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Danielle Steele's 'Daddy' shines despite Duffy's limited emotional range


If it's true that you can tell a lot about a society by its celebrities, what does it say about us that Patrick Duffy is ZTC becoming one of our biggest stars?

This is something we should worry about, I think.

Duffy's new sitcom, "Step by Step," is the second highest-rated new show of the season, and tonight at 9 (Channel 2) NBC trusts him to carry Danielle Steele's "Daddy" against game four of the World Series on CBS.

While Duffy is surprisingly good at comedy on "Step by Step," he is not much of a dramatic actor. And, alas, "Daddy" is drama. Double alas, Duffy is in just about every scene. When asked to show a wide range of emotions, he comes up with only two basics: biting his lip and wincing when he's feeling bad, and smiling a big smile when he's feeling good. As a dramatic actor, he peaked in Pam Ewing's shower.

But, despite Duffy's limitations, "Daddy" mainly works. If you give this film 10 minutes of your time, you won't walk away from it until the final credits roll.

Instantly, Steele's story gets us intimately involved in upper-middle-class lives where unfulfilled aspirations are eating away at the postcard perfect facade of a suburban family. The echoes of "Ordinary People" are intentional.

Duffy plays Oliver Watson, a successful advertising agency executive. Kate Mulgrew plays Sarah, his wife and would-be writer. They are fortysomething, have three kids, live in a great house outside Chicago and are drifting apart. While he's worried about getting the house decorated with holiday lights, she's wondering what happened to her chance to be a writer. It is not long before they are separated and then divorced.

Like Samantha Taylor (Lindsay Frost) in NBC's Monday night presentation of Steele's, "Palomino," Oliver is emotionally wiped out by the failure of the marriage. And, like Taylor, he ultimately winds up heading west to California and a new life. In this case, he finds a movie star played by Lynda Carter ("Wonder Woman") instead of a cowboy played by Lee Horsley ("Paradise").

Formulaic? Sure. Nobody ever accused Steele of being above formulas. But they are formulas that reflect some of the more important moments of passage in our lives. Their pull is powerful enough even to overcome the acting of Patrick Duffy.

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