The only way to watch an unholy howler like "Bare Essence" is in a room full of smart alecks who'll use it as inspiration for sarcastic remarks. The two-part CBS movie, an unforgivably presumptuous 4 1/2 hours in duration, airs tonight and tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 9. It's exactly like "Scruples," except that it's set in the fragrance world and not the fashion world.
"Bare Essence" -- a title that begs to be misheard -- features about one bedroom scene per hour, countless encounters in restaurants and bars (most of these, it would appear, shot at Rex, the best Italian restaurant in Los Angeles), and, natch, plenty of slaps, that staple of soaps. The big-mouth daughter of a dead movie tycoon gets slapped by her mom about 35 minutes in; later the daughter lays a hefty haymaker on a boyfriend, and near the end Lee Grant gets to slap Bruce Boxleitner with a rose.
Only in dizzy TV soaps about the rich do we ever meet people with names such as Tyger Hayes and Chase Marshall, the two central characters here. Boxleitner plays Marshall, the race-car-driving offspring of a wealthy industrialist, and Ms. Hayes is played by Genie Francis, who has graduated from the daytime soap "General Hospital" into nighttime slush of precisely the same strain.
It has to be admitted, though, that Francis and Francis alone provides the energy that keeps the film alive. Tyger is the feisty daughter of a former network executive and failed movie producer (one of his films was "Sorority Halloween Massacre," says the preacher at his funeral) who goes to New York and insinuates herself into the Marshall corporate empire, convincing the patriarch to launch a new perfume, which she and the racer will shepherd onto the market. Francis is pretty in a slightly perverse way and very convincing when called upon to be ruthless. She looks as though she could bite the head off a chicken without a moment's hesitation.
The rest of the human menagerie assembled for exceedingly tedious industrial espionage includes Joel Higgins of "Silver Spoons" as a fashion designer who likes to love 'em, do their hair, and leave 'em. Higgins is turning into a certified irritant; he plays this role like a big blubbering puppy you can't shoo away. Grant gets to root around as a vindictive bitch, Donna Mills plays a double-crossing ad executive and France Bernard plays a French perfume expert known as The Nose. The Nose only has eyes for Tyger.
Finally, there is Linda ("Dynasty") Evans, who just sort of floats above the whole charade as the mother of terrible Tyger and, for a brief time, her rival for the affections of Boxleitner, who seems about as desirable a catch as the Asian Flu. Writer Robert Hamilton is chiefly responsible for this empty candy apple, Bill Goldenberg poured sticky music all over it and Walter Grauman, the director, just watched it all happen like a passerby at a traffic accident.
At one point, the Marshall patriarch is reprimanded for not having had the foresight to get into the ownership of TV stations early in the game and one character tells him, "We all know what happened to television." Yes we do -- things like "Bare Essence," and a gruesome sight it is.