Yoo-hoo, Frankenstein's monster! You never looked lovelier than in "Struck by Lightning," the minimally inspired but disarmingly performed new CBS comedy series premiering tonight at 8:30 on Channel 9.
Jack Elam, craggy veteran of more movies -- mostly Western -- than probably even he can count, give new life to the phrase death-warmed-over with his portrayal of that literally weather beaten human salad, the creature tossed together by the maddest saw bones of all. Elam turns him into the soul of dishevelment, a winningly funny ruin.
The show is gimmick comedy, reminiscent of "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters," though a little less childish. But Elam's definitively frazzled characterization is priceless. He looks like the national debt.
When he mopes, "I haven't had a date in 187 years," you are inclined to believe him.
The premise finds rundown Brightwater Inn, where Elam's "Frank" works as caretaker, falling into the hands of Dr. Frankenstein's great-great-grandson, Ted Stein, monstrously overplayed in a strident (WORDS ILLEGIBLE) your monster." Elam is able to get nice roundlaughs out of even telegraphed gags, as when he reminds Ted how the old man met his end: "He died a natural death. They burned him at the stake."
Unfortunately, the problem facing all writers of family-hour comedy shows -- in this case, Fred Freeman and Laurence J. Cohen -- is how to balance a script between kiddie appeal and adult appeal and, as almost always happens, they've cast their lot with the tots. "Struck by Lightning" is awfully thin ice for the mighty Elam to be stomping around on, but his performance is still a joy. He looks for all the world like one who has truly suffered the heartburn of the gods.
"Lightning" is preceded on CBS by another new comedy called "The Last Resort" (at 8 on Channel 9), perhaps the most self-descriptive title since "Foul Play." The farce, one of those willy-nilly breakneck sorts, may represent the last remnant of the "Animal House" fad in TV comedy.
Or so one hopes.
This time the zany gang of wackies is a wacky gang of zany college students who work as waiters at a mountain resort. Oh, the scrapes they almost have. There's a fat one, and a smart one, and a dumb one, and, fitfully wittily, there is a rich one: Jeffrey Barron, as played by Ray Underwood.
Jeffrey is so overdone he's amusing. "I'm Jeffrey Barron, the richest person here," he tells Gail, the new pastry cook.Later he marvels to his social inferiors: "It must be exciting, having money mean something to you," and when he meets a fellow blueblood he notes, "Our dads were indicted together in that stock fraud deal."
Too many kooks spoil the froth, though, and most of "Resort" languishes in the tediously obvious. Fall guys don't just fall; they nose dive. The saddest thing about the show is that it finds the boys at MTM Enterprises -- chiefly producer-writer Gary David Goldberg -- imitating the crass, moisy, physical, brand of comedy churned out by the Garry Marshall crowd over at Paramount.
"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen," says a character in "Resort," and a waiter replies, "Stick around." We shutter to think.
NBC has promoted its 2-hour movie "Mrs. R's Daughter," at 9 tonight on Channel 4, as if it were the mommy version of "Death Wish," a tale of an enraged mother taking the law into her own hands to avenge the rape of her daughter.
The film, written by George Rubino (who did "The Last Tenant" for ABC) and directed by Dan Curtis, has much higher aims and far less melodramatic tendencies than it has been made to appear. Mrs. R. doesn't try to take the law into her own hands; she merely tries to nudge it into action.
Allegedly based on a true case -- and entirely believable to anyone familiar with the creaking wheels of a bureaucratic judicial system -- the film follows the rape victim's paents as they wade through official indifference, swamps of red tape, and months of postponement and delay in court. A rape committed on the 14th of June does not come to trial until February of the following year, long after the victim's visible scars have healed.
Thus the film concerns both the indignities endured by rape victims and the imperviousness of the legal system. The family is finally making progress on the case when the deputy district attorney assigned to it is called away for another matter and replaced with a new man, unfamiliar with the details.
Before he goes, the prosecutor responds to a plea for logic and justice from the mother with a line hardly unfamiliar in any walk of life: "Unfortunately, that's not the way things work." The way things work is often that they barely work at all.
There have been other TV movies about the plight of rape victims, and Abby Mann's pilot for the "Kojak" series, "The Marcus-Nelson Murders," had more force as a story of fumbled justice, but much of "Mrs. R's Daughter" is compelling and properly alarming nevertheless.
It helps immensely that Season Hubley brings much more than pathos to the character of Ellie, the raped girl; her struggle to regain self-respect is subtly and movingly done. But Cloris Leachman, as the mother, seems forever being caught with her mouth open in anguish or astonishment, and Rubino hasn't made her articulate or rational enough to be a terribly sympathetic character.
There is also an unwitting and disruptive reminder of the thoughtless Phyllis Lindstrom character Leachman played on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" when, early in the film, she turns from sobbing "Oh, my God, Ohhh!" to meet a policeman with an abruptly chipper, "Hi, how are you?"
The film has many other problems, among them a cheaply pessimistic fade-out. The rapist finally is sentenced to 11 years but Leachman growls, "Someday he'll be free, someday he'll come after us." Of all things, it sounds like the license to do a sequel -- "Son of Mrs. R's daughter," perhaps? We shudder to think, and we've been doing a lot of that lately.