05/22/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
NBC (Mon., May 22, 9 P.M. ET)
While on his way home from school in Merced, Calif., 7-year-old Steven Stayner was kidnapped by a drifter posing as a minister. The year was 1972. Eight years later Steven, now called Dennis, was returned to his emotionally shattered parents, who had never given up hope that he was still alive. This four-hour miniseries (see page 65), broadcast over two consecutive nights, is told with extraordinary restraint, taste and insight. Warning: Tears will be shed. In fact, by Wednesday Kleenex stock will probably have split. Part I goes from Steven's abduction to his eventual escape at age 14. If you think there's nowhere to go from there, hang on for Part II. What should be a happy ending has to wait as the Stayner family is torn apart by Steven's presence. He's out of control, drinking and smoking to excess, staying out all night. Says Steven to a schoolmate: "They lost their sweet little boy and got this instead." Although Steven is sexually abused by his kidnapper, the show never sinks to sensationalism. No sexual acts are shown or even described. Steven's inability to talk about this aspect of his ordeal makes it all the more chilling. It's folly to single out a cast member for particular praise as director Larry Elikann coaxes a perfect harmony from St. Elsewhere's Cindy Pickett and John (Beverly Hills Cop) Ashton as Steven's parents; Luke Edwards and Corin "Corky" Nemec as the little and teenaged Stevens; Ray Walston as Steven's sinister grandfather and Arliss (Tequila Sunrise) Howard as Ken Parnell, the psychopath who stole himself a son.