Picks and Pans Review: The First Olympics
NBC (Sunday, May 20, 8 p.m. ET)
It could be another Chariots of Fire, but luckily the accents are mostly American in this two-part TV movie about the ragtag (though preppy) U.S. team in the 1896 Athens Olympics. These were the first games held in 1,500 years. It was long before the days when the Olympics had official running shoes, official flash bulbs, official candy bars. They had nothing, official or otherwise. But David Ogden Stiers as a Princeton prof manages to toss together a team of 13. Newcomer Hunt Block (see story on page 58) heads a young and convincingly athletic cast. They're earnest young men who've never heard of a hurdle or a discus, so they teach themselves by looking at pictures of the ancient games (which leads them to believe that the modern Olympics would be performed in the nude). The training scenes go on too long. There is a generous dose of clichés. ("This one's for you, Ma." "Winning isn't everything.") And the drama isn't exactly gripping at first. Part One's cliff-hanger, for instance: Will the Americans recover from a screwup by their travel agent, who booked them to arrive in Athens one day before the games ended? (Yes, there were bad travel agents then too.) Once the team does arrive in Athens, there is suspense, just as there will be in the Olympics this July: You wonder who's going to win and you cheer for your favorites. Not to ruin the ending, but here's a hint: The Americans did better in 1896 than they do these days; we wowed 'em.
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