11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST
CBS (Sun., Nov. 1, 9 p.m ET)
In a blackboard cuckoo's nest of a high school, Robert Loggia plays a militaristic principal who collects guns, chains and sick books like Her Canine Lover. Peter Coyote is an English teacher with weeds for whiskers, moss for brains and losers for friends. Among them are fellow teachers Stockard Channing as a pitiful wimpette who thinks she's going to marry him, Cindy Pickett as his girlfriend and Željko Ivanek as his lonely-guy buddy. There's a plot afoot to murder Channing. Coyote wants you to believe that the principal will kill her; you're led to believe that Coyote will. You're never sure who does it, but Channing ends up dead. Then Gary Cole and Peter Boyle as cops try to trap both Coyote and Loggia in an investigation that lasts seven years. Joseph Wambaugh wrote the script from his 1987 book, which was based on the real 1979 "Main Line" murders. He has some nice touches and lines: A teacher looks at the aggressively weird principal and says, "Those eyes. A look from him is like an obscene phone call." The uneducated Boyle finds out about Coyote's passion for a certain poet and asks, "What's this pond I keep hearing about, this Ezra Pond?" Wambaugh has a good feel for cops, and so do the actors who play them. Gary Cole, who was magnificent in Fatal Vision, puts in another fine, subtle performance here. Ditto Boyle and Treat Williams as the prosecutor. But Wambaugh and the cast fall down when they try to portray intellectuals and nuts. Coyote is so crackers you can't imagine anyone ever admiring him, let alone joining his personality cult. Loggia is so dangerous you can't imagine anyone ever hiring him. The rest of this school's faculty are too nerdy to be human. All of them get lost in a script that's jumbled and stretched to the breaking point to fill five hours over two nights.