Jimmy McNichol had a nearly Shakespearean line of dialogue in "We're Cruisin'," the original pilot for the CBS series "California Fever." He looked up into the eyes of a beach bully and said, "Hey, wow, I ain't got no weird aims on your lady."
But hey, wow, they threw out that pilot, made a new one, it airs tonight at 8 on Channel 9 and, leave it to Hollywood, an arid mediocrity has been turned into something aggressively egregious. At least the pilot gave its characters a little nomadic charm; they were always in cars, on the move. In the revamped version, they hang-out at Rick's Place, a soda fountain and rollerskate emporium approximately two blocks from Far Out.
Now young McNichol (the adenoidal brother of Kristy, and a perky bore) says things like "Don't break up on me," "Come on, get serious," "It's a piece of cake" and "Hang loose." Imagine how writer Stephen Kandel wracked his brain to come up with such gems. He seems to have based his characterizations of today's teenies on the line-drawn, asexual ambiguities that populate Saturday morning cartoons.
"Happy Days," which is opposite and which will barbecue "California Fever," can hide behind the shield of its nostalgia to excuse its inaccurate depiction of kids and grown-ups. "Fever" will appear ridiculously alien to the contemporary peer group it addresses. It isn't just that it lacks realism -- hardly a novel offense in television -- but that it has no relation to anything.
The one thing to be said for the script is that it makes an FCC employee the villain, a new variation on that now-stock TV character, the meddling fed from Washington. This guy, who contemptuously refers to the youths as "pimply faced brats," is trying to shut down McNichols' three-watt underground radio station. Eventually he hears an insipid rock tune and reforms, like Vincent Price or Bob Cummings in an old beach party picture.
Rex Smith, a zero-gravity rock "star," appears in the premiere as himself, though the script features so many awe-struck mentions of his name that he is turned into wishful-thinking fiction as perhaps imagined by his mother or his record company.
One longs for the days when, if Judy and Mickey said "Let's put on a show," then they put on a show. "California Fever" is much less show than sham.