Picks and Pans Review: I'll Fly Away

updated 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

NBC (Tuesdays, 8 P.M. ET)

B-

Here's the only show of the new season taking the high road. Unfortunately, a serious tone and important themes don't make this drama, from the creators of Northern Exposure, compelling.

Set in the South during the civil rights struggles of the '50s, I'll Fly Away stars Sam Waterston as a town's district attorney and liberal conscience. He's raising three children with the help of his black housekeeper, Lean on Me's Regina Taylor.

Taylor is a quiet but forceful presence. Glamor-puss Kathryn Harrold is even less believable here as a smalltown lawyer than she was as a public school teacher in Bronx Zoo. And while Waterston is an unusually patient and reflective actor by TV standards, his facial expression shuttles between puppy-dog sadness and a crinkly-eyed ironic grin.

It's painful to criticize a show that has intelligence and depth, but there's no getting around the fact that overarching earnestness and a subtle but troubling air of fatalism combine to make this a dolorous hour.

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