Watching three hours of puppy love on network TV is like being force-fed a gross of Mallomars. It's even worse when the poor kids ooze dialogue that makes them sound as if they had all just floated out of a sensitivity training session in Beverly Hills.
This malady infects all of "Friends," a one-hour cutesy comedy series from ABC to be seen Sunday at 7 p.m. on Channel 5, and to a far lesser degree impairs "Sooner or Later," NBCs pleasant if essentiall listless rock romance Sunday at 8 p.m. on Channel 4.
Certainly the dialogue on "Sooner or Later" is better than the lyrics. "Thirteen-year-old girls are older than they used to be," notes the father of a 13-year-old girl who is in love, she thinks, with a 17-year-old singer. A friend of hers reminds her: "Older boys aren't like younger boys. They're like men -- only younger."
But songs interrupt this milkshake of an idyll with such deflatingly barrel- bottom sentiments as: "I've known a girl or two, but none of them was you, and they could never be, what you are to me." Cole Porter probably wrote laundry lists more clever than that.
Indeed, the songs (by Stephen Lawrence and Bruce Hart) lacquer sappiness over the story (by Carole Hart and director Bruce Hart) and the script is pretty creamy-dreamy to begin with. Young Jessie (Denise Miller) is like this over her idea of a hot dish, Michael Skye (Rex Smith, no threat to William Katt) and so she lies about her age, pretending to be 16 instead of 13.
It might have been a sweeter if no less surary tale if not for the song interruptions. Few things are more boring than rock performances on television, especially those staged before hired audiences of actors pretending to be in groove heaven. The whole sanitized ambiance in which these kids live and interact never has the authenticity of an intelligently stylized, teenagers' view of life.
It's just another trip to mock-up suburbia, even though "Sooner or Later" was, it says in the closing credits, "filmed on location in Yonders, N.Y." The elements of style in the production are restricted primarily to a few renowned old-timers in cameo roles -- especially a radiant and vivacious Vivian Blaine, as a cosmetics saleswoman who looks in a mirror and says: "Not bad for 50; God, I wish I was." And Lilia Scala has a tender soliloquy as Jessie's granny.
At least "Sooner or Later" has an ingenuous sort of fraudulence. But ABC's "Friends," a new limited series from Aaron Spelling, producer of both "Family" and "Starsky and Hutch," is phony and pandering in a much more tummy-turning way. Is is a literally sickening charade.
The producers -- and a so-called writer named Liz Coe -- have tried to update the "Our Gang" comedies, in which it was considered a hoot that kids mimicked grown-ups, except that they don't really play it for laughs. The children address each other in the game dreary, fake, Me-decade lingo that adults talk on ostensibly sensitive, ostensibly aduly shows.
We already have this kind of hoax perpetrated weekly on ABC's insipid and pussyfooted "Eight Is Enough." One "Eight Is Enough" is more than enough. Nobody needs a show about three 11-year-old pals in which the kids say things like: "I was just thinking -- maybe sometime we could have lunch together."
Or: "Trust is an important part of any relationship."
Or: "There must be somebody you feel special about."
Where did the writer do her research for this farce -- at an est meeting in Encino? There is so much meaningless jabber about "relationships" and "caring" in this alimy little hour that the cliches emerge from it even more meaningless than they already were. Nothing in "Friends" has anything to do with life, or human beings, or growing pains.
"Friends" has been recommended by the National Education Association, a group which, like the PTA, ought to keep its goody-goody nose out of television criticism. The program is commended because the kids in it all behave and treat one another with the formal and slightly chilling regard you'd expect form a door-to-door mortician. The artificial community created for this show makes Mister Rogers' Neighborhood look like Hell's Kitchen. The program is a moronic lie from beginning to end -- and a worthless one -- unless we are to believe there is something remotely wholesome about candy-coated candy.