Steel's 'Daddy' is all virtue, all the time

Television

October 23, 1991|By Michael Hill

Danielle Steel herself, in person, comes out at the beginning of tonight's movie, "Daddy," the second NBC movie this baseball-drenched week based on one of her best sellers, and invites you to sit back and enjoy the show.

"What happens to Oliver could happen to any man," she says of the main character.

Yeah, any man who woke up one day and found that his life had been turned into a soap opera with a bad script.

In "Daddy," which will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) tonight at 9 o'clock, Oliver Watson's wife of 20 years walks out on him and their three kids, his mother gets Alzheimer's and steps in front of a bus, his widowed father marries the girl next door about a day and a half later, and his 18-year-old son who had been accepted to Princeton instead drops out of high school and goes to work at a gas station so he can have an apartment with the teen-age tart he's gotten pregnant.

It could happen to any man.

But what probably wouldn't happen to any man other than Oliver Watson is that he would, as his reward for his Job-like patience, get his mitts on Lynda Carter.

Our story opens as Christmas approaches. Oliver, played with a gee-whiz, why-is-this-happening-to-me? expression by Patrick Duffy, is living the life of an American cliche -- beautiful wife, lovely children, big house in the suburbs, well-paying job, kindly, gray-headed father.

But then wife Sarah, played by TV's current designated shrew, Kate Mulgrew, decides she has to go back to school in a writing program. She moves out. Later she wants to start seeing other men. Still later she wants a divorce. The various other travails visit him as he tries to cope with being a single dad.

Oliver's luck changes when his company transfers him to Los Angeles, where he meets an actress (Carter) who appears in ads Oliver handles. Despite her high-profile career, she really just wants to be an American cliche, too. They were made for each other.

Their bliss seems to extend to all parts of Oliver's life as everything else works out OK, too. Steel leaves us in happily-ever-after land before re-appearing to say good night.

"Daddy" could be dismissed as nothing more than a harmless soaper were it not for its reactionary, even misogynist, undertones. Sarah is depicted as a totally selfish character without a redeeming quality, who doesn't think of the effect her actions will have on others when she takes off (a contrast, by the way, to the more kindly treatment given the man who walked out on his wife at the beginning of Steel's "Palomino" Monday night).

Then there's the sex scene between Oliver's oldest and his girlfriend. This scantily clad, lower-class piece of trash takes advantage of the boy's vulnerable state -- Mom just left -- to lure him to bed. There she gets her talons into him in the traditional Hollywood way -- she gets pregnant. Then she's depicted as a mercenary, heartless mother.

Never once is there a mention that maybe if Oliver had been a bit more aware he might have noticed some dissatisfaction on his wife's part. Or that an 18-year-old boy actually is responsible for his actions.

7+ And consider that Sarah's badness seems

to have arisen from the fact that she was a '60s bohemian type, while the son's girlfriend is from "a broken family" from the other side of the proverbial tracks.

The message Steel is delivering is that women who do not believe in the lovely-family-and-nice-house-in-the-suburbs cliche are evil and to be avoided. The men in "Daddy" are totally virtuous, victims of these she-devils.

Though "Daddy" is unusual among Steel's made-for-TV tales in taking the male point of view, the message is similar to that of her other works -- women may achieve financial and artistic success, but the repository of true meaning and happiness is men.

The fact that women watch these things in droves gives you some idea why so few of them believed Anita Hill.

*

For something of a bit more substance, try PBS, where Bill Moyers spends an hour with a group of recovering addicts in the San Francisco area. "Moyers/Circle of Recovery" will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock.

These seven black men talk with honesty and insight about themselves and their lives, about the reality of racism, how it affected their self-image and how that controlled their actions.

They do not speak as hapless victims, but as men who, for a variety of reasons, have made many mistakes. By talking to each other with a straightforward openness, they have started to see more clearly why they made the mistakes they did, how they can avoid them in the future.

Listening to these men in "Circle of Recovery" will teach everyone a lot about what it means to be a black male in America. It will also teach you a lot about what it means to be a human being.

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