If they gave awards for grand intentions - and they do - then the ambitious public TV drama series "Visions" would be awash in awards - and it is. But the second-season premiere of "Visions," would be awash in awards - and it is. But the second-season premiere of "Visions," Sunday night at 10 o'clock on Channel 26 and other PBS stations, taxes excessively even the most charitable spirit of receptiveness.
Commissioning original plays and producing them on tape is an unquestionably laudable concept, but Murray Mednick's "Iowa," the first new play this year, makes a weak and discouraging opening night. The 17-week run of "Visions" will include 10 new plays and 7 repeats from last season.
Mednick has written an abrasively empty bolero about people trying to wring the last drops of malaise from pitiful lives, and if this is supposed to expose another pocket of pain in the American dream, it doesn't. Mednick's despair is banal and derivative and his characters generally uninteresting sadsacks given to incessant mourning over the woes and their roots.
"Iowa" is set in Southern California during a family's dour reunion; the premise is similar to such theatrical homecomings as David Storey's brilliant "In Celebration," but Mednick's sense of domestic against strictly ersatz.
"Grandma doesn't know where she is half the time. When she does, she's pretty miserable," notes one of the two troubled daughters.
"I'm not sure I know what it is - being happy. I never learned how," says the other.
Daughter Eileen (Carol Fox), a real bundle of joy, likes to recall her latest atom-bomb nightmare in ghastly purple imagery - "the smell of garbage," "flesh peeling from bones" and all that. Not long after daughter Margaret (Nora Heflin) moans. "One day we wake up and we're nothing but crud," papa Neal (Warren Stevens) mopes. "One day we wake up and it's 14 years later."
One day we wake up and realize some playwrights are getting away with murder.
A final, moving monologue by old granny (Peggy Fleury) suggests belatedly that there was potential here; but, in fact, the sorts of problems dealt with in "Iowa" are regularly treated more directly and coherently in certain network situation comedies and even in admitted soap operas - the ones not hiding behind a post of art.
"Iowa," directed by Rick Bennewitz and produced by series mentor Barbara Schultz, makes a very limited "Visions." 'We've Got Each Other'
In simpler times - like, a few months ago- "We've Got Each Other," the new CBS comedy series, might have become a nice, pleasant, unbtrusive semi-hit. Given the feverish competition of the new TV season, however, the show, premiering at 8:30 tonight on Channel 9, may face fatally stormy seas.
A minor but blithe creation of the MTM comedy factory, "Other" stars Beverly Archer, string-bean scene-stealer of last year's short-lived "Nancy Walker Show," as the self-reliant wife of a bumbling homebody played by Oliver Clark, and unattractive actor whose teddy-bear burliness in not going to be an asset to the show.
But this casting error is offset once Archer, as "Judy Hibbard," gets to her job at a photography studio (unhappy shades of "Phyllis"), where her riotously neurotic boss is played by that gifted daffy actor, Tom Poston, the Steve Allen discovery who enlivened a few episodes of "The Bob Newhart Show" in recent seasons.
Poston carries befuddlement and paranoia to dizzy, mystical heights; he is the new comic equivalent of that inescapable Edvard Munch shrieking man - the flip, funny side of manic anxiety. Little bags of blubber that have crept onto Poston's face only make him more empathetic and vulnerable, and he has a tiny, stricken moment with a telephone on the premiere show that is heavenly.
Archer is funny, too, but the Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses production really doesn't give her enough to be, much less to. It dounds like sacrilege, but the show needs a gimmick, or at least a few more distinctive elements. The plot of the opener, with Archer quitting her job and pouting after enduring a bitch model's insults, is a drag.
Still, there is a basic brightness and likeability here, and with a little sprucing up, we could have a first-rate comedy in "We've Got."