SERIAL -- AMC Academy 6, AMC Skyline 6, K-B Chrystal, Landover 6, Springfield Mall, West End Circle and White Flint.
Cyra McFadden is the Sinclair Lewis, if not the Dante, of our time. In The Serial, a year's worth of fictional newspaper installments that were also published as a book, she serves as a guide through Marin County, USA, the quintessential community of souls in search of -- not success or salvation, but self-fulfillment.
Because she has a marvelous ear for the language she calls psycho-babble, McFadden's writing is hilarious. The characters she so deftly sketches, who have the money and leisure, aptly represent a society of dedicated faddists seeking happiness through coupling and consumerism.
It should have been a natural for the movies.As a serial, it was, of course, designed to be episodic, with no particular plot or character development to require careful handling. Nevertheless, the humor was ruined by replacing the writer's viewpoint and distance with overly familiar media techniques, and clumsily extending the exaggerations to laugh-track proportions.
There are still a few good moments: A psychiatrist smilingly prescribes enrollent in "my grief program"; a cleaning woman understands that her employer doesn't want her to wear a uniform so people "will think I'm just one of your black friends who dropped by to clean your house because I had nothing better to do"; remarks with "I think that says it all."
But these are comic quickies, flashed among dozens of less successful tries. The technique is that of the television blitz, rather than sustained satire, and it has all been broadened so that the orgies, double-takes and pseudo-philosophical musings in "Serial" are no different from those of such standard clunkers as "The Last Married Couple in America."
And except for Tom Smothers' minister, the characters of all ages and sexes seem to be played by the same granola-fed blond, although the credits give them such names as Tuesday Weld, Martin Mull and Sally Kellerman.