Picks and Pans Review: The History of White People in America: Volume Ii

updated 06/29/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/29/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Some of Martin Mull's best friends may be white, middle-class, small-town folks, but it's doubtful that he would want his sister to marry one. This funny, if slightly grim, satirical look at the problems of such citizens continues the attitude (disdainful), wit (very dry) and spirit (mean in a likable way) of Mull's old TV series, Fern wood 2-Night. The setting is now an Ohio town called Hawkins Falls—mythical site of a 1950's soap opera—but otherwise not much has changed. Mull's old cronies Fred Willard and Mary Kay Place (why is this woman not a bigger star?) play a couple embattled by, among other things, their teenage daughter's pregnancy, polluted water, stress and their son's habit of stealing tips off restaurant tables. (Christian Jacobs and Amy Lynne play their children.) Then too there's the local minister, who while in the Peace Corps taught "Bible stories, table manners and Ping-Pong to the natives of Uganda." The Reverend exhorts the high school football team at halftime with a poem: "Let's give Jesus Christ the football/Let him even up the score/ Let him run it through the crossbars/Half of which he's seen before." Willard is a harried husband who earnestly tells his wife, "You know how much I love my family, including you." He is not, however, without his reverent moments himself: "They talk about Stan Musial, but God is the tops." Willard also has to face a critical boss, who suggests that he is both not working hard enough and not getting enough relaxation: "The answer lies somewhere between tennis and working through lunch." This leads Willard to a shrink, who drives him to an apparent heart attack, during which the therapist asks the pain-racked patient, "How do you feel about what's happening now?" Then there's the campaign in which Willard runs for water commissioner. He hires a political consultant who also turns out to be working for Willard's opponent and the chemical company that is polluting the water. Despite the title of the 100-minute tape, it's not really racially offensive, though it does succumb to a number of dumb Jewish stereotype jokes (a rabbi obsessed with how much everything costs, for instance). Mull wrote the script with Allen Rucker and appears as host of the tape—ostensibly a documentary. (The first The History of the White People appeared on cable TV; this version is packaged for home video.) Neither Mull nor Rucker can expect to be named the Optimists Club's man of the year. (MCA, $39.95)

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