'Sons and Daughters' goes from bad to worse

January 04, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Let's try to be kind. "Sons and Daughters," the new CBS family drama that debuts at 10 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), is, well, awful.

It is hard to say which is worse -- the acting or the writing.

There is one real actor on-screen, Don Murray. He plays Bing Hammersmith, the patriarch of the Hammersmith family, which is at the center of this weekly drama. But Murray's work is lost in a sea of performances that register at the level of bad dinner-theater acting. The ensemble of mumbles and stumbles is led by Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

As for the writing. Well, again, let's try to be kind.

Back in the fall, "Sons and Daughters" was to be part of CBS' regular schedule. Then it was pulled before the pilot ever aired, faster than you can say "Face to Face With Connie Chung." (At least CBS had an explanation for the last-second change on Chung, who wanted to "work on having a baby.")

The network didn't even bother to put out an explanation for pulling "Sons and Daughters." Those who saw the unaired pilot didn't need to ask why. In its way, this show is worse than shows like "Uncle Buck."

And just what way is that?

RTC For one thing, the show's confusing. Tonight's pilot mainly tries tointroduce a menagerie of characters -- four generations of a Portland, Ore. clan. Unfortunately, the pilot does nothing to help you know them, keep them straight or even care about them a little.

The crux of the show is supposed to be the tension and disruption that occur when Bing returns home with a young bride and a son after years of wandering the country in a trailer.

Especially upset is Tess Hammersmith (Arnaz), Bing's daughter. She had been at the head of the family since Bing took off. Now she's got Bing, his new family and his trailer parked in her driveway.

Yes, there are possibilities in that situation. But you won't see them realized in this show. Instead of a textured mix of love, resentment, caring and anger from Tess, we get only what seems like self-indulgent whining. The script forces Murray to play Bing as generally being out of it, for lack of a better expression to describe his vague and slightly perplexed state. Maybe it's simply that Murray's confused by the script, too.

CBS has allowed critics to see next week's episode of "Sons and Daughters" as well as the pilot, presumably to show all the fabulous improvements that have been made. The second episode is even worse. It opens with one of the Hammersmith men asking his wife to take a look under the covers at his erection.

Don't ya love it when television takes the high road?

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