"Just don't get any ideas," says the attractive young woman. "Me? Oh, you don't have to worry about me," says the middle-aged man. "Ohhhhh," says the woman, "I get it."
The word "homosexual" is not spoken, but the title character of "Sidney Shorr," the two-hour NBC movie and series pilot at 9 tonight on Channel 4, clearly is. The young woman can't help noticing a photo of a certain Martin on the mantle of Sidney's unbelievably spacious Manhattan apartment. "Who's this -- your brother?" "No." "He looks very handsome." "He was."
All those moral buccaneers who tried, earlier this year, to make an issue out of Sidney's homosexuality are going to look awfully foolish tonight (not for the first time, either) when NBC finally and belatedly airs the film; essentially it's an innocent, even wholesome, traditional and efficient heart-tugger, and it gives Tony Randall probably the best role he's ever played. And one of the few he's ever underplayed.
At first, things bode icky. Sidney and the young woman, Laurie (Lorna Patterson) don't just meet cute, they meet Too Cute, at a showing of "Camille" starring Greta Garbo. Randall is supposed to be sobbing over the venerable chestnut on the screen, but it looks more like he's having a stroke. Early chitchat between the two wayfarers, who leave the theater together, is coyly arch and semiprecious, but by the time Christmas comes in the film, Sidney is starting to grow on you. The old dear would grow on anybody.
Laurie moves in and Sidney, roused from loneliness and isolation, gets increasingly protective. Eventually she confesses not only that she's having an affair with a married man but that she is pregnant by him. Randall has a wonderful hammy time in a scene set at a clinic where, over Sidney's objections, Laurie has gone to have an abortion. He decides to pretend he is the father and makes a great loud show about being willing to marry the mother-to-be. The other women in the waiting room give him an ovation for this performance, and while Laurie is running out the door, Sidney takes a couple of sweeping bows and says, "Thank you, thank you."
A daughter is born, she grows up spending most of her time with Sidney, and then when she is 5, career-minded Laurie wants to get married and take the kid away from her Peter Pan uncle. The plausible, bittersweet denouement is one of the defter touches in playwright Oliver Hailey's underdeveloped but moving script, which is based on an idea by Marilyn Cantor Baker.
Born-again bluenoses objected to Sidney apparently because any sympathetic treatment of a homosexual character on television constitutes endorsement or recruitment in the eyes of some nervous parents. In fact, though, Sidney is depicted more as celibate than homosexual; he's asexual. He's like a pet. That makes him too "safe" in the view of some homosexual groups, however, who may feel Sidney is a cop-out because his homosexuality is kept vague (in the series version, "Love, Sidney," premiering Wednesday, Oct. 28, it apparently disappears altogether).
Thank heaven TV is produced for people and not for groups; as bad as television is, most of the special-interest saber-rattlers would change it only in ways that would make it worse. Randall makes Sidney's joy at surrogate fatherhood an infectious, tender and encouraging pleasure to watch; it's not the kind of experience that should be denied him or the viewing audience.