HBO (Sat., May 30, 8 P.M. ET)
This docudrama grew out of a 1987 story on 60 Minutes. Laura (Rambling Rose) Dern stars as Janet Harduvel, whose Air Force husband (played by Vincent Spano) died while piloting an F-16 through a routine training mission over South Korea in 1982 (see story, page 97). Infuriated when the crash was attributed to pilot error and suspecting a cover-up of design flaws, Harduvel sued General Dynamics, the defense contractor that had built the fighter. (She wanted to go after the Air Force too, but with few exceptions, the military, as part of the government, cannot be sued.)
Through determination, luck and a good lawyer (Robert Loggia), Harduvel won, though she ultimately received no monetary damages. But the story—grim, technically dense and without clear resolution—isn't a promising basis for a TV movie, and this project compounds its problems by taking a long time to get on track, focusing on the Harduvels' romance and marriage. It is capably acted by a cast that includes Michael Rooker, Richard Jenkins and Dion Anderson. After the crash, the movie picks up some narrative traction, establishing Dern's free-spirited but flinty heroine in a manner reminiscent of Meryl Streep in Silkwood.
ABC (Saturdays, 8:30 P.M. ET)
Julie Andrews flounders around in a stunningly unimaginative fish-out-of-water concept, a six-week summer sitcom directed and executive-produced by her husband, Blake Edwards. Julie plays Julie Carlyle, the glamorous star of a TV variety show who impulsively moves from New York City to Sioux City, Iowa, to marry a veterinarian (James Farentino) with two children. She brings her producer (Eugene Roche) and her television show with her.
That leads to such scenes as Farentino's assistant (Jennifer Edwards, Blake's daughter from a previous marriage) bursting into the kitchen during dinner to announce, "O'Malley's heifer is sick. He suspects salmonella." Farentino: "Is there any blood in the stool?" Edwards: "I don't know. We'll have to get a dung sample." Roche, aside to Andrews: "Welcome to your new and colorful life."
Faced with a constant stream of complications, Andrews operates with unflappable grace and a grande-dame theatricality ("Brava," she shouts, when she overhears her stepdaughter singing a little ditty in the living room) that are almost as artificial as the series' situation, its script and the laugh track.
The Disney Channel (Sat., May 30, 9 P.M. ET)
The channel is running its annual free summer preview this week (May 28—June 1), when it unscrambles its signal so nonsubscribers can see what they're missing. One of the featured events is this performance by the former chief of the Police. The concert was originally offered on pay-per-view outlets back in October when Sting celebrated his 40th birthday.
Sting is joined onstage for the last few songs by guitarist and former bandmate Andy Summers. (Stewart Copeland, the third member of the Police, evocatively scored this week's HBO movie Afterburn.)
The lighting effects are garish. (Aren't they listening when Sting sings on "Roxanne": "You don't have to put on that red light"?) The arrangements of newer material—"Mad About You," "Driven to Tears" and "Jeremiah Blues"—are, thanks to keyboard player David Sancious, more jazz-inflected than the versions on Sting's records. And there are also strong renditions of such Police classics as "King of Pain" and "Message in a Bottle." As always, Sting is a charismatic performer with a great voice.
The Disney Channel (Sun., May 31, 7 P.M. ET)
This sequel to Disney's two previous Not Quite Human comedy adventures returns Alan Thicke as an inventor and Jay Underwood as the android he passes off as his son, Chip. In this story, Thicke is abducted by an evil industrialist (Christopher Neame), who wants to pick his brain. In his place, Neame leaves an android replica of Thicke. Together the father and son machines set out to rescue the human Thicke. Adam Philipson, Rosa Nevin and Betsy Palmer costar.
Though the special effects have improved, the most striking aspect of the sequel is its visual impact. It's more eye-burstingly bright and colorful than anything this side of a laundry commercial—a perfect complement to the channel's bleachy-clean approach to programming. That vividness, though, is entirely missing from the hackneyed script. For Thicke, this is the role of a lifetime: The Canadian actor plays a robot with remarkable conviction.
PBS (Tues., June 2, 8 P.M. ET)
Public television's investigative series Frontline travels back to China three years after the government crackdown on the student democracy movement and finds a society in uneasy flux. Understandably concerned with the dismantling of the Soviet Union, China's hard-line Communist leadership, which filmmaker Irv Drasnin refers to as a "gerontocracy," still ruthlessly controls politics and the media. But it is woefully out of touch with the younger generations (and two-thirds of China's increasingly urbanized population is under 35), who are moving with determination toward free enterprise and greater consumerism.
Cameras were not allowed on any university campus, but we do see such radical developments as rock-and-roll bands and a fashion-modeling school crowded with young women learning runway technique. The documentary presents a revealing look at a volatile country.
It was accepted TV wisdom through the late '80s that one major reason the Today Show led the morning competition was because it benefited from viewers' sloth and NBC's domination of prime time. In other words, when people got up in the morning, they were too lazy to turn the dial and watched whatever channel had been on when the set went off the night before. Guess what? In the season that just ended, CBS won the Nielsen race for the first time since 1984-85, and yet their breakfast nook, CBS This Morning, didn't budge out of the ratings cellar where, under various titles, it has almost always dwelt since its inception in 1954. So much for that theory. Score another victory for American enterprise and energy.