That's right: CBS, not PBS. This period drama only looks like a Masterpiece Theatre rerun. A three-year-old TV movie just getting off the shelf, Passion's Way is an earnest but turgid adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1912 novel The Reef.
Sela Ward plays Anna Leath, an American widow living in a French château. Anna keeps asking herself whether she should marry diplomat Charles Darrow (Timothy Dalton) despite all sorts of disturbing indications that he recently had an affair with her daughter's governess, Sophy Viner (Alicia Witt), who happens to be engaged to Anna's stepson Owen (Jamie Glover). Since the plot turns on the characters' refusal to express their true feelings, the filmmakers often use the interior monologue to convey emotion. "I felt a craven impulse to cry out to him to stay, a longing to throw myself into his arms," Anna says in voice-over. She lets Charles go, of course. And when he returns, she tortures herself some more.
Though the drama has wisdom to offer concerning the power of love and the futility of seeking perfect relationships, all the hand-wringing may give you a craven impulse to change channels.
Bottom Line: The passion's bottled up, but oh, the words flow
A Godfather's Story
Showtime (Sun.-Mon., July 25-26, 8 p.m. ET)
As I fought sleep late in Part 1 of Bonanno: A Godfather's Story, I heard one of the mobsters complain, "It's been a week—I say we're wasting our time." Whatever the hood was actually talking about, he might as well have been reviewing this interminable dramatization of gangland boss Joseph Bonanno's career. The miniseries spends approximately five hours plodding through underworld history and preaching the importance of "tradition" (repeated ad nauseam) in Mafia life. Martin Landau narrates the story as the present-day, 94-year-old Bonanno, and Edward James Olmos has a meaty supporting role. But the real leads are lesser-known Bruce Ramsay and Tony Nardi, who play Bonanno in youth and middle age. Overall, the godfather seems polite, honorable (by Mob standards) and criminally dull.
Bottom Line: Mafia shmafia
ABC (Thurs., July 29, 8 p.m. ET)
This annual show, taped last month in Washington, D.C., has a little of everything musically—from soprano Kathleen Battle hitting the heights in a grandiose arrangement of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to Bill Conti conducting a stale selection from his Rocky score. An American Hodgepodge might have been a better title, but audience members Bill and Hillary Clinton give the performing artists a high approval rating in numerous reaction shots (see the prez sway and lip-synch as Charlotte Church sings "Amazing Grace"). It all feels like a fancy-dress school recital, with the First Couple as co-principals.
Bottom Line: Gala, not great
USA (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Last season's FOX flop Brimstone featured a deceased cop dispatched from hell to hunt damned souls who had escaped back to earth. Call me twisted, but I thought the series needed more humor.
Now here's GvsE (read: Good versus Evil), best described as Brimstone gone goofy. Clayton Rohner (Murder One) and Richard Brooks (Law & Order) play dead dudes working as undercover agents for the Almighty. Their to-do list: (1) persuade mortals who've made Faustian bargains with the devil to save their souls before it's too late; (2) battle a bunch of demons called Morlocks (Faustians who died without cutting ties to the dark side and now roam our world making trouble). How serious is any of this? Former footballer Deacon Jones furnishes evil-whuppin' tips and voice-over commentary ("Human sacrifice—that ain't nice"). The July 18 pilot hints that Jane Fonda is a Faustian. And Webster's beloved Emmanuel Lewis (portraying himself) is unmasked as a Morlock in Episode 3 (Aug. 1).
The overly violent show has some trouble being gritty and crazy at the same time, but the G in it outweighs the E.
Bottom Line: Can be devilishly funny
>Sunday, July 25 THE ARRIVAL NBC (9 p.m. ET) Charlie Sheen stars in an intriguing space-invaders flick from 1996.
Monday, July 26 100 GREATEST WOMEN OF ROCK & ROLL VH1 (10 p.m. ET) It's a rockin' five-night roll call, from Grace Slick to Sheryl Crow
Tuesday, July 27 INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS A&E (9 p.m. ET) Think summer heat is taxing? Try auditing this account of IRS horror stories.
Wednesday, July 28 OZ HBO (10 p.m. ET) Duck! As if this dark series weren't brutal enough, the prison starts a boxing program for inmates.
Thursday, July 29 NIGHTLINE IN PRIMETIME: BRAVE NEW WORLD ABC (10 p.m. ET) In this premiere of a science-oriented summer series, Robert Krulwich reports on speedy machines.
Friday, July 30 KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS CBS (8 p.m. ET) It's giggle time as the tykes explain what goes on during a honeymoon.
Saturday, July 31 MILK MONEY NBC (9 p.m. ET) One darned kid picks a hooker (Melanie Griffith) to date his dad (Ed Harris) in this 1994 comedy.
Isabella Rossellini wants to show Americans what's so hot about haute couture. As the host of ABC's Paris Fashion Collections (July 29 at 9 p.m. ET), the actress and onetime supermodel went behind the scenes of 25 different Paris couture shows. She wants viewers to understand that the outrageous clothes prevalent on runways are not meant for everyday wear, since the designers use the shows to float their wildest new ideas. "I used to think that these were clothes for me to wear to a cocktail party," says Rossellini, 47. "I thought, 'That's too much. And the $30,000 price...you must be kidding me!' "
The Rome-born daughter of screen siren Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini became a fashion fan while acting in Hollywood in such films as Blue Velvet (1986) and Immortal Beloved (1994) and as the spokesmodel, until 1995, for Lancôme. Since then, she has run her own cosmetics line. But the single Rossellini, who lives in Manhattan with her kids Elettra, 16, and Roberto, 5, still doesn't dress in designer duds. "I don't buy haute couture," she says with a throaty laugh. "I go to an ordinary department store and buy men's clothes!"
- Erik Meers.
CBS (Sun., July 25, 9 p.m. ET)