'Fine Things' is just OK as unrefined melodrama


October 16, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Danielle's Steel's Fine Things" is certainly better than last night's "Danielle Steel's Kaleidoscope." But is it better than the World Series?

That probably depends on what viewers are looking for in the way of television tonight.

"Fine Things," which airs at 8 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), is NBC's attempt to counterprogram the World Series on CBS, which begins at 8 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11). The very old-timey thinking at NBC is that women don't want to watch baseball and will turn to Danielle Steel in droves.

Folks who do turn to "Fine Things" tonight are going to find unrefined melodrama. At its best, it is inspirational in the way of Horatio Alger stories. At its worst, it is unabashedly sentimental goo, going for easy emotional responses with warm puppies and little girls in danger.

"Fine Things" is the story of Bernard Fine (D. W. Moffett), a department store executive sent to San Francisco to oversee the opening of a new store. There he meets a single mother, Liz O'Reilly (played by Tracy Pollan).

Bernard, Liz and her daughter, Jane (Noley Thornton), soon become a happy family. Then the Fine family becomes even happier with the birth of a son. But tragedy follows (this is the language of melodrama) in the form of illness and the arrival of someone out of Liz's past who threatens what remains of the once ever-so-happy Fine family.

The rest of the film is about the effort to revisit or reinvent the family's Paradise Lost.

The finest thing about "Fine Things" is Pollan's performance. She's a much better actress than her reputation, managing in a very short time to make you believe in the reality of her character. She does it by not overplaying the role. You are seldom aware of the artifice of an actress acting.

The worst thing is the repeated use of Jane -- with her pig-tails and stuffed puppy dog -- doing something cute or being placed in danger as a substitute for a story line with naturalistic dramatic movement and authentic emotion. "Fine Things" is too often like those portraits of children with overly large eyes. Three hours of that is a bit much.

As television, "Fine Things" isn't great. It isn't terrible either. A better title might be "Danielle Steel's OK Things -- If You Aren't a Big Baseball Fan."

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