We’re coming back!!!

I’m sorry to all the devoted readers of the Miniseries Marathon, but some unexpected intrusions from life insisted on my time and attention.


But, I will be back hopefully by the end of this week, my birthday week.  What better time for a relaunch?


All the best!




SEQUEL ALERT: Heaven and Hell: North and South, Book 3

Oh, I know, the fact that I’m referring to “Heaven and Hell, North and South, Book 3” as a sequel is not going to sit well with everyone.

The “North and South” novels of John Jakes came out in 1982, 1984 and 1987.  Miniseries of Books 1 and 2 had both aired by mid-1986.  Why not Book 3?  There are differing answers on that one (Kristie’s character was killed near the end of Book 2 and Patrick was well into movie superstardom to return to TV), but timing and Jakes’ writing no doubt were factors.

North and South, Book 1

North and South, Book 2

However, as I see it, Book 3 is a desperate grasp as a miniseries.  By 1994, when it aired, the American network miniseries was moribund.  I’ve already noted in these pages that I consider “Scarlett,” airing in 1995, the true end of the movement, so by 1994, certainly the networks knew they had just a few gasps left.

So, what could they do to go out with a bang?  Well, they could have gone the route of “Scarlett” and used recent novels, as the Krantz and Steel factories churned out books faster than anyone could read them.  They could have gone for a real-life or true crime story (which they did).  They could also keep trying Stephen King books.

Or, they could dredge up past glories for a can’t-lose movie, a last attempt to breathe life into a clearly dead genre.  There was a “missing years” “Thorn Birds” miniseries that was dismal, Clavell would have been way too expensive, to say nothing of Wouk.  Ah, but the “North and South” books of John Jakes (who already had a trilogy made into a miniseries in the golden days a decade and a half previously) had a dangling finale that was not filmed.  Both “North and South” miniseries in the 80s were critically hailed and gigantic hits with audiences.  Bingo, let’s do it for the money.

Only, doing it for the money is a lousy reason to make a miniseries and it was bound to fail.  One only need to look at “Lace II” for proof.  Book 3 has a stale feel, a sad aroma of decay to it.  A lot of the same actors are back, but you would hardly notice.  Philip Casnoff is given one of the worst parts of his career, Leslie-Anne Down is turned into Scarlett-after-the-war, Terri Garber has very little to do and even the magnificent James Read looks totally bored.  Thus, assuming money-grubbing decisions, I add “Heaven and Hell: North and South, Book 3” to the sequel pile along with “Lace II” and the equally unwatchable “Rage of Angels” sequel.

To be fair, “Heaven and Hell: North and South Book 3” is not a disaster like the two mentioned above. It is harmlessly impotent and dull, that’s all.

Uh oh.  The miniseries starts with a bit of narration by John Jakes.  Who does he think he is, Judith Krantz?  It’s only a review, but it ends with Jakes telling us that somehow Philip Casnoff is still alive through some “quirk of fate.”  Oh, come on!  He could have figured out a way to say that far better, but perhaps he was under torture to speak the line exactly as written.

Philip and his beloved Terri Garber, already overdoing it in her first lines, have come to extort money from the character once played by Patrick Swayze, but in this case an obvious double used in a nighttime scene.  Terri trots off to have it out with Lesley-Anne Down, making a crack about “uppity” former slaves and Lesley-Anne’s minuscule black heritage.  Philip, drowning in dry ice haze, follows the man with the cane, stabs him and then relays a bit more plot review.  At exactly the same time, Terri informs Lesley-Anne that she’s going to take “everything you have…so enjoy it while you can” and flounces out the door.

When Terri makes her way through the fog and unlit streets exactly to the empty place where Philip has just killed her brother, she’s horrified.  She thought Philip was going to extort money.  “What about me?” she asks.  “I don’t need you for what I’m going to do,” he callously warns her.  Hey, Ter, you lie down with dogs…

Enraged, Terri screams and runs in slow motion, pushing Philip off a bridge and one supposes he drowns, but of course one supposed the last time he was killed he actually was dead, so we’ll wait and see if he’s that lucky again.

Naturally, James Read is upset at his friend’s death.  “He survived it all only to have some coward knife him in the back?” he growls to his patient wife Wendy Kilbourne as he fishes out his half of the $10 bill that he’s kept since early in Book 1.  It’s Wendy who tells him to go help Lesley-Anne.  Probably not wise advice on any level.

The character of dead Patrick Swayze’s brother, now being played by Kyle Chandler, meets Rya Kihlstedt, a penniless but pretty actress who declares he “will hear of” her, despite his knowledge of theater being limited to Edwin Booth (nothing can top the plight of 19th Century actors like “Centennial”).  He’s also in the military under an assumed name, though a squawking officer thinks he should be fired since he was part of the South.

Rya, as noted, is an actress, and wants to work with a troupe headed by a truly bizarre slumming vet.  Not Liz Taylor from Book 1, not Wayne Newton from Book 2, but one of the least likely slummers in all of show business, Peter O’Toole.  He isn’t interested in her acting, he just wants someone to manage his books and “keep him sober,” a delicious in-joke.  “Everyone thinks they can act,” Peter tells her, not having seen the rest of this movie, and tough Rya holds out for lead parts in exchange for taking care of him.

Another relative swoops down into the story, Robert Wagner, playing the deed owner of the once great family estate.  A rather dour sort, he tells Lesley-Anne that if she fails to make any mortgage payments culled from her little vegetable garden run with the help of paid former slaves, he’ll boot her out.  Hearing that Lesley-Anne is educating her former slaves, he is invited to join the KKK, but declines, only to be reminded, “the war may be lost, but the cause ain’t.”

Mariette Hartley is hired as the plantation’s teacher.  She tells Lesley-Anne she was an abolitionist, as if that matters now (or in light of Lesley-Anne’s efforts to help runaway slaves).  A desk and windows are promised her as the school is being built, and she takes the job, “with enthusiasm,” though it looks more like complete boredom.  However, she shows spark soon after, when Lesley-Anne is turned away from church because of her racial history.  “There is no blessing on this house of abomination,” Mariette snaps to all, including Robert, who is uncomfortably in the middle of the ado.  He again refuses to join the clan, but doesn’t leave with Lesley-Anne either.

Into all of this, like a gallant knight, comes James, apparently not planning to stay more than a five minutes because he rides to the ruined plantation just on a horse, nothing else.  He inquires about her husband’s killer and is told no law and order actually exists in the South now.

Cue Richmond and the insane asylum where a raving lunatic holds court.  Yup, once again, Philip Casnoff has cheated death!  Tied to the bed, he remembers his rank, “the great sovereign state of Georgia” and a whole bunch of other things, but not his name.  The doctor thinks he’s perfectly sane and has him released.

Ever the pragmatic entrepreneur, James offers Lesley-Anne a business partnership in order to build a sawmill, which will only help her meager efforts.  She keeps declining until he, of course, brings up that ripped $10 bill.  “I do believe we have ourselves a deal,” Lesley-Anne gushes.

Philip, walking no doubt to some magnetic dream of retaliation, stops, pulls out his knife and writes his character’s name in the dirt.  Has he remembered something?  No time to dwell, we have new lovers to visit: Rya and Kyle, who has attended her performances and actually stayed awake.  He wants to go out West, and though Rya assumes it’s to “fight Indians,” his kiss cancels out all worries, but they can’t have sex in that little outdoor patch, “not for my first time with you,” she notes (thats a rarity–a woman in an historical miniseries who openly admits she’s not a virgin), so we take the act inside with glowing candles, sexy bodies and acres of violins and drums.  Considering Kyle Chandler is the most handsome man in all three “North and South” miniseries, it’s nice to look at, though stereotypically handled.  After being insulted by a superior officer in a restaurant while with Rya, Kyle decided to pay a visit to his fie-year old son, explaining the story of his birth and his fiancée’s death and promising a return to his new love.

Out in Santa Fe of all places, Terri has become perhaps the crankiest hooker in all that dry heat, until a piano salesman comes to spend the night, a shy retiring type who offers to help her get her home back (that pile of charred rubble, as we remember).  She coos that the last man who tried to help her was killed.  This guy doesn’t even flinch hearing that.  Said man is riding on the back of a wagon singing and crazy.

Kyle is set upon by his hateful superior and three others, beaten badly before Rip Torn shows up garbed as an Indian to chase them away.  Sillier is Terri’s plan to start actually making pianos with her regular john, using the madam’s gold, hidden in a hole under the desk.  “I don’t have a gun,” says Tom Noonan.  “Well get one!” Terri bleats in exasperation.  Silly and pathetic is Philip’s plan, under an assumed name, taking a job in a railway station in order to bide time until James returns from his goodwill tour of Lesley-Anne’s south.

With Reconstruction not even a possibility for such fluff, the movie lurches from one inane attempt of mid-1860s history to another.  Rip Torn is, as you may have guessed, not an Indian, but rather a fur trapper with a “slightly touched” nephew who needs a partner good with a gun, since the last one was carved up by Indians.  Forgetting his son and Rya, Kyle agrees to go into partnership with Rip and they continue on their westward journey.  “I’m gonna learn you good about the Cheyenne…gonna learn you good so you can keep your head of hair,” Rip, pure comic relief tells his new partner.

After a howler scene where Peter O’Toole was clearly not acting drunk as much as living it, Rya makes it her life’s work to find Kyle and prove he’s no deserted.

The sawmill is built on Lesley-Anne’s land lickety split, and it seems Lesley-Anne is falling for her dead husband’s best friend, who is feeling the same, but doesn’t realize it.  There are few worse acting mistakes than trying to out-ham one of the greatest hams of all, and Terri Garber, laying it on thick through three movies here, seems to think she can get away with the histrionics of Peter O’Toole.  Not in a million years, sweetie.  Even Peter O’Toole has no idea how to do it.  Terri and Tom go to steal the bordello gold, though Tom has a conscience about it.  She even has to kill making an escape.

There is a great deal of tension when Rip and company get to the Cheyenne settlement and warriors show up to do bate.  They run into a “medicine tent,” comparing it to a church, a sanctuary in which no blood will be spilled.  The chief frees them, but the Indian who caused the flare-up is definitely not finished.  In one of the other main plots about racism, Robert Wagner is unsure of whether to join the Klan or not.  He doesn’t feel he needs a hood, but their propaganda is strong and they give him the honor of lighting a cross.  The Klan comes to Lesley-Anne’s and former slave Stan Shaw sees them first, telling his fiancee to fetch the lady of the house.  Lesley-Anne is brave in front of the hooded Klan, telling them to go ahead and burn the school in defiance, recognizing even RJ’s voice, and they do torch Mariette’s one-room schoolhouse.

The bad guys far outnumber the good ones, so while Wendy is waiting for her husband’s train to bring him home, crippled and savagely bent on revenge, sneaks into her house.  He rambles with a knife to her neck until James’ horses can be heard and then stabs her.  After finding his wife dead, he sees that Philip has written his name on the mirror in blood.  “You bastard, I’ll kill you.  By God, I’ll kill you,” he avows with thunder crashing to heighten the effect. That’s a natural way to end the first part.

“Heaven and Hell” is, so far, not any worse than any other miniseries of its time (admittedly faint praise), but it’s not in a league with Books 1 and 2 because they had a centralized tension that was a part of every plot line.  Yes, it was an overly familiar one: separation of family and friends across the divide of the Civil War.  However, it had potency and believability, plus a whole lot of soapy plots as a distraction.  What this one lacks is that centralized tension.  Everybody is the same and feels the same.  There are bad people, but only in a cardboard sense.  When James Read and Patrick Swayze tangled over their opinions, it was painful to both of them because they knew they would be torn apart by them.  Here?  Well, Terri is a hooker stealing gold, Kyle gets mixed up with a shady fur trader, Lesley-Anne is so good to everyone that the Klan has to step in.  So far, it’s just a series of vignette plots adding up to…well, not much.

Stan and his cohorts vow to rebuild the school on the same site and defend it as well.  Miniseries rules declare that when everyone smiles and makes promises, deus ex machine, a house falls on their metaphorical heads.  A telegram of Wendy’s death sends Lesley-Anne scurrying go meet George, whom she fears will never forgive himself for spending extra time with her and the school, though she does admit that Philip is a wicked man who…pause…pause…killed her husband!  Mariette, the very prototype butch schoolmarm, convinces Lesley-Anne to stay put so the sawmill can be run and James’ letter told her to stay away since Philip is on the loose.

We are re-introduced to Jonathan Frakes, James’ brother with the shrewish wife, now played by Deborah Rush.  Deborah wants Jonathan to run for the Senate and uses he funeral as a social gathering to push her agenda, even with General Grant.  Deborah even has a scheme to use Jonathan’s place at the Freedman’s Bureau to go down south and buy cheap land, though he warns her against it.  James says he’s in no state of mind to decide anything, leaving decisions in his foreman’s hands so Deborah doesn’t do anything stupid and then hires a Pinkerton detective to find Philip (who is standing in front of a mirror trying on Wendy’s earrings).

Hold in your laughter for the worst political gathering in miniseries history.  The Republicans come to town to whip the former slaves into becoming loyal party members with the slogan “Liberty, Lincoln, Lee”  and then reminding everyone that there are still potential slaves because there are still potential masters.  Shameless huckstering is stopped by Stan, who gives a violin-laden speech about how even if they have not been paid yet, they are doing what they are going “because we want to…we is free now, and free men choose.  What’s the point of being free if you can’t choose?”  That stumps the politico and silences the room until the politico proposes Stan be the first delegate or the upcoming Charleston convention.

Terri and Tom are now in Chicago making pianos, and the first one is just about ready.  Her plan to put one in every “cathouse” in the country seems to be foolproof.  Except it has enough plot holes and idiocy to it to sink a fleet of ships.  The soon-to-be husband and wife do not get along because he knows she’s “vicious and greedy and vain” and the threats fly back and forth.

Covering a wanted sign of his mug, Philip goes to a war office to find out about Kyle, and is given an address of a man who corresponds regularly with him, though not currently since “sixth tree from the fourth hill in Indian territory” is not easily located by the Pony Express.  Speaking of, Indians attack our threesome, killing Rip and the “touched” boy, leaving Kyle to bury them and continue on alone.

While Stan is celebrating his wedding with dancing and song, Lesley-Anne decides to go back to the house to tend to her child.  Two Klan members want to lock the door and burn the revelers alive.  Just as they are about to rape Leslie, a man arrives to chase them off, the geologist RJ hired to find out what is really on the land Lesley-Anne owns.

The snakes are assembling, which means Deborah pays a visit to RJ, flirting her way into finding out what she needs to know about the phosphates found on the land.  Deborah has everything worked out to fine detail.  She will give him the money he needs, he will have to worry about buying out Lesley-Anne and because of the “problem of labor,” they will fund a general store where everyone works on credit, thus giving the owners “complete control.”  RJ tells Lesley-Anne of his plans, but the land isn’t his until she defaults on payments, which is a distinct possibility given that the Klan busted the sawmill

Kyle’s homecoming does not go as planned.  Shabby, bearded and dirty, his son is afraid of him and Rya is angry.  But, he cleans up, finds out about Philip and tries to dump Rya.  She halts that by inviting him up to her room to “hold each other.”  He has a serious miniseries illness–the one that happens when you leave polite society for a time and have trouble readjusting when you return.  Luckily, Kyle is still sexy to Rya, so some sex seems to be the cure.  Well, to some degree, because he still takes a civilian scouting position, hoping also to hunt down Philip.

“I am regaining what you and others tried to take away from me…pride!” bellows Robert when Lesley-Anne begs him to drop the issue of credit that will lead to a new form of slavery for her friends and coworkers.

At a family dinner, James’ sister-in-law Genie Francis returns and she’s frightened because James has become so obsessed with Philip.  Cue the Pinkerton, to say there is a woman out west whom Philip raped, but luckily she’s alive, “but barely” and can hopefully provide details.  He fears Kyle is Philip’s next target.  In an army camp, Kyle meets intelligent trickster Steve Harris and they become fast friends.

The Convention of Colored Men opens with Billy Dee Williams giving a rousing speech, eventually followed by everyone’s favorite, Stan.  As expected, his speech is beautiful and full of basic human heart and tears.  Even the inevitable violins don’t go too far into overdrive since this is one of those shoot-for-an-Emmy speeches (thought well done and not cynical).  Stan is overwhelmed by the positive  response, but when Billy Dee calls him “Mr.,” he’s happier than ever.  “It ain’t never been done before,” he says, crying.

And, my miniseries minions, you don’t need even two guesses to figure out what happens next, because we all know that when people are overwhelmingly happy in a miniseries, the worst is about to happen. Indeed, the Klan comes out of hiding to ambush him, sending his horse away (it makes it to the house where the women grab guns and form their own pose).  Stan is lynched.  Lesley-Anne chases them off.

Steve, doing well rising in the ranks, informs Kyle that his men want to see a play, so he goes to the theater in Leavenworth where initially no one will sell tickets to black men, but it’s Rya who insists they sell the tickets or the company will not play in that theater.  Their reunion is awkward, but even worse is Rya going all-out doing “King Lear.”  It’s not the greatest rendition, but the again, Shakespeare wasn’t always a guaranteed hit in Kansas.  This time is different, though Peter carps during curtain calls to Rya that she changed lines and his staging.  “I had something to say,” she says.  “And you said it,” Peter-as-Shylock replies.

The month comes when Lesley-Anne cannot pay the mortgage and Mariette begs Lesley-Anne to go directly to James for help.  She initially refuses, but Mariette spits out a sentence full of alliterative S sounds that convince Lesley-Anne.  James wants to help, but he also wants Lesley-Anne, who feels the same way.  When did these feelings arise?  Certainly not until Book 3, because after all those cape-and-church clandestine meetings in Books 1 and 2, she and Patrick had eyes for no one but each other.

Finally, Kyle comes across the Indian who killed Rip when the Indians attack a wagon train of settlers. The wagons circle and from inside spring soldiers.  The whole thing was a trap, but when Kyle, Steve and Steve’s men rushed the area to help, they infuriate a commander who remembers Kyle, calling him a traitor and hoping he’ll be hung.  “You can go to hell,” Kyle says and rides off.

Philip, in a new guise that has him looking like a Shakespearean Moor, kidnaps Kyle’s son and writes his name in flour on the kitchen counter where bread was being made.  As for Kyle, he’s gone to the Cheyenne to ask for permission to kill the man who killed Rip and to warn them that soldiers are coming.  No sooner does that sentence escape his mouth than the commander with the attitude starts howling again about how “they breed like rabbits” and “red devils” seem to be his preferred moniker for the gang.  A slow motion montage shows a complete slaughter of the Indians.  Kyle aims for the commander, but decides not to kill him.  At least not yet.  As the commander reaches for his gun, Steve steps him and stops it from happening.  Kyle leaves and only the Indian he has been chasing is still alive to exact revenge in a war that would last far longer than the Civil War.  So ends the second part of the movie.

In the miniseries least interesting plot, Kyle and his Indian nemesis (Gregory Zaragoza) meet alone in a field.  The fight lasts about 8.2 seconds and Kyle doesn’t even break a sweat besting Gregory.  However, he doesn’t kill him.  He harms him and then tends to his wounds.  Awwww, new friends.

On Capitol Hill, James visits his brother Jonathan Frakes, who, in one scene, attempts to dethrone fellow overactors Terri and Rip Torn, and even makes headway besting Peter O’Toole.  Jonathan pretends to be shocked when James tells him of the scams down south, but says “we have no jurisdiction there.”  He has no idea of the fact that his wife Deborah is behind it all while he works at the Freeman’s Bureau and forced her to sell her interest in her company to James for $1.  Jonathan throws his wife out of their house, telling her, “I never want to see your face again!”

Also unhappy is Deborah’s business partner, Robert Wagner, who agrees to work with them since the other option was to bought out.  But, James is in his element with a new project to keep him busy.  He has a list of demands for the foreman, undoing all of the evil at the plantation and general store.  He also gets closer to Lesley-Anne, who packs him baskets full of food for picnics.  When Philip’s name comes up, James says over and over, “I’ll get him.”  And he probably will, since miniseries heroes always get their man, but most of the time because of an accident so no one has to be hauled into court.

Unable to sleep, James sits outside where Lesley-Anne pop over and finally they can confess their love for each other.  Their sex scene is notably awkward, at times just plain creepy!

Pure happiness in a miniseries is an oxymoron, because James received a telegram saying Philip has kidnapped Kyle’s son, so he’s dashing to St. Louis to take care of the situation.  Lesley-Anne begs him not to go and he says he’s only doing it for the family, promising to return.

Terri and Tom buy the most expensive house in DC and manages to get a list of all the most influential people, throwing a party and doing Scarlett O’Hara again.  Tom is not at all thrilled at her behavior, asking what he can do to make her even happier and she says the only thing is her family plantation.

Detective James visits Rya, promising to bring Kyle back.  He then enlists Kyle’s army pal, the magic-loving Steve sends him Abilene, where Kyle has become the town drunk.  He is passed out and Philips finds him in the drunk tank, teasing with the viewer by giving Kyle a shave.  But, he doesn’t kill him.  When James and is ever-increasing band of merry men find Kyle, they also find a map on the way that Philip left for them.  There has to be something bad afoot, because that would be too easy an stupid.

As if the kid understands, Philip tells him his entire plan for killing everyone left in the story.  Most baffling is that he decides to go into Indian Territory to create his own kingdom where he can kill whoever he wants.  As the good guys plan to capture Philip and get Kyle’s son back, Robert Wagner, who is wearing a false beard so ungainly even his acting style which is to barely twitch a muscle, is in danger of knocking it off, is with his KKK buddies.  He has more important things to do than hunt ex-slaves.  He wants to destroy everything James has.

Slowly, James, Kyle and Steve track Philip across the whole Indian Territory (which seems to be about 10 square feet because they keep passing the same trees over and over again.  What Philip doesn’t know is that Kyle’s son is dropping rocks like breadcrumbs of children’s stories.  A woman whose husband is trafficking buffalo gives Philip and the boy, “not right in the head” as per Philip, feeds them, but doesn’t believe Philip’s story and pulls a gun on him.  Philip then kills a man for absolutely no reason and has the man’s Indian lady friend bury him.

Who brings this news of having seen the boy to our trio of heroes?  Kyle’s Indian friend, who says he will help and then that’s it as “I won’t owe you anything.”

Just as RJ is making a deal, Terri comes flouncing in, agenda as obviously as her cleavage.  Terri has the money to buy it, but RJ reminds her that Lesley-Anne is there and making the payments.  Terri has a plan for that too.

Kyle’s Indian pal locates the kid and offers to take the guys there.  Both he and Steve, neither of whom have a real stake in finding the boy, want to help.  Steve pretends to be in need of a place to rest, dragging out the story to give Kyle and James an opportunity to get into position, while Philip tells Steve the Indian woman “is for sale too.  $3 a whack.”  The kid sees his father, which means everyone has to jump into a kerfuffle, killing the Indian woman, but getting the kid.  James rips his dead wife’s earring off Philip’s ear and in the middle of Philip’s defiant speech, he’s lynched.

That leaves just Lesley-Anne’s plot to wrap up.  RJ and his cohorts plan to kill her and take what they feel is theirs.  RJ’s wife hears the conversation, begging him not to be a part of it, but he roughly makes it clear this is not a woman’s business and she best not say anything.  However, the wife slips away and informs Lesley-Anne of the plans.  James and Kyle rush to protect Lesley-Anne and fight the clan.  Rya is upset that Kyle is leaving again and tells him she may not be there when he returns, so he gets about 10 steps and decides to choose his lady friend over helping Lesley-Anne, but wouldn’t you know, Rya reminds him that “you always keep your word,” so she is confident enough in his word, she tells him to go.

A gloating Terri shows up at her plantation to inform Lesley-Anne that she bought the deed from RJ and wants Lesley-Anne gone.  They two are in the middle of an escalating fight when Tom shows up, telling Terri he never transferred the money from one account to another, so she doesn’t own the property.  Terri sees that the only part of her ancestral home is that pile of columns and her version of fiddle-dee-dee is “you know, I didn’t want it anyway.”

Terri’s plot has come to the end, but the Klan is still planning an attack.  Everyone at the plantation works together to erect barricades (which don’t look very scary), they test their guns (very old) and anticipate the coming of the Klan, now singing around a burning cross.  Can the train carrying James and Kyle make it in time?

Lesley-Anne gets to comfort everyone: former slaves who have never fought, the overseer, who wants to kill RJ and a hysterical Mariette.  When the Klan approaches, it’s the ragtag bunch who fire the first shots.  They have the dynamite, which helps them, but the Klan is losing this one.  “I will never surrender,” one howls…and then gets shot to death.  Robert grabs Lesley-Anne and rides off with her though followed closely by James and Kyle.  RJ has the opportunity to kill James and Lesley-Anne, but hesitates and a fellow Klan member kills him only to be shot dead himself by James.

James and Lesley-Anne end up in a clinch among the ruins of the plantation, wondering whether to rebuild or not.

And now, we are officially done with “North and South.”  Two out of three ain’t bad!

LBJ: The Early Years (1987)

This one is for my father, still in awe of President Johnson, whose inauguration he attended, and can never learn enough about him.  We may not always agree on what makes for the most interesting history, but I learned from him to keep trying because someday, I might just figure it out.

Lyndon Johnson is one of the more peculiar choices for a miniseries, and “LBJ: The Early Years” is a peculiar miniseries, though fascinating.  George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, they make sense as they were larger-than-life legends who lives in extraordinary times (though admittedly, Lincoln’s reputation may be a bit more mixed if natural causes killed him).  John Kennedy?  He’s miniseries gold and we barely have to touch his politics.

Movie stars, kings and queens, captains of industry, war heroes, this is what we’re used to in a miniseries.  Johnson was, beyond doubt, not only a remarkably astute politician, but also served the country when it was once again threatening to come apart at the seams, though this time less literally.  Still, what most people will remember about Johnson is taking the oath of office on an airplane with Jackie Kennedy in her bloody suit and then not being able to stop the war in Vietnam (to be fair, we can also credit Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford as the other Commanders-in-Chief who had their hands in the Southeast Asia pot, Johnson’s was the most stuck inside).

Hell, even John Adams at least rubbed elbows with Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and a host of European bigwigs to earn two miniseries for his efforts.  Lyndon Johnson is certainly no Van Buren or H. Harrison, B. Harrison, Chester Arthur, Tyler, Taylor, Hayes or Coolidge, but then again no president after the invention of the camera, the moving picture, audio recordings or on-demand media consumption could be.  Is Lyndon Johnson deserving of miniseries attention that tends to adore melodrama and spectacle or is this just too damn weird an experiment?

Certainly the Lyndon Johnson we meet in 1934 is not dour, mumbling or angry, as always seemed to be the case while he was president.  No, indeed, as played by Randy Quaid, he’s a whirl of excitement, figuring out the halls of power as a Congressional secretary, though he already has a friend in the legendary Sam Rayburn (played to irrepressible perfection by Pat Hingle).  Eager Lyndon tells Sam he’s proposed to the daughter of a noted Texas mover and shaker, but he hasn’t had an answer yet.  “It’s hard putting words into other people’s mouths,” he gushes.  “Don’t be so sure, Lyndon, I’ve been doing it for years,” Rayburn replies.

Of course, we know who the said possible fiancee is, one of the most unequivocally beloved national figures in all of American history, Claudia Taylor.  Oh, wait, we should probably start calling her Lady Bird (especially since Patti LuPone starts chewing the scenery from the onset, and a Southern accent giving her the perfect opportunity to drop all those pesky consonants she’s detested throughout her career).  Even soon-to-be-Papa-in-law Boss Taylor finds Lyndon exciting, especially when Lyndon declares that he wants to marry his daughter that day, a Saturday, when it’s impossible to get a license, though Lyndon confesses he has a lot of strings to pull.

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Amerika (1987)–Marathon Entry #100

One hundred miniseries have been jotted down here for everyone’s amusement or education (or notes for my proposed book).  I can’t believe it.  And there are sooooooo many more to do.  I will keep at it.  I rather idiotically said I would give myself a year for this.

It will be two years in December.

In celebration of this big event, I thought I would do a big event miniseries (or maxiseries as some called them).  “Amerika,” from 1987, takes Cold War paranoia to utterly insane heights, though not without many predictable lows.  What would become of the United States if the Soviet Union took over?

The short answer?  It would be really boring.  It seems that gloomy drear that hovered over Eastern Europe and parts of Asia (and the odd place elsewhere) for the better part of the 20th Century really was colorless and lifeless like capitalist propaganda taught.  Either the makers of “Amerika” got really lucky or used the best in lighting techniques because there is not a ray of sun to be found in its 12 hours, literally.  I’m color blind, so Nolan Miller never made much sense to me, but even I got bored of grey after not too long here.

You have two options during the 12 hours of “Amerika,” either try desperately to name every Soviet leader between Lenin and Gorbachev (good luck with the early 80s) or try and find at least a few redeeming and interesting items in “Amerika” because they do actually exist.

What I will say is that many of our beloved miniseries rules are ignored by “Amerika.”  There is no actual love plot.  There is no slumming vet (slummer almost-weres by the busload).  There is no cuteness, there is nothing exotic and there is no glamour.  What it does have is, for its time, a very quizzical set of theories and two outstanding performances by the two actors you know from the credits will be spectacular: Christine Lahti as a confused and bitter woman who is not cowed like those around her, but also not doing anything about it, obviously no more or less fulfilled by Communism than she was by the opposite, and the much-loved and much-missed Robert Urich, whose very presence is automatically comforting and watchable, very important given the character he’s playing.

Obviously, “Amerika” is very much of its time (and we’ve seen a few of those so far).  It can’t hide behind the Civil War or World War II as a way to tell us that no matter what, the American spirit always prevails, though at times it does draw parallels that are shamelessly overt.  Though the Cold War would end  two years after “Amerika,” making it immediately obsolete (probably why it’s not on DVD), it is an interesting look at the fears and motivations of the period.  I remember it very clearly and the “what if” situation was one constantly mentioned and debated, though I don’t know that by the mid-80s anyone actually believed it was still possible.  Well, except for the Reagan Administration.

I joke with my former Iron Curtain friends that we were told everyone behind it ate rock soup because there was no food and that everyone looked so grouchy because toilet paper was a luxury most never received.  That’s how deep worries over Communism were in the West (despite the fact that Gorbachev had been in power since the middle the decade), and it’s pretty shallow.  No one really talked about the politics of it or how bastardized it was by Soviet leadership, an admittedly stuffy and pompous bunch with extremely expensive tastes.  This movie shows an extreme version of the fears, but even in 1987, it’s hard to imagine anyone truly worried that Soviet (or Chinese) Communism had any chance of expansion, and frankly, it doesn’t even seem that frightening (until a rather shocking scene near the end).

Not that “Amerika” hastened the end of Communism.  Hastened the end of the Great American Miniseries?  You be the judge.

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V (1983)

As we have seen before, oddball miniseries that aren’t history, romance or adventure (though I consider them the latter), can be a mixed bag for viewers. Wild Palms is an attempt to just be downright strange, From the Dead of Night is far too bland, The Martian Chronicles is in the top ten stupidest things ever to appear on television, though Stephen King’s It succeeds marvelously.  Even when American television was the greatest in the world, not everything had to be so stuffy or formal.  It could simply be fun, and that’s where science fiction comes in!

But, there is one science fiction miniseries that towers over all the others.  In fact, it’s one of the most famous.  It was followed by a sequel, then not one, but two series (both duds).  It bears the simple title, “V.”

The title sequence is heavy with a rousing soundtrack and then there’s a dedication: “To the heroism of the Resistance Fighters–past, present, and future [sic]–this work is respectfully dedicated.”  That’s not quite as loony as you might think.  With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, there was a huge  official push to reclaim the nation’s honor (it had been a theme of the the Republican party in the 70s, a tough time to be a Republican).  The glorification of anything military was in vogue, especially World War II, the last war where Americans seemed to wholeheartedly agree on the heroes and villains.  Reagan and company were less over-the-top when it came to the Vietnam War, but they tried to glorify the armed services members, rather than discuss the politics.  Good old World War II was safe and easy, especially when flaying the villains.

Also, let’s remember that Reagan had denounced the Soviet Union as “the evil empire” and the clash between NATO and its allies and the Warsaw Pact gang was going at full steam, especially with a series of short-lived Soviet leaders grabbing power and dying quickly.  Patriotism, right versus wrong, clear enemies, simplification of war, all of these things were on the agenda in 1983.  Suddenly “V” seems like a veiled replay of the current political push, replacing Communists with aliens as the latter are a whole lot more fun.  So, yes, “Resistance Fighters” and this dedication take on a whole new meaning.

Keep this in mind as the miniseries unfolds.  I wouldn’t waste your time with a history lesson just to show off my noggin full of esoterica.  What makes “V” so special?  For one, it’s the exact right story at the exact right moment in history.  For another, it’s fun.  Think of the great miniseries, “fun” isn’t exactly a word that could be used to describe them.  The combination of these two ideas is the answer to my question there.  The sequel and series following clearly didn’t understand this lesson.  Mind you, “V” is not perfect.  In order to play to everyone from kids to seniors, it tends toward the goofy, with stilted puns and cheesy special effects.

The action starts in El Salvador where a civil war is taking place (the US was already fighting-by-proxy in Nicaragua at the time and that fact wouldn’t have been lost on anyone).  Journalist cameraman Marc Singer and Evan Kim are in the thick of it, watching helicopters destroy a rebel stronghold.  “It’s no worse than Cambodia,” Marc quips as a helicopter follows the two of them, though luckily those inside it have the worst aim and don’t come close.  “At least I could have passed for one of them,” is the retort from Evan.  Okay, so the dialogue is corny, but no one is watching for the dialogue.  Especially because by this point, Marc has managed to lose all the buttons on his shirt and heading toward as few clothes as possible, his usual stunt in this time period (yes, he’s “The Beastmaster”).  When Evan is hit the one bullet that manages to come close, he’s still a wise-ass.  “Can you run?” Marc asks.  “Do I have a choice?” he replies.  Eve Arden would have been proud.

Some cockamamie hero nonsense has Marc, camera still rolling, facing down the helicopter only feet away.  The chopper leaves, but then Marc sees a spaceship looming.

Brainy lab scientist Faye Grant is being praised for her work on mice when Richard Lawson comes barging in.  “Have you seen them?  The are everywhere,” he howls, turning on the TV to find out that these ships are hovering over major cities everywhere (except for the one in El Salvador–it must have made a wrong turn somewhere).  The mice know something is up.  Even a thief looking to steal a TV turns it on to hear about the UFOs.  In a jiffy, we meet dozens of people, especially lively teen David Packer, the only person excited about all of it.

There is a countdown in the native language of each country where the ships hover, and then a request comes for the Secretary General of the United Nations to meet them.  They obviously haven’t studied the earth’s politics too well if they think the Secretary General of the UN has any actual power.

With world attention focused on the Secretary General, the ship opens and out comes a craft.  It lands, everyone is perplexed, and the Secretary General is asked to come on board.  The world waits until he’s spotted emerging, beaming with joy and inviting the “Supreme Commander” to speak directly to the earth’s inhabitants.

Out comes Richard Her, a “middle aged man” who comforts the world audience by looking human, and even kids are unthreatened.  His voice sounds electronic, but he’s folksy and charming and puts everyone at ease.  Why have they come?  His planet is suffering from strong “environmental difficulties” and only compounds on Earth can help.  In exchange for “retooling” the world’s factories to get him what he needs, Richard says his gang will teach our world all it knows scientifically.  “Talk about an offer we can’t refuse,” says Faye’s boyfriend.  “I wonder what would happen if we did,” she replies.

The aliens invite the Secretary General and some members of the press into their ship.  Naturally, Marc Singer is there, as his son, watching at home is thrilled.  “I hope it means I get more alimony,” his mother Joanna Kerns says, about ex-husband Marc.  Even Marc’s parents are excited, if nervous.

“Good luck,” every character says, with Marc’s son, touching the TV and adding, “I love you, Dad.”

Reporter Jenny Sullivan is literally drunk with the power being “chosen” accorded her, though confession to one-time flame Marc that she “stacked the deck” so they would be allowed on the ship.  The footage Marc show does not seem particularly exciting.  However, rewatching the footage, drunk Jenny jokes that Jane Badler, a head alien honcho, gets more camera time than her from Marc.  “Why didn’t it work for us the first time?” Jenny asks, sending the two into a wild make-out session while we see mundane things that have been recorded, though Jane looks awfully sinister.

Marc’s mother, pushy socialite Neva Patterson, has urger her husband Hansford Rowe, to offer up his refinery to the aliens for a promotion.  She’s a cold woman, seemingly unimpressed by her son’s access to the aliens.  The aliens arrive at the refinery while a high school band plays (badly) the theme song from “Star Wars.”  Many of the women swoon to how handsome the guys look.  Factory worker Jason Bernard is upset because “first we had to fight you honkies for a job, then the Mexicans, now these creeps and they ain’t even from this planet!”

Everyone is thrilled with the aliens.  Teenage girls develop crushes and the only think that seems at all wrong is how animals react to the aliens, now called “visitors.”  When visitor Robert Englund is lost, not knowing English because he was supposed to be in the Middle East, snappy waitress Diane Cary tells him Los Angeles is nice, that “it sure beats Fresno!” Uh uh thanks Diane!

However, not all is perfect.  Jane seems rather sinister than telling Jenny she wants her to be the visitors’  “spokeswoman” and an archaeologist with a pipe (and therefore very smart), has figured something out about the visitors, but he disappears.

Jason is trapped in liquid nitrogen 300 degrees below zero, but Robert Englund saves him, must to the consternation of his alien boss.

Initially, it seems that the humans are an insufferably dull bunch.  Neva is a social climber, teen girls are moronic, Joanna Kerns cries because she is ordinary and can’t compete with Marc’s adventures to their son, there is a Holocaust survivor with a problematic family, and on and on and on.  All-in-all, it sounds like the cast of a 1970s disaster movie.  But bear with them for now.

The world at large doesn’t know when a coworker of Faye’s is zapped by a laser gun in her apartment for having collected a tissue sample from a visitor.  Especially not with some of the visitor trying to hard to appear demure and sweet (like the one romancing a teenager and Robert Englund, doing his best Jimmy Stewart for Diane).

However, the world does take note when an “international conspiracy” of scientists is revealed and governments now demand that all scientists and their families register their whereabouts.  This particularly scares Leonardo Cimino, the Holocaust survivor, to whom all of this sounds particularly familiar.  It’s his grandson David who is chummy with the visitors.  To further besmirch the world’s scientists, it’s revealed by a Senate investigation that many doctors have been holding back particular information that could be useful to the world.  It’s a huge way to discredit the only people who might figure out some sinister secrets.

On top of that, Evan notes that all the doctors interviewed on TV turning in their colleagues are left-handed, though they are supposed to be right-handed as per past footage.  He and Marc decide to sneak aboard a visitor ship, but Evan is unable to get on.  Marc is there alone.  He hears one visitor telling the others to dump all the chemicals they have gathered, a ruse they have designed.  But why?  What is their real agenda?  He and his trusty camera hear Jane and cohorts talking about “world domination,” an admission of scientific discrediting and of course watches them swallowing animals whole.  He’s caught watching one guy take out his human eyeballs and using a lizard-like tongue during their fight.  Marc peels off the guys face to reveal, for the first time, what the visitors truly look like, ugly reptilians.

Marc goes on TV to show his footage, but just as the broadcast starts, the plug is pulled and instead Richard does the broadcast, still blaming the scientists and showing video of plants blown up, “attacks” that have prompted the world’s governments to ask the visitors for protection, which “we’re more than happy to provide,” according to Richard.  They are taking the wounded to their ships to care for them and then Richard takes special time to vilify Marc Singer internationally.  Martial law is declared.  To help, a huge PR campaign is unraveled, with posters all over, Jenny’s broadcasts and the use of David and his pals, the youth groups, armed with guns.  Leonardo is aghast at the similarities to his past.

Hell, even migrant Mexican gardeners have been affected by the PR blitz.  Anyone who so much as talks to a scientist, let alone is one, is affected by it.  Plug in certain group names for “scientists” and you see the parallels.

Things get worse.  As David enjoys his place with the new regime, his parents note all of the bogus PR, not to mention other youth members who “inform” on humans.  And not just scientists, but also anyone who argues against the official word from the visitors.

“Totalitarianism suppression of the truth,” Richard Dawson says to a group of fellow scientists hiding out in a tiny ramshackle storefront (including Faye).  No, of course it’s not subtle, but I don’t think anyone expects it by now.  We are officially mimicking the past in order to tell a convincing story in the present.  Faye knows there are others “huddled in the dark like us,” and insists on finding them to build a cohesive resistance.  Is it wise to attempt to talk to Jenny, though?

When Marc calls Evan, the latter has to pretend he’s talking to his uncle because the phones are tapped. The line, “I know they would like to get their hands on your burrito” had to have caused as many giggles in 1983 as it does nearly three decades later.  “I’m sure they would,” replies The Beastmaster, with no sign of irony.  The tapped phone leads visitor fighters to go after him, but their aim is as bad as the El Salvadorians.  At the same time, fleeing scientists finds roads out of the city blocked.  But why keep them in the city?  “It’s easier to keep track of us.”  No one uses the word ghetto, of course, but that’s understood.

Richard Lawson goes to the only person he can now trust, his brother, Michael Wright, the thief from way back.  Because there is such bad blood between them, Michael refuses to help.  Blair Tefkin, the teen in love with a visitor, is also the daughter of a scientist and they try to flee, but a road block stops them.  Who can help them?  Leonardo, of course.  He puts them up on a squalid garage.  Anyone getting a big of Anne Frank deja vu is on the right track!  Leonardo’s son, George Morfogen, doesn’t want them there, especially since his son David is way too tight with the visitors.  However, Leonardo pulls out the story about smuggling George out of Germany at eight months old, revealing for the first time that his wife was killed in a gas chamber, not from a heart attack.  “Don’t you see…they have to stay, or else we haven’t learned a thing,” Leonardo says and there’s no way George can argue with that!

For some idiotic reason, Marc goes to Jenny’s, hoping for help, but naturally a zillion visitors have surrounded the building.  Also there is Faye, whose intention was to see if Jenny could be trusted.  I guess not.  Marc has to fight his way out, which Faye watching.  Luckily, Marc gets one of their guns.

Blair reveals to David that her family is in the pool house, which is news to David.  Blair only cares about her favorite alien, though David, drunk, tries to woo her as he’s always had a crush on her.  Her refusal to understand this doesn’t make David happy.  During a daring escape with scientific instruments, Richard Dawson is zapped (after about 45 shots with terrible aim) and so is Faye trying to help him.  “I’m not gonna make it,” Richard says, but Faye insists on dragging him into her VW and driving away while the visitors, close enough to be able to successfully zap a wasp, don’t even try.  Richard dies, followed by a ranting monologue by his brother.

Leonardo finds some kids defacing propaganda posters and stops them.  “If you are going to do it, do it properly,” he advises and paints a V on one.  “For victory,” he says nobly.  Ah, now he’s co-opting the V for Visitor.  Nice work!  “Go tell your friends,” he insists, as the music rushes to a crescendo and the first part of the miniseries ends.

Marc finds his son’s best friend, Tommy Petersen, amid some rubble where there was a huge night of carnage.  Not only is the area full of destruction, but Marc’s son and ex-wife were taken.  Everyone in the entire vicinity was taken, except Tommy, who hid in closet.  Apparently he was the only one to think of that.  The reason Marc had come looking for his son is because he had given his son a trinket from the spacecraft and only recently found out it was a key.  Tommy asks what it will open.  “The belly of the whale,” Marc notes, speaking in his preferred vein of riddle-like emotionless grunts, but Tommy seems okay with that.

With a bottle of champagne from his alien pals, David announces to his parents, George Morfogen and Bonnie Bartlett, as well as his grandfather, Leonardo Cimino, that it’s in celebration of his engagement to Blair.  Blair doesn’t know yet, but David says that if he can’t have her, “I’ll just have to turn her whole damn family in,” earning him a glass of the bubbly to his face from his incensed grandfather.

At the funeral for his son, Jason snaps when visitor Robert Englund tries to say a nice word to him.  “Get out of here!  I don’t want your kind here!  You people killed my son!” he wails.

David makes good on his threat to turn in his family, but when the troops get there, they are already gone.  He is promised amnesty for his whole family, but they soon disappear as well.  Gardener Rafael Campos is smuggling them to safety, but Neva figures it out and, toadying to the visitors as usual, alerts them to it.  A human police officer hears the family hidden, but lets them go because the last time he didn’t, he was ashamed by his behavior.  Unfortunately, on his way back, Rafael is stopped because Neva’s call had come in.  The family members are gone from his truck, but he faces a lot of gun pointed at him.

Meanwhile, Michael has decided to help the rebels since his brother’s death.  He brings Faye and company to a spot underground where the homeless typically live and then says he’ll get the gangs to assist, all of them.  “Do you think you can do that?” Faye asks.  “I’m the Henry Kissinger of East L.A.!” he says with a huge grin.

When the aliens are happy with humans, they give them diamond jewels.  Neva gets one and so does David.

Marc and Evan, the Abbott and Costello of human resistance crack wise over and over as they get to the refinery and see every character we’ve known to disappear and a whole lot of extra loaded onto an alien transport ship.  There is a gun battle and Marc loses his gun.  Evan gets sprayed in the face by something from an alien mouth and Marc gets knocked out.

Underground, quite the hideaway has been constructed, but everyone is looking to Faye to be the leader and she weeps to Camila Ashland that she can’t handle it.  “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Camila says out of comfort.  Well, okay, it’s not really comforting and they aren’t even her words, but since they were spoken in WWII, no one is bound to complain.  “Trust yourself as everybody else trusts you,” is better, but not totally winning over Faye.  “Fake it, we won’t know the difference.”  Bingo, Camila, that one gets her.

Alien Frank Ashmore goads Jane into letting Marc live with some good old-fashioned reverse psychology, which apparently, as smart as she is, completely works!  Why?  Because Frank is part of an alien sect that doesn’t believe what is happening is right and wants to help the humans.  Marc, finally naked, switches clothes with a blond alien who looks like a supermodel as a way to escape.  She tells him to shoot her, telling him she’ll live, which she does.  In a costume with glasses, Marc looks the part, but he doesn’t have the voice.  On his way to a ship that’s leaving for Los Angeles, he bumps into Blair, who was so desperate to see sunlight that she went outside, and of course got caught.  An alien figures out Marc’s secret when he refuses to speak, but by then, Marc has stolen a truck and escaped.

When Michael and the gang wants to steal an alien, they end up nabbing Marc, who now gets to meet the rebels.  “Where’d you get the uniform,” Faye asks.  “They had a sale,” Marc snaps.  A few dozen quips later, they decide to believe Marc and listen to all he knows.  What follows is a discussion of how the aliens are actually like the reptiles wiped off the planet by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.  Then Faye suggests they make up a mission statement.  While everyone puts pieces together, Blair’s father realizes she’s gone and gets caught himself (by the first black alien we’ve seen yet).  The alien wants to know about the rebel stronghold, but Michael Durrell won’t tell them, until they use Blair as a threat.  They also agree not to raid the place until a specific time, giving Michael a chance to get his family to safety.  Unfortunately for Blair, Jane has decided to use her as part of a science experiment and sends in the alien Blair crushed on to romance her…or sex her up, to be more frank.

The underground gang has a plan, designed by Faye, that involves stealing ammo, sending Marc back to the ship and such, but the meeting isn’t over until Jason insists on a prayer (how very Reagan-Era-Moral-Majority of him).  Jason plants bombs all over the refinery, and Diane finds them, but it’s too late to stop them, though she does get Robert Englund to safety.  Even Camila gets into the act, an ace with Molotov cocktails.

There is a fierce battle at an armory with many casualties on both sides, not to mention mirrors and guns and such, and Michael finally decides to do the right thing and warn the camp.

Back on the spacecraft, Marc discovers huge vats of water and than finds Frank.  Frank reveals that the plan was to steal the planet’s water because the alien planet needs it, making Earth a desert, but that won’t harm humans because “there won’t be any humans left by then,” Frank tells him.  Frank shows Marc all of the humans who have disappeared, being kept in pods to make foot soldiers and, well, to be honest, food.  Marc wants to know how this mysterious “leader” Frank keeps referring to became the leader.  “Charisma,” he tells him, being able to whip people into the right frenzy at the right time.  “It happens on your planet, doesn’t it?”  Again, not subtle, but with only 30 or so minutes to go, anyone who hasn’t figured out the homage to the Allied cause in WWII might as well be given cue cards.

Frank takes Marc on a tour of horrors on the ship.  When they find Rafael, he says, “they tried to make me talk, but I wouldn’t.  My grandfather, he fought, fought with Zapata!  I tell them nothing, I spit in their faces.”  Zapata?  Frank wants to escape to Earth with Marc, who is taking Rafael and Blair back, but Marc thinks he’s more valuable on the mother ship.  Frank fears what will happen to him, but Marc says, “I’m proud to have you as a friend” and that’s apparently convincing enough.  “I hope we live to be old friends,” Frank replies.  Oh, and how does Marc know how to fly a vessel?  Because he’s been on enough planes to figure it out.  “They may not kill us, but my driving might,” he tells Blair as he tries to figure out all the controls, while being pursued.  The special effects are really laughable, but apparently George Lucas was using all the good ones for the same year’s “Return of the Jedi.”

Rafael has control of the ship’s guns and destroys one of the pursuing ships.  “Let ’em have it, Cisco,” Marc coos.  “Sancho!” he replies, in one of the kookiest and most overtly racist lines in this or any American miniseries.

Michael is on his way to the mountain camp to warn everyone to leave.  Remember, he was promised they wouldn’t attack until 4pm, but he’s not the brightest of the characters and leads them into a trap, which has them destroying the place at 3pm.

Back on Marc’s ship, he’s asked Rafael to please blast the other ship, and Rafael replies, “I will, but I need a little luck.”  So, Marc puts on an LA Dodgers hat.  I’m at a loss to explain why this is lucky, but we’ll go with it.  I guess the lucky, if ill-fitting, hat works, because Marc guides the ship through a mountain tunnel, so quickly that the pursuing ship hits the mountain and blows up.  The rebels and their ammo arrive at the camp under attack, managing to inflict some moral-boosting damage (though Faye seems upset at the loss of any life–hey, lady, this is war!–but watching the carnage in slow motion with a choir at full blast convinces her to fully participate).  Faye aims at Jane’s ship with a pistol, and misses, but then again, the aliens have such bad aim, that so do they.  No worries, Marc shows up in time and hits Jane’s ship.  She orders the aliens back to the main ship.  She looks all modest now, but when she runs for President based on her exploits, you can be she won’t be so fearful.

Michael finds his wife just in time to get the news that they are gone.  Then she expires in soft-focused. Michael picks up a gun and is now another committed convert, but then the girls show up.  They aren’t dead.  What the hell?  “We fought good, huh?” Rafael asks.  “We fought good,” Marc assures him as they are taking Rafael for medical care.

Faye’s new plan is to destroy as many of the main ships as possible, but Marc tells he she can’t, there are people on them.  “We may have to sacrifice thousands to save billions!” she rails, suddenly as confident as a seasoned general.  It’s actually a lengthier speech, but you get the point.

Oh, FYI, Blair has been getting morning sickness.

Where does Marc go for succor?  His mother.  Oh, Neva is so wrong for that!  “I’m a survivor, or else I would have never gotten out of that Louisiana hick town where I started and I would have never made it through your father’s drunkenness,” she bellows, in defense of her actions.  The conversation gets very heated, but Marc finally shames his mother with the following: “when I was a kid, there was a woman who taught me wrong from right–I wonder what became of her.”  Marc Singer has never been a great actor, but he’s okay here because Neva’s frostiness is so unbelievable and idiotic.

As for Michael, he returns to Bonnie and George to beg them to let their house be used constantly as a hideaway.  George has been tortured into silence and Bonnie reminds Michael that her son is “an informant.”  That’s exactly why Michael says, “it’s the best place.”  Eh?  Apparently, he thinks because it’s already been used as an Underground Railroad stop, no one will think to look at it again.  Interesting theory, I suppose.  However, a letter left by Leonardo insisting that everyone fight, “to become a blinding light to triumph over darkness.”  Reagan, the movie star, not the president, couldn’t have delivered a more impassioned plea, and of course it works.

Anticipating “Lost” by a few decades, Faye sends out a “mathematical code” SOS to the galaxy begging for help.  It may take years for any of them to get it and understand it, but in the meantime, they have to help themselves!  Michael then paints a giant V on their bunker door.


It is entirely possible that “An Early Frost” may be the greatest telemovie ever aired by the networks.  Whoever made the decision to keep it to a one-night affair instead of stretching it longer was a genius.  It’s 1985 and this is the first time AIDS is discussed, so it’s better to grab people once than expect them to keep revisiting the story.  Here is a movie so polished and so important, with a cast so impressive that to call them “slumming vets” as they would be in any other movie, is unfair.  They are dedicated artists who knew how important it was to give this material the showing it deserved.

“An Early Frost” proves that in the 1980s, what was on American television mattered.  HBO would have done it great justice (as they did other pieces like this), but I have trouble imagining a major network nearly 30 years later dedicating an evening to something so new and frightening to the general public.  It would be the focus of a “very special episode” of a sitcom, but “An Early Frost” shows the true guts of American television in its prime.  This is the same bravery of “Roots,” of “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman,” of “Holocaust, of “North and South,” of “Peter the Great,” of “The Day After.”

But the difference is that “An Early Frost” is small.  It’s about one family at one period of time.  No costumes, no historical sweep, nothing fancy.  Why run the risk of losing your message by burying it in glamor?  Not this time.  Definitely not this time.

You want the ultimate factoid here?  “An Early Frost” was higher rated the evening it aired than football!

The film immediately sets itself up as something to which any family can relate.  The family has a modest suburban home, mother Gena Rowlands teaches piano lessons and father Ben Gazzara runs a lumber company.  They aren’t poor, that’s for sure.  They do congregate in the living room for drinks wearing suits and evening attire, with chirpy Grandma Sylvia Sidney a fun little chatterbox.  The big surprise on the night of Gena and Ben’s anniversary is a visit by adored son Aiden Quinn.

Dinner is going along at a snappy pace, everyone so relaxed that Gena notes to Aiden if he ever has a girl he wants to bring home, “she’s always welcome.”  Things are so idyllic and “normal,” that when Aiden leaves the next day in a taxi (he’s a lawyer who has to get back for a case), mom and dad stand in the street waving goodbye.  Norman Rockwell couldn’t have done it up better.

All is not as it seems.  Aiden’s partner, D.W. Moffett has trouble waking Aiden up and when he finally does, Aiden is feeling uncharacteristically lousy, though these two have such a lovely life that they discuss vacation plans.

“You didn’t tell them, did you?” D.W. asks while Aiden is shaving, meaning coming out to his family.  With one line, the idyll crumbles, or at least so it seems if it were any year but 1985.  Since it was 1985, there is a slow unravel.  Aiden goes to the doctor to discuss not feeling well.

At work, his persistent cough is so bad, he collapses and ends up in the hospital.  The diagnosis is AIDS and Aiden is shocked.  How could he possibly have AIDS?  When Gena calls, not having heard from her son in a while, she decides she must go nurse him because, “he’s alone.”  “I thought you said someone answered the phone,” Ben asks, perhaps catching on a bit.  “A friend,” Gena tosses off, still insisting that what he needs is his mother to get him through pneumonia.

How early in the epidemic are we?  Aiden’s room is labeled “isolation” and the staff won’t bring in his meals, only the doctor, who reminds Aiden that the only way to spread the virus is through sexual contact or blood, neither of which are a factor for Aiden.  However, it may have come from D.W., who could be a carrier with no one knowing.  Or, it could have been dormant in Aiden’s system for years.  The doctor informs him he’s being released, which is not exactly the best news.  How will Aiden continue with life as usual, how will he tell people he has “the gay plague?”

“I wonder how many other people will want to shake my hand when they find out what I’ve got,” he wonders aloud to the doctor in a gaspingly poignant line.  “Don’t ask too many questions you can’t answer,” the doctor says wisely, but cautiously.

Playing it extra safe, Aiden makes up a bed in his office in their very large apartment.  He’s on edge, and it’s perplexing to D.W., who reminds him, “I am just as scared as you are.”  For all of his talk of support and understanding, when he mindlessly goes to take a sip out of a coffee cup Aiden has just used, D.W. decides not to.

D.W.’s rather aloof behavior has a reason.  He confesses to Aiden that while the latter was working on a big case, D.W. got his sexual needs fulfilled by going to bars and baths.  “You’re sorry and I have AIDS!” Aiden demands when D.W. offers a weak apology.  The argument turns so that D.W. turns it on Aiden, bitching that he keeps D.W. from their life.  The two howl until D.W. shouts about Aiden’s family, “when are they going to find out who you are…after you’re dead?”

Having tossed D.W. out, Aiden takes his mother’s advice and pays a visit, under the guise of recuperating from pneumonia with a mother’s love.  Aiden tells his clucking parents, “I’m sick…it’s not just pneumonia.  I have AIDS.”  Ben catches on quickly, but Gena has to hear Aiden say he’s gay before she realizes it.

Gena asks, “would you have ever told us if you didn’t get this…” “…disease?” says Aiden, finishing her sentence.  “I don’t know,” is his honest answer.  Gena fully admits she doesn’t “approve,” but follows it up with, “you’re my son–I wouldn’t let anything in the world separate us.”  This leads into an argument that proves why “An Early Frost” is so vital.  Aiden bangs his hand angrily because he knows his father is furious, but Gena reminds him that as much as he didn’t want to be judged by them, he has no right to judge.  That’s an awfully powerful statement, stepping away from the AIDS-suffer-as-victim scenario and adding an impressive amount of depth.

The conversation between Ben and Aiden is more by-the-book, at least at the start, but changes when Aiden admits, “I’m ashamed.  I can’t even look anyone in the face anymore because I know what they’re thinking.  Same thing that you are.  That I’m queer, that I deserve to have this because of what I’ve done.”  Ben is angry because he accuses Aiden of handling this in a way that’s convenient to his own needs.  Neither is right, but the script is fair to both.  “I never thought the day would come when you would sit in front of me and I would have no idea who you are,” Ben retaliates.  As a defense mechanism to shield him from having to think of the disease, he’s hung up on Aiden having lied about himself for so long.

Aiden might have expected understanding from his sister, who has known he was gay, but when he confesses he has AIDS, her son runs into the room to hug his uncle and she grabs the kid, keeping him from doing so.  Self-perception of “I understand” is not the same as reality, this family is finding out at top speed.

When Aiden starts to shake at dinner and decides to go to bed, he bends over to kiss Gena, but Ben forbids it.  “That’s right Dad, you might catch it just from looking at me,” Aiden says in frustration.  In their bedroom later, Gena insists that Ben read up on the facts because he is dying and needs care.  “He can get it from his own kind,” Ben snaps.  “We’re his own kind,” Gena replies.  Once again, the vantage point of 30 years on makes it seem like Gena is the comforting fully-understanding mother and Ben is the ignorant firebrand.  But, it’s not quite so black and white.

In the middle of the night, Aiden is convulsed in a horrifying seizure.  Ben is irate when the ambulance drivers refuse to help after finding out Aiden has AIDS.  Ben rages, pounds his fist, hits the driver, but it doesn’t work, they bolt.  Ben grabs Aiden and they take him to the hospital.  Gena Rowlands is in ideal form at the hospital, when she very calmly explains to the doctor that her knowledge of AIDS is limited and insists on knowing his chances of survival.  A brutally honest doctor admits he’s never known an AIDS patient who didn’t die.  The magnitude of the truth finally hits Gena here, but she doesn’t overact or go into histrionics.  It’s the doctor who does that, railing at her that her son is not the only patient and rather than fight with her, he wants to “save my energy for my patients.”  He tells her all she can do is support her son and “encourage him to live his life.”

“Lie to him,” Gena replies.
“Let him have his hope,” says the doctor.

Ultimately, they are saying the same thing, just with different vantage points.  All bases are covered and no one is judged as right or wrong.  That’s beautiful and sensitive handling, not to mention honest, though complicated, which is more truthful than expected.

Aiden joins a support group at the hospital where ideally-cast John Glover tries to keep everyone laughing in the face of serious issues like loss of job, straight people infected and such.  The main point underneath is that they are all lonely and scared, especially with the announcement that one of the members died the previous day.  Aiden is very annoyed by John’s flippancy, not yet realizing that it’s his way of keeping the discussions from being so gloomy as to be unbearable.  Aiden rushes out, rashly deciding, “I don’t belong here.”

John won’t let him off the hook that easily, showing up in Aiden’s room joking that “it’s the only fraternity I ever rushed that let me in.”  Aiden is in no mood for gallows humor.  Soon enough, Aiden warms up to John, offering him a brownie, to which John replies, “I really shouldn’t, I’m watching my weight.”  It’s that bit of sass that endears him to Aiden.

Where does the title of the movie come from?  Wise Grandma Sylvia, tending to her roses, hoping that “an early frost doesn’t come and nip them in the bud.”  Yes, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but it barely registers when Sylvia, having just learned the news, tells Gena she doesn’t want to be kept from the truth, proving her spirit is strong and understanding.  Stretching back across the decades to summon up her skills, Sylvia’s monologue here is devastating, describing how she expected never to cry over loss again after her husband died because she would be next, everyone else being younger.  It’s not a long scene, but so effective, the melodrama kept to the soundtrack and not her performance.

Let’s not forget that on top of the disease, the family is still shell-shocked about Aiden being gay.  Gena tries to understand, but can’t comprehend why they are not together at such a crucial time.  It’s not the time for Aiden to explain why.  He doesn’t have a chance anyway, because John comes barging in.  “Does that man have…” Gena asks, seeing the disease at its worst.  When Gena relates John’s saga to Ben, the latter walks from room to room trying to get away from her, but Gena declares strongly that the loneliness and lack of support “is not going to happen to our son!”

As John gets sicker and sicker, Aiden bonds with him helping him draw up a will and realizing how much worse it would all be if he had no one.  Fine, people are changing their minds a bit too fast and conveniently, but again, the decision to keep this to a single night more than justifies it.

When Aiden is sent home, it’s Ben who picks him up, but not all is copacetic.  At home, D.W. is waiting for him.  Gena has invited him to stay, though D.W. has offered to go to a hotel, and Ben wants to know who the hell he is.  D.W. is carrying around an awful lot of guilt, for which Aiden forgives him, but Aiden still will not return home.  “I can’t put you through that,” Aiden tells him, referring to how hard it will be as he gets sicker.

Cantankerous Ben gets splayed at dinner by this mother-in-law, though with a light touch.  It doesn’t help, Ben is resolute.  Aiden backs away when Sylvia goes to kiss him goodbye.  “It’s a disease, not a disgrace,” she insists.  She compares it to the cancer that killed her husband, but this is a moment that doesn’t quite ring true.  Yes, it’s Sylvia’s way of comprehending what is going on, but the bit about people being afraid to catch cancer from her husband is unconvincing.

With D.W. in the house, Ben is more taciturn than usual.  D.W. explains that it’s always been a source of contention that Aiden never told his family about him, but Ben claims to be happier never knowing.  Ben delivers the harshest line of the entire movie, when he growls, “why couldn’t it have been you?”  That’s one of those times you have to stop and catch your breath!  D.W. says he wishes it had been him because, “I don’t know how I’m going to live without him.”  “He not going to die.  Those doctor don’t know what they are talking about,” Ben counters and then launches into a story about how Aiden overcame a broken leg to get back into sports.  Ben says it was his pushing that got Aiden well.  “He’s not going to make it without you this time either,” D.W. tells him honestly.

The climax comes when Aiden tries to kill himself in the garage.  Luckily, Ben wakes up early to exercise and sees the smoke coming from the garage, rushing in to save his son.  “What kind of a stupid stunt was that?” an irate Ben demands to know.  Their ensuing conversation is a mine field, but stunning.  Aiden says he was hoping Ben would find him dead.  “It’s what you want, Dad, to find me dead?” he asks.  He also wanted to do it so he didn’t have to suffer the inevitable ravages of the disease.    In a few sentences, Aiden unloads a lifetime of experiences with his father, and Ben’s reply is remarkable.  “That’s right, you call me anything you want, you hit me, as long as you don’t give up,” before grabbing his son and letting him collapse into his fatherly embrace while whispering “I don’t want you to die” over and over.

That leaves only Aiden’s sister Sydney, who has not been in the same room as him the whole time because she’s pregnant and afraid, despite her shame in feeling the shame.  Hours before he’s due to return home, they make up and she even hugs him.

When Aiden leaves, it’s by taxi, the exact way he left at the very beginning of the movie.  The dialogue is also the same, word for word.

Gena: “You should have let us drive you.”
Aiden: “You know how I hate saying goodbye at airports.”

Early in the movie, one would barely notice that exchange, but the same words in this context are heartbreaking.  What he’s really saying is that he can’t face saying goodbye to his parents at all, as this could easily be the last chance he has to do so.  Gena and Ben are in the street watching the taxi disappear, just like before, though this time they are not nonchalantly waving, but instead holding each other up.

There are more than a few decisions made by the creators of “An Early Frost” that are truly remarkable and longsighted.  For instance, how Aiden’s character got the virus is never explained.  It was an answer most patients of the first generation knew.  It could have been either a dormant virus or one given to him by a boyfriend who cheated.  It would be very easy to pick the latter and give the story a clearcut villain, but “An Early Frost” is not about blame.  It’s about coping and learning.  Okay, so Gena and Sylvia accept the facts a bit too easily, but that was something that actually happened in the early days.  We heard stories about families turning their backs on gay sons with AIDS, but it wasn’t everyone’s story.  There were compassionate families who preferred learning about it with an intense crash course of reality rather than turn away from it.  By having John Glover play an over-the-top gay man while Aiden has not the least hint of a stereotypical affectation might seem a bit callous, but it’s there to combat prejudice about homosexuality, the second most important issue in “An Early Frost.”  It’s campy John who has the best outlook, despite the tragedy of complete loneliness.  When choices like these can be explained and understood not as conveniences of the plot, but rather real-life occurrences, there really isn’t a complain to be made about “An Early Frost.”  It’s not severe, it’s not soft.  It’s not rosy, it’s not tough.  It just is.

Hold the Dream (1986)

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.

Hey, it’s it’s good enough for Gaul and Caesar, it’s good enough for Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Emma Harte est omnis divisa in partes tres.

We’ve seen A Woman of Substance.  Now it’s time for the second part of the Emma Harte saga.  If Bradford is not as flashy as Danielle Steele, as giddily head-scratching as Judith Krantz or as blissfully wild as Jackie Collins, she does have a certain loopy authority and gravitas in her writing and “Hold the Dream” clings to that seriousness as tightly as possible, following the lead set by “A Woman of Substance.”  That can be construed as taste, but it can also be construed as boring.

I guess “A Woman of Substance” was a big enough hit that by the time “Hold the Dream” was made, slumming vets signed up in droves.

Jenny Seagrove gets a morning call from Granny Deborah Kerr (whose slumming days ended here, since this was her last credit, but she still has her skills fully intact, not that she needs even 10% of them).  There’s a big deal that would have the company Deborah started buying another one, and Deborah wants to make sure Jenny handles the negotiations properly.  Indeed, she’s as steely as the old lady, playing such hardball that one of the current owners snaps, “they’re all vultures.”  Jenny’s tactics put the kibosh on the takeover, but when she reports this to Deborah, it seems Deborah had set this all up, shrewd-though-poorly-dressed matron that she is.

We are introduced to a few more of Deborah’s grandchildren and relatives to get the plot started, but at the onset, they are all interchangeable, except, of course, miniseries expert Stephen Collins, who is secretly in love with Jenny.  Also around is Liam Neeson, Deborah’s oldest friend, done up here with a frightful white beard and a voice that sounds like he’s chewing rocks.

Deborah senses her time running the empire is ending and one by one, people are lining up to either screw her over or share in the spoils.  Worst of all the hangers-on is Claire Bloom, Deborah’s daughter, who is bitter that Deborah sacrificed motherhood for her career.  Deborah tries to mend fences, but Claire is unmoved.  Her son is getting divorced because he’s in love with one of another of the brood.  This is news to Claire, though she does caustically note that, “you always wanted one of the Harte girls to marry a title.”  Deborah slips into and Olivia de Havilland-style softness of speech, but it doesn’t work.  Claire is hard and unyielding.

Liam is responsible for getting Deborah to a surprise 80th birthday party, and after some reminiscing and kind words, she accuses him of being as “full of the blarney as ever.”  Liam’s grandson Stephen is there, introduced him to Fiona Fullerton, obviously an American just by the way she dresses.  Jenny is upset that her husband isn’t there, always putting his newspaper career first.  Everyone there has a plan. Dominic Jephcott, one of Deborah’s grandsons, is bent on revenge and hooked onto Nicholas Farrell, whose company was supposed to be bought before Jenny ruined the deal (and this Nicholas and his father).  Stephen is in love with Jenny, but it’s a secret.  Claire cozies up to her son Paul Geoffrey and his mistress, obviously trying to debunk whatever Deborah is hoping to get from Paul’s divorce.  However, when his wife shows up spitting mad, it creates a bit of a scene.

The dancing starts with an idiotic synthesizer or something, and when asked what dance she’ll dance, Deborah answers for everyone who has ever hated fad music, “I’m waiting for the waltzes.”  Deborah then sees Stephen mooning over Jenny and even Fiona notices it.  In fact, it’s the talk of the dance floor.

There are a cake, candles, a large cake knife and then Liam is requested to speak for all the assembled about Deborah, though it’s relatively painless.  After all, this movie has crammed more plot into the first half hour than one would think possible, so no one gets more than a few sentences at any one time.  Deborah then speaks, drawing on that well of old-style training that netted her half a dozen or so Oscar nominations (no wins, sadly).  The big surprise is that Deborah is going to cede the empire to the grandchildren so she and Liam can take a cruise around the world.  An in-law is put in charge of the whole shebang, and even he seems shocked.  Jenny gets the department stores.  “I challenge you to hold my dream,” Deborah coos.

Later on, Jenny’s husband Nigel Havers is, as he always seems to be, upset.  He feels she shouldn’t be working, just a wife and mother.  Some extremely unseemly and gross kissing ends the conversation, but Jenny refuses to let this discussion fall away to sexual interruption.  At the same time, Stephen and Fiona are going at it, but even she can tell he’s not thinking of her.  Fiona, angry at Stephen, stands up naked and asks, “what makes you keep coming back to me bed all the time, all hot and bothered and raring to go, when the one you really want is” Jenny.  Hopefully this is Fiona’s final scene, because she’s pretty darn awful.

The corn factor zooms off the charts when Deborah shows up at Liam’s and he gives her an engagement ring he had bought decades earlier, but didn’t use because he thought she was too good for him (if you remember from “A Woman of Substance,” she was a maid-turned-zillionaire, and he knows that, so it’s a rather silly idea.  She wants it.  “Are we finally engaged?” she asks.  “Let’s just say we’re engaged to be closest of companions for the rest of our lives.”  There’s an awkward kiss, if only because Deborah is very old and, under the make-up and hair, Liam is soooooo much younger.  As we’ve been waiting for the whole time, Liam clutches his arm and then his chest, the surefire cinematic hint of a heart attack.  They have just enough time to admit their love for each other before he expires and she’s left to cry her way to award nominations.  “I’m the last one,” a pale Deborah tells her granddaughters as she looks at all the headstones in the cemetery.

After feeding her twins in a silk shirt that any new mother would know not to wear, Jenny has to go take care of her third child, her husband, who announces glumly he has resigned from the company, because “I’ve never like administrative work, I’m not good at it.”  It takes not only a scene in the living room, then in the dining room, two places he can knock back the booze.  Jenny is not happy at this turn of events, but once again, Nigel placates her physically, in a joyless strangely neutered sex scene.

As second high-volume scene is next, a typical soap scene where the Paul’s jilted ex-wife shows up at the family manse, drunk, and accosts her husband and his new gal, Sara-Jane Varley, yet another member of the family.  The wife staggers out to her car (yup, her car) and gives her Medea-like portents of doom.  Just so we don’t think everyone is fond of high decibel yelling, there’s a scene out of nowhere where Deborah ruminates on the dead of her husband decades ago, staring straight ahead and almost in a catatonic whisper.  “Yes, we know, darling,” her daughter says, though Jenny sees something is very wrong.

It seems Paul’s wife had left, in her car, to do exactly what we expected her to do.  Cue the police asking questions about the body and car in the pond.  Claire calls Jenny in hysterics, and when Claire informs her that Paul is a suspect in what not may be a drowning, Jenny realizes it could be true, and in a perfect Deborah Kerr imitation (though I don’t think it’s conscious).  “There is nothing to do…just stay calm and leave everything to me,” Jenny tells her, whipping the family into their tasks and then calling the newspaper to tell them not to print anything about it.  Her family owns the newspaper, so the editor finds it an odd request since the news will be everywhere else.  Jenny is becoming a steely savvy woman with every passing (boring) scene.  She next takes on Sara-Jane, who wants to go be with Paul.  Jenny puts the kibosh on that and naturally, Sara-Jane listens.

Not impressed is Nigel, who rushes off to Jenny to scold her for threatening the editor at the newspaper he runs.  Jenny reminds him that Deborah owns the paper and has given her Power of Attorney.  That’s news to her hubby.

In NYC, cousin/son/uncle/brother/ Valentine Pelka visits with Stephen, who is building a grand edifice.  Stephen is upset Jenny has to take control, though Valentine says it’s because “she’s the strong one.”  Or has the biggest shoulder pads.  Naturally, Stephen wants to be with her, but can’t.

Jonathan and Nicholas are forever plotting, doing everything but laughing over a cauldron filled with little children to prove how evil they are.  Jenny sees them and tells one of the female cousins (if you can keep track of them, good for you, I can’t) she thinks she has one of Deborah’s “cold feelings,” puts her hand on her chin and then we know she’s about to enter smarter-than-everyone mode.  As if we haven’t the last gazillion scenes establishing Jenny as a younger Deborah, when she gets news from Texas that a family oil tanker in trouble, naturally she makes sure that “all the families are taken care of.”  When Jenny tells Deborah (who is showing her character’s slow decline by now adopting a crooked spine and a really bad wig, Deborah is at first sad, but then fiery, demanding to know what is being done about the oil spill.

On the phone with her man in Texas, Jenny pontificates, “there are only four things that are important: the injured men, their families, the wildlife and the good name” of the company.  Bravo, heroine, you have hart (or Harte, the company that must have the good name intact).  But, we’ve known that in literally every scene for longer than anyone can remember.  When she tells Nigel she has to go to Texas, he kicks up another fuss.  He accuses her of becoming her grandmother when fancy psychological terms that aren’t real (I tried looking them up).  This whopper of a scene finds Nigel admitting he hates Deborah for stuff from the first movie, horrifying Jenny by referred to her new personal as a “cold calculating carbon copy of herself.”  He almost had perfect alliteration there.  Two can play at that game, as she castigates Nigel for marrying her for the “money and power” he knew she would inherit as Deborah’s heir.

Naturally, Jenny has to go to New York City, because no one else involved in the oil spill had the smarts to figure out holding a press conference promising no danger would be a good idea.  Really, no one.

Enter James Brolin, looking fetching in his beard and tight-fitting suit.  He’s a banker involved with Stephen’s business and now Jenny’s.  He doesn’t know Stephen has the hots for her, so he goes over her assets (as a person), looking to make a move on her, much to Stephen’s discomfort.  But, this is how Stephen finds out Jenny is in town, sending her a horrid arrangement of violets.  Jenny is touched and calls Stephen to make plans.  Strangely, when she suggests getting together, he begs off.  Ten seconds later, he calls her back (he knows the phone number of where she happens to be) without any aid and decides to say yes to her invitation.  He is very standoffish, but Jenny calls him on it and he drops the facade.  “It is such a relief to be able to talk to you again,” Jenny notes.  It’s not exactly romantic, but it gives him hope.

Stephen warned Jenny about James, so she is guarded when they meet, but she tramples on him, agreeing only to discuss his offer to buy the oil company they own with Deborah.

Then it’s off to Stephen’s Connecticut fixer-upper for the weekend.  She attends wearing a head band, more shoulder pads than ever and some very fashionable boots.  “It has an air of permanence, are you planning to set down roots?” Jenny asks.  It takes a local neighbor to inform Jenny that Stephen is in love with her.  There she goes with the pensive blank look again, but decides to go with it!

She grabs the wine, a few glasses and stands by the fire so that Stephen knows what she wants.  Four hundred violins are helpful too.  He walks over to her…

She asks him to sit next to her so she ask Stephen if he’s in love with her, since they have been honest with they each other “since we were children.”  She speaks in a whisper, her way of playing coy, so grab the remote or else you’re sunk, though frankly, you know al the words to this conversation already since this scene is in virtually every romance miniseries.  They kiss and if Jenny is about as sexy as a plastic chair, Stephen knows how to play this.  Mercifully we are spared everything that happens after she unsnaps her bra.

Stephen has a rule, that he never fools around with married women, though he waits until after they have had sex to mention it.  They confess their love and mutual desire at the airport before Jenny returns to England.  Due to some heavy drinking, Nigel calls Jenny to make dinner plans and then races his sports car to meet her.  That leads to our second car accident of the movie, but Nigel survives, barely.  Stephen calls, offering to fly to London, knowing full well that Jenny can’t exactly leave her husband now, but he understands and agrees to wait.

Time for a trial!  We’ve had every necessary scene to make a miniseries except a trial, so as the second half of the miniseries starts up, Paul is on trial for perhaps having a hand in his wife’s death.  A maid exonerates Paul, who strides out of the courtroom with his mother, Claire, but not everyone is so convinced justice was perfectly served.

Assuming a “never mix, never worry” type attitude, Nigel is downing bottles of wine and painkillers when Jenny pays a hospital visit.  This near-death experience has made him sure the marriage can be saved, but just as Jenny is about to opine differently, the doctor interrupts.  The doctor is worried about Nigel’s drinking.  Frankly, I am too.  How does one get wine into a hospital?  Come on, that can’t be easy!  But, the doc tells Jenny that Nigel must stay out of any “stressful” situations and needs a shrink ASAP.  That means Jenny can’t say anything about the marriage, but that’s fine, because Stephen has come to her and all is right in  her world.  For a few minutes.  “We’ll be together eventually for the rest of our lives,” naive goon Stephen tells Jenny, who knows she can’t be with him fully until Nigel is well again.

Accosting Jenny outside her office, David Swift, the father of plotter Nicholas (and Dominic).  She prefers to avoid him but he has a convenient attack of…something and gets an invitation to her office, where he gives her some important information and has another of those attacks of…something.

Nigel, scheming on behalf of his long-dead family members, asks Deborah to return him to the position of Managing Director for her company.  By using the past as a weapon, he expects Deborah to cave.  “I never mix sentiment with business,” the matron declares, “but I’m not saying no” and agrees to think about it.

A wedding happens quickly and then it’s Christmas, where Deborah and Stephen sing a few lines, but Deborah opts to stay behind while everyone joins the carolers.  Then comes what should be a touching scene between twin granite dames, Deborah and Claire.  Claire begs for a lifetime of forgiveness and gets it, which we can only assume Deborah ain’t gonna be around much longer.

Claire gets sucked into Nigel’s plot, without knowing it, and then asks Stephen which of his hotels would be perfect for a “second honeymoon.”  He then tries to kiss Jenny and she rebuffs him.  This leads to yet another argument.  “When something’s not right, don’t be afraid to let it go,” Deborah tells a crestfallen Jenny, pushing out every syllable as if one of them will be her last.  But, for the second time in ten minutes, she keeps going despite all the clues of imminent demise.

Jenny and Stephen go to the field where they grandparents first fell in love, blah, blah, blah and then they spot Deborah.  I’m not sure how she got there, because the only car is the one Jenny and Stephen came in.  “Don’t stay too long,” Jenny warms Deborah, as it’s cold out.  “No, it’s time to go,” Deborah says.  It this where she croaks?  Nope, sorry.  Not yet.

Instead, she heads to her department store, where she remembers very little and struggles to get to her office.  Clutching a picture of her long-dead husband, she can barely walk or see and falls to the floor, which is where Jenny finds her.  Deborah goes into the kind of acting that had died about 40 years earlier as she scoops out every word, telling Jenny “you must hold my dream, but you also have to have your own.”  That phrase alone takes 12 minutes and whenever one cites the title, it’s never a good sign. Deborah’s eyes flutter and her head falls back.  NOW she’s dead.  There is still a quarter of the miniseries left, but Deborah’s part is done (and, unfortunately, a long and interesting career).  A church funeral and some time for the family at the grave are to be expected, as is Jenny, all in black, staring out from the family home as Stephen comes up beside her.

With our vet out of the picture (John Mills doesn’t count, since he doesn’t get more than a sentence at any given time), we are in the home stretch, but unfortunately, I’m having trouble caring about any of these characters.  None of them are any fun and there are just too many of them!

But there is a will reading, by lawyer John Mills (this isn’t even slumming, it must be a favor owed to someone) though the contents are no surprise.  What is a surprise are five codicils.  In the first, she leaves money and a diamond ring from his grandfather to Stephen.  Valentine is given money, a house and 35% of a Canadian newspaper.  The third codicil gives Nigel only 5%!  The other 60% is for Jenny.  Lastly, some properties originally promised elsewhere are given to her no-dialogue daughter.  That’s a problem because Dominic had been counting on selling those properties to prop up the business he has going with Nicholas.  He objects, loudly, and is then told he gets to pick two paintings instead.  Deborah also prepared for the inevitable squabbling by proving she was of sound mind.  The room erupts in childish prattle until Jenny silences the whole family.

Jenny and Papa Paul Daneman figure out that Dominic has a scam going, but they need to prove it, so Paul suggests a real estate sale.  

Equally angry, Nigel and Jonathan plot.  Nigel wants to sell Dominic his shares, but not in secret.  Jonathan insists it be done with the approval of the board.

Ever wonder if love can blossom on a rocking horse?  I didn’t either, but Stephen and Jenny make out while she’s riding one in Liam’s old house, where she declares she wants to live with Stephen.  Jonathan snakes out of the real estate deal meant to expose his dirty dealings, but Nicholas picks it up, so there is still hope.  But, it’s not enough to “hang [Dominic] with.” Luckily, there is proof to be found, where they can at least “challenge” Dominic.

Nigel wants to “patch up our marriage,” with a whole bunch of conditions, but Jenny insists on divorce, even when Nigel threatens to sue for custody of the kids and move to Canada.  Papa Paul is a bit more level-headed about the situation, convinced that Nigel will go for “a settlement.”

A board meeting is called and Dominic is confronted by the whole family.  He tries to weasel out of it, even taking his cousin down with him, but Paul fires him.  “I can hire and I can fire.  And I’m firing you!” he tells Dominic.  Dominic has to be forcibly ejected from the room as he sputters threats.  That takes care of a plot that was never interesting, or, at least, at the bottom of the interest pile.

Now we have to deal with Nigel, who will not take money from Papa Paul, but will take the newspapers, the ones he feels were stolen by Deborah from his family.  “Once I’ve got that, I’ll start divorce proceedings,” Nigel tells Paul, referring to the newspaper shares.

Jenny rushes to the Concorde and Stephen (for another very unsettling sex scene) because she believes Nigel has been taken care of by her father.  However, it’s not that easy.  Since Nigel refuses to wait any longer, he takes Paul in his private plane to Nice.  Cue the phone, cue Stephen finding out bad news and steeling Jenny for it, cue Jenny uttering, “no, no, no” at the news that her husband and father were both killed when the plane crashed.  There is even some crazy thrashes and mussed hair, with Stephen unable to touch her.  In fact, “I can’t bear to be touched by anyone,” she tells her mother after the funeral.

She boots Stephen because she blames herself for their deaths.  “I have my work,” she tells Stephen, who reminds her that Deborah also told her to have a dream of her own.  “It’s a harsh world…there is no time for dreams,” she says, robotically (which isn’t that different from the way she’s acted at any other point, one of the worst-acted leads I can find in a miniseries).

It would be nice if, instead of limping along, we raced to reunite the main lovers, but no, that’s just not how it’s done here.  Fiona returns to the movie after her brief scenes at the beginning, to say goodbye to Stephen, who has decided to move back to England to be near Jenny when she inevitably remembers she needs him.  Also back is James Brolin, billed as a “special guest star,” but having lazed around his trailer for the last few hours after only two scenes.  Fiona and James have had a torrid love affair because Fiona believed James would leave her wife for her and the child they have together.  That was never James’ intention and he even questions the paternity of the child since he knows she’s been hanging out with Stephen (platonically, it turns out).

Why is this of any importance?  Because he has the hots for Jenny and their business relationship is rekindled.  He still wants her oil stocks, but eventually he does reveal who the secret buyer is.  When Jenny informs the oil company board, they are livid and offer her more money.  No, but she wants more of a say in the company and they approve her conditions.  This infuriates James, whose reputation is on the line about to lose a deal “to a slip of a girl.”  He gets blotto, so by the time she arrives in an Alexis Colby business suit, he’s ready to rape her.  They fight for a while, but she kicks him where it counts and is able to escape.  Why toss a rape scene in when we should be wrapping up?  Take a wild guess!  You don’t need me to tell you.

But, before that, Jenny does what virtually every rape victim in 1980s movies does, she takes a shower.  Not like Pia Zadora in “The Lonely Lady,” the weirdest rape-and-shower combo in all of film history.  Then a cousin comes to comfort her, seeing Jenny all bruised.  “That’s dreadful!  I’ll all a doctor,” Cousin Inept-Acting says, with about as much gusto as if she were having the post office stop mail delivery while they go on vacation.  They hug, which is the first time she’s let anyone do that since the deaths of her father and husband.

Next time we see Jenny, she’s riding a white horse back in Yorkshire where Stephen just happens to be sitting and daydreaming, the place, of course, where their parents fell in love almost two miniseries ago.    Well, if you didn’t figure out the ending two paragraphs ago, here it is: she asks him for the ring her grandmother left him, “not as a gift, but as your future wife.”  And that, my friends, ends this saga.

Never wildly interesting, “Hold the Dream” is really a lukewarm project.  “A Woman of Substance” benefitted greatly from finer acting.  This one has, well, Jenny Seagrove.  That’s not much.  Stephen Collins, with a bad British accent, does better than everyone else, but he is a pro at this sort of tripe.

Don’t go far, there’s a third coming soon.

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