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Picks and Pans Review: The Three Wishes of Billy Grier

updated 11/05/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/05/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Thursday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m. ET)

Only last week we noted the trend on TV to serious, sad shows, and said it's a good thing if it doesn't go too far. One week later it's gone too far. In this tale, Billy Grier, 15, discovers that he has a rare ailment that makes him age quickly; it transforms him from a Scott Baio look-alike into a George Burns in just under a year, killing him of old age at 16. Yes, it's a sad story with loads of potential for poignant drama: a look at youth and age and how we all change with time. But his disease is indeed a rarity. Unlike the recent shows about teenage suicide, wife abuse and missing children, Billy Grier is not about a subject that affects us all; it does not have the license to tear tears freely out of our eyes under the guise of informing us. When Billy Grier tries to do that, it becomes an exercise in emotional voyeurism. The script, by director Corey (Bill) Blechman, sends Billy on a mission to find the father who deserted him, to play his beloved sax and to have sex before he dies. It is chock-full of platitudes. "If you don't have dreams," says the woman who relieves Billy of his virginity, "what do you have?" At the end, the sage Billy says, "Life is short no matter how long you live. So live." That has all the profundity of a birthday card. Betty Buckley as Billy's mother comes off a shrieking loon; she is unbearable. Hal Holbrook, as Billy's grandpa, and Season Hubley, as his first and last love, do the best they can to make cardboard characters warm. There is one virtue to the show: Ralph Macchio, of The Karate Kid and Teachers, plays his three parts in one—the young, middle-aged and elderly Billy Grier—with tenderness and affection. He soars above the script and the direction and again proves himself to be an actor with talent and charm.

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