With the possible exception of the title, which is "James Garner in the Long Summer of George Adams" (which will be referred to hereinafter as "Summer"), NBC's Monday Night at the Movies, tonight at 9 on Channel 4, is one of the most beguiling things to grace the tube in a long time. In contrast, the ABC Monday Night Movie, "Fantasies," decidedly isn't.
Based on a novel of almost the same name by Weldon Hill, "Summer" has elements of Saroyan and Steinbeck (as in "Sweet Thursday") and touches of "The Last Picture Show." And even though James Garner's George is not all that far removed from either Jim Rockford or Bret Maverick, or, presumably, Jim Garner himself, "Summer" is adroit and funny and sad and, yes, I have to say it, heartwarming in its own offbeat way.
George Adams is almost at the end of his rope. He is a steam fitter (and all the other things that go along with steam engine trains and steam fitters), and as the teleplay opens, in the just-post-Korea '50s, steam engines are being rapidly replaced by diesels.
George moonlights as the night sheriff of Cushing, Okla., a town where indoor toilets are things to be wished for, and his difficulties in finding time to bed his wife when neither of their two sons nor his teen-aged sister-in-law nor nosy neighbors are at hand is a counterpoint to his inevitable obsolescence as a railroad man.
He is no better, no stronger, no swifter than he should be, and there are moments when even his dog, not to mention his wife and kids and the rest of the town, seems to regard him with a certain, well, lack of respect. (Even as the play opens, his toddler daughter watches him march out back and sings, "I know where you're going," and "I know what you did," when he comes out.) In true Rockford tradition he even foils a bank robbery and loses the credit to the town boor.
Garner is ably supported by a lot of good acting, especially from Joan Hackett, as his wife; Anjanette Comer, as the town seductress; and Helena Humann, as busybody neighbor Vi. The cast also includes Garner's brother Jack Garner, who sings the inevitable lonesome train song. Meta Rosenberg is the executive producer.
On Channel 7 is "Fantasies," with Suzanne Pleshette and a clutch of ABC love-in-the-afternoon soap stars in a turgid play within a play within a play about the producer of a smash late-night soap opera (Pleshette). It involves the systematic murders of some of its stars, who include John (Seneca) Gabriel from "Ryan's Hope," Peter (Cliff) Bergman from "All My Children," Stuart (Alan Quartermaine) Damon and Robin (Heather) Mattson from "General Hospital" and Robert S. (Bo) Woods from "One Life to Live."
The bad news is that they get killed off so fast the audience is left with a flat performance by Pleshette, a nothing performance by Robert Vaughn and a plot line so obvious (to soap fans, at any rate) that one almost hopes the evil one, who shall not be named by me -- heaven forbid I give away what little suspense there may be -- gets away with it.
Stick with NBC's "Summer," tacky name and all.