"Polly Comin' Home!" is television that snaps, crackles and pops.
It has a bunch of on-screen stars who deliver fine performances -- Phylicia Rashad, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Dorian Harewood, Brandon Adams and Anthony Newley. But the biggest star is Debbie Allen, who directed and choreographed this sequel to last year's "Polly."
"Polly Comin' Home" seems so seamless in its movement from drama to music that you wonder why "Cop Rock" couldn't get it right and why TV critics didn't remember last season's "Polly" in their pre-season celebrations of "Cop Rock" this fall. Nobody does the television musical like Debbie Allen. She's been doing it since the days of "Fame." And she's on her game in this high-spirited romp on NBC, which airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on WMAR-TV (Channel 2).
"Polly" is based on characters from the novel "Pollyanna" by Eleanor H. Porter. Most of the lead characters in "Polly" -- including Aunt Polly (Rashad) and little Polly (Pulliam) -- are blacks living in Harrington, Ala., in 1956.
For those who did not see last year's highly rated "Polly," the story dealt with Polly's coming to live with her wealthy aunt and helping integrate Harrington with her optimism and goodness. Polly was injured near the end of that film, and there was fear that she would not be able to walk and run again.
The sequel opens with her returning from the hospital. The tone of thefilm is set when her playmate, Jimmy Bean (Adams), opens the car door and asks how she is. Polly gets out of the car gingerly and then promptly kicks him in the shins and skips off to the hugs of her homecoming.
For all the dancing, singing and fun, there is also some seriousness to this film. It celebrates ethnic diversity and condemns prejudice. And it does so in a voice that is loud and clear without being pedantic.
The film's sense of America in 1956, the talk of Elvis Presley and Dr. Martin Luther King, get a little strained at times. It offers a romanticized version of the South in 1956, to be sure. But after all, the term "Pollyanna" (meaning an excessively optimistic person) came from the novel this film is based on. And such criticism is minor compared to the major accomplishments of the film.
"Polly Comin' Home!" is an attempt to use TV to create black characters with the kind of resonance Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer have for other youngsters. Let's hope there's a "Polly III: Polly Comin' Home Again" next year on NBC.