Picks and Pans Review: "...first Do No Harm"

UPDATED 02/10/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/10/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Sun., Feb. 16, 9 p.m. ET)

C

The news is never good," says a network press release in describing the plot of this stressed-out drama, whose title makes ironic reference to the Hippocratic oath and is inspired by actual events.

Indeed, the troubles come in battalions for Lori Reimuller (Meryl Streep, in a rare television appearance) and her husband, Dave (Fred Ward). The youngest of their three children, 4-year-old Robbie (Seth Adkins), is diagnosed with epilepsy. Their health insurance won't cover the boy's drug treatments, which in this case prove agonizing and futile. The bank is foreclosing on their farm. Sleep-deprived Dave is risking his life driving a truck by night to put food on the table. Robbie's older brother Mark (Michael Yarmush) is throwing fits because a family vacation in Hawaii has been postponed indefinitely. And worst of all, establishment doctors, personified by the dour and arrogant Melanie Abbasac (Allison Janney), try to block Lori from pursuing an unorthodox treatment program for Robbie that involves diet, rather than drugs or surgery.

There's no questioning the sincerity of producer-director Jim Abrahams, whose own son's epilepsy has been controlled by the alternative method advocated here (and profiled in PEOPLE, April 17,1995). But Abrahams, best known for irreverent big-screen comedies like Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies, mixes soap suds and righteous indignation in conventional TV-movie style. The film's only distinguishing feature is the ever-formidable Streep, who wins top honors, at least this week, in television's perpetual mom-on-a-mission competition.

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