I'm from a town called Hope," says the 13-year-old heroine of this TV movie. No, she's not quoting Bill Clinton. Lilly Kate Burns (Jena Malone from Bastard Out of Carolina) and her southern town are fictional, and the story takes place in 1962. Yet Hope, which marks Goldie Hawn's directorial debut, does remind us of a typical Clinton speech: well-performed but overstuffed.
Lilly lives with her racist uncle Ray (J.T. Walsh) and his nervous wife, Emma (Christine Lahti). The girl's widowed mother, Maize (Mary Ellen Trainor), is a paralyzed stroke victim unable to speak. Lilly has heard that Maize made enemies by opposing segregation, but the family is silent on the details. When fire destroys a theater Ray owns, killing a boy trapped in the blacks-only balcony, it's up to Lilly to take a stand. Will she heed the urging of Jediah (Jeffrey D. Sams), a dynamic black minister, and testify that her uncle's negligence contributed to the tragedy? And will she uncover the truth of her mother's past? Lilly's life would be complicated even if Muriel (Catherine O'Hara), her dance teacher and confidante, weren't fooling around with Ray. Lilly would have a lot to figure out even if her friend Billy (Lee Norris) weren't dyeing his hair blond to look like Marilyn Monroe. The last thing this girl needs is the worry of nuclear war, but writer Kerry Kennedy throws in the Cuban Missile Crisis for global significance.
A&E (Sun., Oct. 19, 8 p.m. ET)
The role of Mr. Rochester, moody master of Thornfield Hall, has been essayed by a number of for midable actors: Orson Welles (1944), George C. Scott (1971), William Hurt (1996). Ciaran Hinds seems determined to make them all look like comparative wimps. In the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's 150-year-old gothic classic, Hinds (Persuasion, A&E's Ivanhoe) huffs, puffs, roars, bellows and stomps as the high-handed, deeply troubled owner of a creepy English mansion—one of those places where maniacal laughter is heard down the hall late each night. Following in the footsteps of Joan Fontaine, Susannah York, Charlotte Gainsbourg et al, Samantha Morton (A&E's Emma) takes the part of Jane Eyre, governess to Rochester's ward Adele (Timia Berthome). Jane is too smart not to notice the danger signs at Thornfield (there must be some explanation for that raging fire in the boss's bedroom), but she falls in love with Rochester because he's so irresistibly difficult.
Morton captures the heroine's quiet strength and abiding passion. Her Jane strikes us as too sane to stick around Thornfield, but what else is new? Some viewers will be positively blown away by Hurricane Hinds; others may run for cover.
CBS (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
When I make up my mind to do something, I never fail," declared private eye Anthony Dellaventura (Danny Aiello) in last month's premiere of this drama series. Funny thing: Watching Dellaventura swagger down the sidewalks of New York City, we can't help rooting for him to fail. A humbling reversal would be good for this cocksure combination of the Equalizer, Kojak and Frank Sinatra's Tony Rome. Although the Oct. 7 episode was more tolerable than the two that preceded it (if only because Aiello made it through the hour without invoking the Dellaventura Philosophy, which includes such profound tenets as Expect the unexpected), our hero remains inordinately proud of his hackneyed street wisdom and obnoxiously aggressive attitude ("I'm gonna drive your ribs right into your lungs...I'm gonna reattach his right arm to his left leg"). And don't expect his sidekicks (played by Anne Ramsay, Byron Keith Minns and Aiello's son Ricky) to contradict him.
Aiello has won many admirers with a string of fine performances, horn. Do the Right Thing to The Last Don, but this vanity production (executive producer: Danny Aiello; producer: Danny Aiello III) sends the unfortunate message that the star is his own biggest fan. If the surname has to be five euphonious syllables, they might as well call his character Anthony Braggadocio.
ABC (Wednesdays, 8:30p.m. ET)
No doubt about it: Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson are cute together in this San Francisco-set situation comedy about the unlikely marriage of kooky free spirit Dharma Finkelstein and beguiled upper-crust lawyer Greg Montgomery. Early episodes had considerable success mining the humor in the cultural chasm between Dharma's aging-hippie parents (Mimi Kennedy and Alan Rachins) and Greg's stuck-up mater and pater (Susan Sullivan and Mitchell Ryan).
We will grow tired, though, if the writers don't eventually get beyond the stereotypes or if Dharma and Greg resolve every dispute by having fabulous—and cute—sex. And we may never fully accept Rachins as a slogan-spouting antiestablishmentarian with an amusingly drug-addled brain. L.A. Law's Douglas Brackman Jr. turned into some kind of Abbie Hoffman wannabe? Sometimes casting against type isn't the best idea.
NBC (Fridays, 8p.m. ET)
Meet Isaac "Ice" Gregory (actor-rapper Ice-T), Alphonse Royo (ex-Picket Fences cop Costas Mandylor) and Charlie O'Bannon (Frank John Hughes), convicts paroled into the service of the FBI in New York City (though NBC says they'll be moving to Los Angeles soon). Their assignment: use their skills to combat, rather than commit, crime. And what are those skills? "They're extraordinarily successful con men," reports Christine Kowalski (Mia Korf), the agent assigned to control the trio of rogues.
But don't just take her word for it. In the Oct. 17 premiere of this lightweight drama series (where a bullet leaves a relatively neat hole and one punch is enough for a knockout), they prove their consummate conmanship, penetrating the Cuban mission to the United Nations by posing as telephone repairmen and gaining entry to a suspect's apartment by posing as exterminators. What will they think of next—the old flower-delivery trick? And here's their slickest move: Alphonse gets dolled up in drag to pull off a caper at a bank. (Mandylor looks marvelous, by the way.) We're glad executive producer Dick Wolf finally won an Emmy last month for Law & Order, but he won't be picking up any awards for this time filler—unless it unexpectedly develops some imagination.
LEGACY OF LAUGHTER
LONG BEFORE SHE BECAME SATURDAY Night Live's sassy newscaster Rosanne Roseannadanna and teen nerd Lisa Loopner, Gilda Radner was "a little ham," says her brother Michael. In their childhood home in Detroit, "my dad [Herman, a hotelier, who died in 1960] got a big kick out of her performing for company," recalls Michael, 56 and a private investor who still lives in Detroit near his mom, Henrietta, 92.
Gilda's life—and death in 1989 from ovarian cancer at age 42—is the subject of an El True Hollywood Story documentary (debuting Oct. 19 on cable's E! network), for which Michael contributed family photos, news clips and (with SNL alums such as Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris) on-air reminiscences. Especially poignant is the pact they made after their dad's death from cancer. "No matter what happened, she could call me and I would come," he says.
That included good times—Michael calls his sib's husband, Gene Wilder, whom she wed in 1984, "a wonderful man"—and bad—he kept in constant touch with Gilda during her illness. "She said, 'You can crawl into a corner and give up, but I'm a comedienne. I'll find the humor there,' " says Michael, who helps run the Detroit chapter of Gilda's Club, the cancer support community cofounded by Wilder in 1991. "I'm up to my eyebrows," says Michael, "and I love it." (Call 1-888-445-3248 for details.)
- John Griffiths.
TNT (Sun., Oct. 19, 8p.m. ET)