Sharon Gless' 'Rosie O'Neill' demonstrates that even gutsy, grown-up ladies get the blues

September 17, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Let's get right to the part of "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" tha everyone is going to be talking about: the opening.

The new drama, starring Sharon Gless as attorney Rosie O'Neill, opens in a psychiatrist's office. We don't see the psychiatrist. We see only a tight shot of Gless' face. It is as if she is talking straight to the viewer.

The first words we hear Gless' Rosie O'Neill say are: "I'm %J thinking about maybe having my tits done. I mean, I don't want them any bigger. They're a nice size. Actually I just thought maybe I'd have them fluffed up a bit. I don't know. Maybe I'll just grow my hair."

It kind of gets your attention.

Viewers will be arguing tomorrow morning whether that short speech is a slice of the bold programming the networks have been promising or a vulgarization of the airwaves. That may be a matter of personal taste and standards.

From a critical perspective, it should be noted that the speech and choice of language ultimately seem perfectly in character for O'Neill. And O'Neill is a character who could turn out to be to prime-time drama what Murphy Brown is to comedy: a real character with real edges, a working lady who sometimes gets the blues and isn't afraid to wail about 'em.

"The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," which premieres at 10 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), is about a woman who worked as a corporate attorney in Beverly Hills and was living the good life -- or so she thought. Then her husband left her for a younger woman, she hit a mid-life crisis and went to work in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office. Now she doesn't know whether she's living a better or a worse life. She's got an office mate who openly and bitterly resents her, clients who literally spit on her, a 25-year-old on-and-off lover, a house in Santa

Monica and a case of the blues.

"The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" is a lot like "Gabriel's Fire" with James Earl Jones. It is not a great drama. But it has an interesting character at the center, made fascinating by exceptional acting.

Gless' performance as Rosie O'Neill is not in a league with Jones' as Gabriel Bird. But it's close enough to serve as a reminder of what an impressive actress Gless is when she's on her game. Like Bird, O'Neill is a character in painful transition. And there is something uplifting about seeing her move forward with her life and grow.

This is an hour of relevant television. O'Neill is dealing with the issue of public service vs. private gain in her life, as we as a society try to move from the Reagan years to a more inclusive America. This is an hour of adult television.

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