Two of the best actresses working in series television get a chance to do quiet wonders with a script that is not without a wonder of two of its own in "Like Mom, Like Me," a CBS movie Sunday night at 9 on Channel 9.
The actresses are Linda Lavin, seen weekly on the slovenly and broad comedy "Alice," and Kristy McNichol, the young star of ABC's "Family." Nancy Lynn Schwartz's script teams them as mother and daughter going through a double-edged domestic crisis: Mom, 40, has separated from her husband of 18 years just at the moment when her 16-year-old daughter is graduating from cross-eyed giggles about boys into all-American heavy dating.
Schwartz explores both the timely and the timeless aspects of the situation. In a way, it is the story of a model broken home, in an era of extreme marital turbulence and severe changes in the very nature of the family unit. But there is also a universality to the young girl's experience and the doubts and fears that go with it. The author may indulge in a ripe banality or two straight from the gospel according to Southern California, but her work is also marked by insight, honesty and a convincing knack for the nitty-gritty.
Lavin and McNichol bring the words and the confrontations into bracing and immediate focus, largely because both have a naturalism that is absolutely impeccable and perfect for television. Director Michael Pressman tends to keep the story on little cat's feet and even makes the mistake, twice, of avoiding Lavin's face during crucial dialogue, but the actresses are faultlessly attentive and faithful to the characters they play.
At precisely what age is it permissible, according to network standards and practices, to lose one's virginity in a television program we do not know. Schwartz does seem hamstrung at certain junctures by network-imposed inhibitions, especially during a camping trip McNichol takes with a boyfriend played by Michael LeClair, who also contributes a thoughtful, enlightened performance.
Even when likelihoods have to be fudged, however, "Like Mom, Like Me" stays at least within the realm of believability. The details accumulate into truths - from Lanvin's fastidious break-up over a lonely Oreo cookie at midnight to McNichol's accusatory stare into the eyes of a momentarily returned daddums.
All the actors are above the standard, including Patrick O'Neal, virtually a living standard, as a philandering professor, and Stacey Nelkin, who makes a gigantic impression as a teenager who is especially fluent at sex talk.
But the two women in the title roles really make the film work, and whatever the compromises and euphemisms required of the author, "Like Mom, Like Me" seems to be leveling with us about things that matter to everyone. We must insist that television do this more often. the black stockholders, and WYCB is regarded as on of only 50 black-own