Picks and Pans Review: Jfk: a One-Man Show

UPDATED 06/25/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/25/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Wednesday, June 20, 9 p.m. ET)

It is fairly easy, it seems, to look like John F. Kennedy; a can of good hair spray can do wonders. It is even easier, unfortunately, to sound like him.

Walter Cronkite introduces the latest impersonator: Mike Farrell, B.J. of M*A*S*H. (Though seeing Cronkite is a pleasure, it is odd that PBS constantly feels the need to introduce and explain its shows; nobody has to introduce The A-Team.) Cronkite explains this one: "We have not heard Kennedy on Kennedy," he says, "until now." So now Farrell speaks as Kennedy to an unseen press conference. A reporter absurdly tells him that he was killed in 1963 and then asks about his career, his policies, his family and even his alleged womanizing. Kennedy replies.

He comes off pretty damned cocky now, preppy before his time. "Yes," this Kennedy drones, "Camelot and all that." Thus he dismisses his own legend. Still, it is a friendly portrait, just one that concentrates on personality, on that third dimension of the man. He talks about Joe and Rose Kennedy as parents; they ran a strict dinner table where, as in the Senate, seniority ruled. He tells of the night when "I leaned across the asparagus and asked Jacqueline Bouvier for a date." He explains his being "soft on McCarthy" because the red-baiter was a friend of his father, an escort of his sister Eunice and his brother Bobby's boss. He reflects on his celebrity: "It was as if I was a rock 'n' roll star." In the end he concludes, "My legend must rest on what might have been."

Farrell's attempt at an accent distracts from the writing, and it leads him to give too even a performance, with little emotion, little force. Still, the impersonation is interesting enough and so is the writing; the material is, of course, fascinating. In the end, it's a passable show, but it's one that tries too hard for characterization and too little for substance. This is hero backlash; after years of praising perfection, there is all too much effort to find every blemish. It is something heroes must suffer, it seems, before they can become real again.

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