USA (Thurs., Feb, 14, 9 P.M. ET)
A crippled Vietnam vet (Daniel J. Travanti) begins to have flashbacks to a suicide mission he survived, one that the CIA tried to erase from his memory. When he begins to delve deeper into his past, attempts are made on his life. With the help of KGB agent William Sadler, he decides to get even.
Though the action is unduly violent and the plot a bit murky, this is among the channel's more suspenseful and sustained efforts.
TNT (Sun., Feb. 17, 8 P.M. ET)
Ah, now this is what a miniseries should be: a lavish pageant, full of grandiloquent actors, fabulous costumes and magnificent architecture, all put in service to intrigue, power, romance and hints of the ever-popular kinky royal sex.
Catherine (Julia Ormond) is born to a minor German prince. She is 16 when she and her mother (Marthe Keller) are brought to St. Petersburg by the Empress Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Catherine marries the feebleminded Peter (Reece Dinsdale), heir to the Russian throne, and the mini, which concludes Monday night, follows Catherine until she deposes Peter and is crowned Czarina in 1762.
Christopher Plummer, Franco Nero, Mark Frankel and Maximilian Schell also star in this gilt-bedecked extravaganza, filmed in and around Leningrad. While the writing tends to be stiff, the spectacle is overwhelming.
ABC (Sun., Feb. 17, 9 P.M. ET)
Switch channels Sunday night and you'll see Vanessa Redgrave in a very different part in this remake of the 1962 thriller. She gets the Joan Crawford role as the partially paralyzed former movie star. Her sister, Lynn, made up like a grotesque Raggedy Ann doll, has the Bette Davis role as the tormenting demento Baby Jane.
Amazingly, it's the first time the. Red-graves have worked together on television. Both are terrific in this repugnant setting. As the showbiz wannabe who barnacles himself to Jane, John Glover is also sharp. But leave us face it: He ain't no Victor Buono.
Though not as hermetically frightening as the original, this nasty bit of sibling rivalry is still a scary proposition.
NBC (Sun., Feb. 17, 9 P.M. ET)
A 14-year-old (Moira Kelly) confesses to shooting her stepmother, despite the misgivings of the D.A.'s investigator (Hardball's John Ashton).
In jail, the girl learns that her father (Blue Steel's Clancy Brown), who collected big on a fistful of insurance policies, has married the victim's teenage sister (Sheryl Lee of Twin Peaks). Realizing she has been played for a dupe, Kelly recants her confession, leading to the whirl of schemes, accusations and revelations that make up the miniseries' conclusion the following night.
Based on actual events in southern California in 1985, it's an engrossing if labored tabloid story presented without showboating by director Robert Markowitz and his cast. Some viewers may not want to invest two nights in the mini, but it does make the characters—especially Clancy's master manipulator—and the unfolding machinations stand out starkly.
TBS (Mon., Feb. 18, 8:05 P.M. ET)
In this bizarrely subjective, five-part quasi-documentary airing all week long, William Shatner plays a writer contacted by the spirit of the earth, Gaia. She speaks to him in the voice of Faye Dunaway through a computer in a Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas, cluing him in on things in a style that is part lecture, part Socratic method and part seduction. ("I know everything about sex," she growls. "I've tasted and smelled everything, and I love it all.")
Gaia espouses unpredictable causes (she abhors animal research but favors enforced sterility in the Third World) in a fashion best described as new-age nattering. This clumsy piece of eco-advocacy is the longest infomercial ever made.
ABC (Mon., Feb. 18, 9 P.M. ET)
It's said that women love a man in uniform. Not nearly as much as television does. This infatuation peaked in the '70s with CHiPs, S.W.A.T., The Rookies, etc. Hollywood still occasionally cranks out these fawning salutes to civil service, and the result is usually tedious—witness this disaster melodrama.
This towering flameout is a dramatization of an actual incident in 1988, a fire in what was then L.A.'s tallest smogscraper, the 62-floor First Interstate Building. The primary victims are Peter (Newhart) Scolari and Lisa Hartman, workaholics burning the midnight oil. Leading the valiant boys in blue to the rescue is Lee Majors.
The movie is plausible as far as the fire goes, but only the rubberneck syndrome could get you to stick with this limp hoser.
CBS (Tues., Feb. 19, 9 P.M. ET)
Based on Jack Olsen's nonfiction crime book. Son, this movie about a rich-boy rapist in Spokane, Wash., and his domineering, demeaning mother grabs you right from the eerie opening scene: We watch Dale (Elvis and Me) Midkiff and Elizabeth (Bewitched) Montgomery dress for a party—she slips on nylons: he fastens her dress. It suggests a symbiotic, sexual and superenmeshed relationship.
Director John Patterson makes the mood so claustrophobic that the sound of a phone ringing or a lawn sprinkler ticking can jangle your nerves. Montgomery is dynamic as the possessive, shaming man-hater. Midkiff, who starred earlier this month in The Maria Hanson Story, is excellent as the charmer who acts out his repressed rage in a series of brutal rapes.
Their performances elevate this movie into the company of The Deliberate Stranger, in which Mark Harmon grippingly portrayed serial killer Ted Bundy.
>This month Nickelodeon introduces two energetic but often vapid series for and about television's most underserviced audience, adolescents. Welcome Freshman (Saturdays, 6:30 P.M. ET) is a jejune sketch comedy, Laugh In for the lunchroom set. Fifteen (Sundays, 1 and 5 P.M. ET) is an overwritten junior-high soap opera with an appealing cast.
>CBS has dubbed this Classic Weekend, with tributes to three epochal shows. On Saturday (Feb. 16, 8 P.M. ET), Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton. Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers regroup for All in the Family's 20th Anniversary Special, a clip-and-anecdote jamboree. Memorable performances from TV's longest-running (1948-71) variety show make up The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show (Sun., Feb. 17, 9 P.M. ET), hosted by Carol Burnett. (Topo Gigio, sign in please.) And who can turn the world on with a smile? On Monday (Feb. 18, 9:30 P.M. ET) Mary Tyler Moore welcomes back Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White and the gang for Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Show.
This week Tony Geary returns to ABC's General Hospital after a nearly seven-year absence, completing a familiar soap cycle. After an actor makes a big splash on daytime—and Geary made the biggest possible as roguish Luke Spencer of Luke and Laura fame—he decides to test the waters of feature films, only to find that small-craft warnings are in effect and he's a dinghy. At least Geary worked steadily, but you look at his credits (Penitentiary HI, Disorderlies, Pass the Ammo) and wonder what took him so long to come home. Welcome back, Tony.