'Lucky/Chances' is a low-water mark in the history of prime time


October 05, 1990|By Michael Hill

Television has often been accused of harming the standards of reading in this country. Now the argument can be made that it's really the other way around, that it's reading that doing damage to television.

The prime evidence is a miniseries which will be begin broadcasting on NBC this weekend. It's called "Lucky/Chances" and at six hours is one of the very few stories deemed worthy of more than four hours of screen time.

It is also one of the worst pieces of garbage ever to be seen in

prime time. Actually, bringing out such a stinging description is more than "Lucky/Chances" deserves. It's not really substantial enough to warrant fervent denunciation. Sure, it's contrived, silly and stupid, but, more than anything, it's boring.

So why is it on the air? You can blame America's book readers, apparently a subversive group seeking to undermine the quality of our intellectual life.

This miniseries was based on two books by Jackie Collins. "Chances," published in 1982, sold more than 2 million copies, topping the best seller list. "Lucky," which came out in 1985, spent 23 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, nine weeks at the top. Collins' collected works have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide since she began publishing in 1969.

Clearly, it was such popularity that moved NBC to make "Lucky/Chances," which will be broadcast in three two-hour segments, starting Sunday night at 9 o'clock on Channel 2 (WMAR), continuing Monday and Tuesday at that time. You readers out there should be ashamed that the written word is tainting the magnificent medium that brought us "The Civil War."

This Collins saga was apparently written for those who found "The Godfather" too challenging.

The great appeal of Mario Puzo's "Godfather" lay in its central paradox as these Mafia figures were at once mean, cruel, cold-blooded killers who had genuine love and respect for their own families.

Such an apparent contradiction must have been too much for Collins, so she divided her characters into two teams -- Good Mafia and Bad Mafia. Good Mafia did a little bootlegging, a little tax evasion and cared for their family. Bad Mafia ran drugs and prostitution rings and killed in cold blood.

The Good Mafia family is run by Gino Santangelo, competently played as a Brooklyn street punk by Vincent Irizarry. Eventually, the story will move to that of his daughter, Lucky, but be forewarned if you're tuning in to see Nicollette Sheridan, the actress handling that part: Though she appears in a low cut, high-slit number at the beginning of Part 1, the story immediately flashes back 50 years and she's not around again until Part 2. And she doesn't show up in her underwear until Part 3!

The Bad Mafia family is run by Enzio Bonnatti, hilariously overplayed by Michael Nader, whose raspy-voiced bad guy seems to have stepped off the set of "Dick Tracy." At least Nader seems to be having some fun. You have to do things like a Brando imitation when you're given dialogue like the line Enzio actually delivers to Lucky: "I'm your godfather. Anything you want, I'll get you."

And, just to keep things ethnically balanced, the real sadist among the Bonnatti clan is a sadistic Southerner named -- what is it? Whitesnake? Whiterat? Whitelightning? -- no, it's Whitejack.

The plot is, of course, too complicated to explain. It inevitably involves many generations of conflict and confidences, of loyalty and betrayal, along the way running into characters that closely resemble Marilyn Monroe and Aristotle Onassis.

Basically, the Santangelo family gets into building Las Vegas hotels but keeps having to get financing from the Bonnatti organization. Along the way, there's a black prostitute, saved from Whitejack and drug addiction by Gino, who winds up giving birth to Gino's child, but he doesn't know that until years later when that son is now a federal prosecutor coming after him for tax evasion. And there's the Greek shipping tycoon whose daughter is Lucky's roommate at a Swiss boarding school. Lucky ends up marrying the tycoon, while the daughter, one drunken night, gets married to the Vegas stand-up comedian who happens to be an old friend of the federal prosecutor who is Gino's son. And then . . . well, never mind.

Suffice it to say that Collins was involved in the script, so not one bit of her precious plot was lost, further cluttering the screen with nonsense. During the generational transition in Part 2, the entire structure just explodes before re-forming for Part 3's proverbial ''stunning conclusion.''

Other than Mary Frann, of "Newhart," who gets to show off her cleavage in Part 1 as the wife of an influential senator, and Anne-Marie Johnson of "In the Heat of the Night" as the former prostitute whose past always haunts her, the cast is populated by soap stars, daytime and nighttime variety.

"Lucky/Chances" is the first part of NBC's anti-baseball strategy. Danielle Steele moves in for the World Series.


stars) A six-hour miniseries based on two Jackie Collins books that follow a couple of generations of a couple of organized crime families.

CAST: Nicollette Sheridan, Vincent Irizarry, Michael Nader

TIME: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 9 p.m.


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