Picks and Pans Review: American Playhouse: a Matter of Principle

updated 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Monday, Dec. 3, 9 p.m. ET)

There's a fine line between eccentricity and idiocy. Alan Arkin ends up on the wrong side in A Matter of Principle, an odd Christmas tale set in the snowy hills of Virginia. The principle in question is a Christmas tree: Arkin, playing the poor and plain mean father of 11, won't let a tree in his house. No good reason, he just won't. "If the good Lord wanted trees in the house, He'd a planted 'em there," Arkin says. But a principle without a reason isn't a principle: It's a quirk or a symptom of mental imbalance. His wife and kids see that and leave him. Then, in what is supposed to be the warm and toasty ending, he says he's learned his lesson and begs them to come back. You can't help thinking that they're masochistic morons for listening to him. In Catch-22 and in a series of St. Elsewheres, Arkin walked that fine line and made it look like a ballet. In Principle he's given a script that tries to be quaint but ends up cuckoo.

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