'Backfield in Motion': a TV movie only true fans of Roseanne could love


November 13, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

If you really love Roseanne Arnold, you probably won't mind how awful most of "Backfield in Motion" is.

In fact, if you're a die-hard Arnold fan, you probably won't think it's awful at all. The film, which airs at 9 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), comes up short in just about every category by which such programs are usually measured, but it is long, long, long on love-her-or-hate-her Roseanne.

As Nancy Seavers, Arnold plays a recent widow who moves with her teen-age son from California to the small Midwestern city of Deerfield. They quickly discover two things about Deerfield: The women all appear to be Stepford wives and the city is crazy about high school football.

Seavers tries to fit in at first, but doesn't do too well. An upcoming father-son football game proves to be the final straw. When told she can't play in the game, she sets out to organize a mother-son game, with the rest of the film showing how the moms throw off their shackles, join the team and "kick some butt" on the field, as they put it.

It's an OK premise, but the handling of it is incredibly amateurish in script, direction and lead acting. The writers develop no characters except Arnold's, so other peoples' actions seem totally out of left field. When the director wants a laugh, he just speeds up the film -- a la Richard Lester with the Beatles -- whether it makes sense or not. And both Ms. Arnold and her husband, Tom Arnold, who plays a sympathetic vice principal at her son's school, attack intimate scenes like stand-up comics shouting to the back of a noisy nightclub.

And, yet, the film constantly plays off the real-life Roseanne for a tone that Arnold-o-philes are likely to adore. For example, just before the big game, the woman who was supposed to sing the national anthem becomes ill. Everybody turns to Seavers, saying, "You sing it." She turns away from the actors and looks straight into the camera -- breaking the fourth wall -- and says to us in our living rooms, "Me sing the national anthem? I dooooon't think soooooo." It's a reference, of course, to her real-life, off-key rendition before a San Diego Padres game that made headlines.

And her big speeches here are from the-world-according-to-Roseanne mold. At one key moment, she tells her teammates, "There are always going to be people who like you and people who don't like you. You just have to be yourself and take it from there."

Ms. Arnold is nothing if not herself in this film. In terms of viewing decisions and personal taste, you can take it from there.

TV's top 20 shows

Last week's top 20 television shows, according to A. C. Nielsen Co. figures:

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Rating

1 60 Minutes.. .. .. .. .. .. CBS 21.8

2 Roseanne.. .. .. .. .. .. ..ABC 20.4

3 Empty Nest.. .. .. .. .. .. NBC 20.2

4 Cheers.. .. .. .. .. .. ... NBC 19.8

5 Murphy Brown.. .. .. .. ... CBS 19.0

6 Nurses.. .. .. .. .. .. ... NBC 18.1

7 Major Dad.. .. .. .. .. ... CBS 17.9

8 Designing Women.. .. .. ... CBS 17.8

9 Unsolved Mysteries.. .. ... NBC 17.4

10 Golden Girls.. .. .. .. .. NBC 17.2

11 Full House.. .. .. .. .. ..ABC 17.1

12 Different World.. .. .. ..NBC 117.0

13 Coach.. .. .. .. .. .. ... ABC 16.9

14 NBC Monday Movie: "Gambler Returns:

Luck of the Draw" Pt. 2.. ... NBC 16.6

14 (tie) ABC Wednesday Movie Special:..

"False Arrest" Pt. 2.. .. ... ABC 16.6

16 Murder, She Wrote.. .. ... CBS 16.4

16 (tie) Home Improvement.. ..ABC 16.4

18 The Cosby Show.. .. .. ... NBC 16.3

18 (tie) NFL Monday Football..ABC 16.3

20 Northern Exposure.. .. ... CBS 16.2

The rating is the percentage of homes equipped with a TV watching a program.

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