Rollins starts waving a pistol around and making threats. He shoots Montgomery three times.
Montgomery somehow survives but is further traumatized when she spots her assailant at a state fair dressed in uniform. Turns out he's a deputy sheriff who used her to get around the fences, motion-detectors and other security devices with which the for-sale house was equipped so he could shake down the drug-peddling owner.
Besides being burdened by an extremely slow middle section, this is the most manipulative kind of woman-in-jeopardy film, setting up Montgomery as a saintly woman—we even get to see her grandson born—before brutalizing her. It's also falsely acted all the way around, except for Rollins, who, donning a wig that makes him look like Yaphet Kotto, makes a menacing villain.
>NOTABLE GUESTS AND OTHER DIVERSIONS
IN A SPECIAL AIRING OF FOX'S IN LIVING COLOR (THURS., MAY 7, 8:30 P.M. ET), Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Prince, Paula Abdul
and others get theirs as the sketch comedy series puts on a musical-parody edition. Unlike Saturday Night Live, the folks at In Living Color have the good sense to keep their skits short and tart. (Of course it helps that they only have a half hour to fill.) Especially amusing are Jim Carrey as soul pretender Michael Bolton, and Tommy Davidson as a car-vandalizing Michael Jackson. That same night on NBC, Johnny Carson graces Cheers (9 P.M. ET) as Cliff (John Ratzenberger) travels to Burbank when he hears Johnny is using one of his jokes in a Tonight Show monologue. This is some week for series cross-pollination. On the season finale of NBC's Seinfeld (May 6, 9 P.M. ET), Jerry's neighbor Kramer (Michael Richards) also treks to California and ends up with an acting gig on Murphy Brown. Speaking of Murphy, this week (CBS, Mon., May 11, 9 P.M. ET) the pregnant one gets her A-list baby shower (see story, page 112). In next week's season finale (May 18), the big moment arrives, throwing the FYI staff into a tizzy. It's left to natural-childbirth coach Eldin (Robert Pastorelli), who is to Lamaze what Casey Stengel was to baseball, to guide Murphy through the delivery.
It's a busy week, the very shank of the May sweeps period. (You can tell by all the perils-of-Pauline movies.) But it's all a postscript to the 1991-92 TV season, which is officially over. Time to appoint the guest star of the year. The runners-up were Martin Mull—for Parker Lewis Can't Lose!, Dream On and his recurring role on Roseanne—and Ken Howard for The Golden Girls and P.S.I. Luv U. Even if you saw Howard, you might not have known it was he. The heavier, less hirsute Ken is virtually unrecognizable from his White Shadow days. And the winner...Joanna Cassidy, who turned in solid work in a number of not-always-good TV movies and minis (Grass Roots, Taking Back My Life and Live! From Death Row). As a series guest star, she went from the sublime to the ludicrous, playing ex-wives on both Northern Exposure (to a recently deceased buddy of Maurice's and Holling's) and on Drexell's Class (to star Dabney Coleman, her former Buffalo Bill cohort).