Quirky 'Golden Years'

July 16, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It's playful and paranoid. It's tender. It's simplistic and it's profound. It's Stephen King. And, like Carrie's hand reaching up out of the grave, if you give King's "Golden Years" a moment or two, it's going to get you.

"Golden Years," which airs at 9 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), is network television's latest attempt at quirky. After tonight's two-hour premiere, the six-part series will air Thursday nights at 10.

The story is about a 70-year-old custodian, Harlan Williams (Keith Szarabajka), who works at a Big-Brotherish agricultural testing center. After an explosion in a laboratory at the center, Williams is exposed to an unknown combination of chemicals. At first, he doesn't seem to be harmed -- outside of a little glowing of the eyes. Later he begins to feel a bit peppier, then really good. The chemicals, a formula intended to speed the body's healing process,are reversing Williams' aging process.

So, what could be bad about that? A nice older guy, whom everybody at the testing facility discriminates against because of his age, stumbles into a fountain of youth. Now he won't be forced to retire, won't be mocked by younger people. This is good, no?

No, this is Stephen King. The government officials and thugs who run the facility have other plans for Williams and they don't seem to include a long, happy life. Besides, Williams' loving wife, Gina (Frances Sternhagen), isn't sure she likes her husband growing younger while she isn't.

The best thing about "Golden Years" is its quirky tone and the relationship of Harlan and Gina. These elements come together perfectly in a scene where Harlan is hospitalized after the explosion. The 70-something couple go into a shower in his hospital room and make love.

One thing you can't call this show is predictable.

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