Picks and Pans Review: Anatomy of An Illness

updated 05/14/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/14/1984 01:00AM

CBS (Tuesday, May 15, 9 p.m. ET)

"Based on a true story," it says at the start, and the story is a remarkable one: Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review, came down with a supposedly incurable and severe arthritic disease that would leave him paralyzed. He decided to fight it with unorthodox injections of vitamin C and with laughter (brought on by private hospital screenings of Marx Brothers movies). With that, he says, he cured himself. It is a story of amazing determination. Ed Asner as Cousins is his usual frayed-teddy-bear self, gruff but good. David Ogden Stiers, of M*A*S*H memory, plays his buddy Cleveland Amory, Eli Wallach his doctor, and Millie Perkins his health-food faddist wife. The cast is good, the story fascinating, the plot gripping. And part of the message is worthwhile: You have to want to live passionately to live well. Asner as Cousins also cautions that you need a doctor if you try his comedy-cure. But the example he sets is nonetheless disturbing. How many patients will be inspired to reject their doctors' scientific advice because, like Cousins, they just didn't like it? How many will find unrealistic optimism in his success? Anatomy also has problems simply as a piece of TV drama: It was based on Cousins' autobiographical book, and it shows the lack of distance he has from the subject. The characters are figments of memory; they aren't real and human—and thus, interesting—enough. As medical anecdote, Anatomy of an Illness is fascinating; as drama, it's not.

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