Among the items you would probably not want to put in a time capsule, should you be considering prospective contents while driving down the California coast, is a tape of "He's Fired, She's Hired," the CBS movie at 9 tonight on Channel 9. While bright and crisp and sporadically funny, the film seems striving too hard to be of its time, a clear-cut case of feeble Zeitgeist.
This is not, after all, such a great time to be of.
Wayne Rogers, who for some reason chose to do a Peter Falk imitation in the role, plays a 48-year-old advertising executive who's untimely bounc'd, and Karen Valentine plays his 38-year-old wife in a slow-to-get-going comedy written by Bob Shanks ("The Cool Fire") and directed by Marc Daniels. The husband devises a scheme wherein his wife, with a faked re'sume' and her maiden name, takes the ad world by storm as a fresh new brain, while in fact he's doing the braining from his hideaway over the garage at the couple's Connecticut home.
She lands a job at once with an agency run by Elizabeth Ashley and is assigned to the account of a swoosh fashion firm. A logical path for the plot to follow would be for the wife to discover that her ideas are just as good as anyone else's in the curious world of advertising and for the husband to discover the joys of domestic existence. But no. Instead Shanks came up with the awkward device of having the husband magically appear in scenes at the office, visible to the wife only, as if he were a ghost in some wee farce like "Kiss Me Goodbye," the current influenza sweeping HBO.
Then, worse, the husband has an affair with the woman who runs a writing workshop. It's broken off just before (or just after, one has trouble remembering) the last commercial break, and the wife forgives the husband all too readily. Adding to the aura of forced contemporariana are a gay male couple (Howard Rollins, insulted by such a silly role, and John Horton) and a gay female couple (Ashley and Eve Crawford as her secretary). It all gets tiresomely trendy.
But some of the dialogue has a brittle kind of flash not common in movies for television. Even the overheards at the phone pillar in an office building are sort of cute, like the woman who's saying into the receiver, "No, Wendell, it is working; you're a giver and I'm a taker." In the ladies' room, Ashley, funnier here than she usually is, peers into the mirror and moans, "I look like an old Muppet." A tire being advertised in a mock macho commercial is called "The Gripper," and when asked what her sign is by a cab driver, Valentine replies, "Bloomingdale's, with white sale rising."
While a movie that says every woman doesn't want a career is slightly refreshing, the idea that the boob played by Rogers is the brains of the family just doesn't scan. By the time he's rehired and she's retired, a viewer may be justified in drifting back to that California coastline and more time-capsule planning. Let's see: five Chia Pets, four cellular phones, three smokeless ashtrays, two Diet Cokes . . .