NBC challenges World Series with the badly misnamed 'Fine Things'


Danielle Steel's "Kaleidoscope" was in the lead-off spot against ABC's Monday Night Football and now, tonight, a version of her "Fine Things" is supposed to be batting clean-up against Game 1 of the World Series.

As a strategy, this ploy by NBC makes sense because, no matter how popular a sporting event, there is always going to be a significant portion of the population that's just not interested. If you can aggressively go after that audience, you'll get a decent rating.

But, as a piece of television, "Fine Things" is melodramatic mush. It rises above its partner in pathos only because, instead of absolutely nothing happening, as was the case in "Kaleidoscope," at least two or three things happen in the three hours of "Fine Things" that will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) at 8 o'clock.

One of the persistent criticisms of baseball is that it is too slow. But compared to "Fine Things," the pace of the World Series should look like the Indianapolis 500. This might even make the pre-game show look decent.

"Fine Things" gives us one Bernard Fine who, in his capacity of manager of the new San Francisco branch of a classy department store, one day finds a lost girl named Jane and falls for her mother, a third-grade teacher named Liz O'Reilly.

She is single, having divorced the girl's louse of a father because he disappeared shortly after her birth. She doesn't know where that guy is, indeed she told Jane that he was dead. Do you think there's a chance he'll show up before this is over?

Anyway, Bernie and Liz fall in wondrous love and get married, and Jane thinks it's great. Liz gets pregnant and they have a baby boy. Somewhere in there, the ex-husband does show up and proves himself to be a complete slimeball worthy of no sympathy, but they buy him off with $25,000.

But, gee, why do they forget to demand that he sign the papers so that Bernie can adopt Jane? Well, then we wouldn't have any jeopardy in the whole second half of the film, silly.

Just when life seems perfect, Liz develops bone cancer and slowly dies with the inevitable classy courage, in a style that goes for the tear ducts so blatantly it makes "Terms of Endearment" look like a PBS documentary by comparison.

But that's not all. Other things happen. There's an extended visit to Napa Valley to show off a bit of location photography, an attractive unmarried doctor there for Bernie to fall for and Jane to be jealous of, the sinister reappearance of Jane's father, backed by the predictably despicable court system.

As with "Kaleidoscope," "Fine Things" just sort of wanders along, bouncing amid these occurrences in Bernie's life, with no particular sense of plotting or theme or character development. In three hours, it does manage to make one comment on what it is that makes up a family, but there are no other relevant statements.

All along, there is plenty of money to go around so that the melodrama can take place on a romantic stage without the realities of life ever interfering.

Acting in this must have been tough since everybody has to stand around and deliver exposition, but the best work was turned in by Tracy Pollan who follows up on her excellent performance in "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" by making Liz a believable character.

D.W. Moffett plays Bernie like one of those guys you loved to hate in high school -- handsome, star of the football team, got good grades, editor of the yearbook, wrote poetry for the literary magazine, and was polite to his elders. Yeech!

Cloris Leachman gets to chew on the scenery as Bernie's stereotype Jewish mother, newcomer Noley Thornton is good as Jane, and Darrell Lawson is despicable as the disappearing daddy.

Even though the World Series shouldn't worry because "Fine Things" can hardly even heft a bat and would just stand there and take three strikes over the middle of the plate, you still want someone to throw a brushback pitch at its head just on general principle.

"Fine Things"

** A handsome young department store manager and a third-grade teacher create a new family, but their idyllic marriage is jeopardized when her first husband haunts their life, and sickness claims her body.

CAST: D.W. Moffett, Tracy Pollan

TIME: Tonight at 8 p.m.


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