After 16 years, Bertinelli remains a pleasure

February 21, 1992|By Jonathan Storm | Jonathan Storm,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

What are your standards?

There are people who don't watch anything on television because they believe it it's all so obvious and trite in relation to classic drama or the finest movies. They're wrong, of course. The best television is as good as the best of other media, and about as rare.

There are people who leave the TV on all the time, for company, and rarely pay very much attention. Not only do they miss what's on, but the noise and flickering of the set probably interfere with their experience of real life. Maybe that's what they're looking for.

And there are people who are looking for a little relaxation; a pleasant, if not remarkably stimulating or edifying, way to pass a few minutes or hours.

For 16 years, since she debuted as Barbara Cooper on "One Day at a Time," Valerie Bertinelli has been providing pleasure to those people. She's like a Big Mac, the bane of epicures, but consistently yummy. And she's immensely popular with Americans. Among TV actors now, she's the closest thing to a guarantee of ratings success.

In Sunday's outing, "What She Doesn't Know," our pal Val's a Harvard gal -- Law Review, class speaker, the whole bit. At commencement she quotes two people: Aristotle and her dad, a New York police detective. This is vintage Bertinelli, the blue-collar girl reaching for the stars, except -- dare we say it? -- she's a bit chunkier than usual.

It would be a crime to reveal what Val doesn't know, but here's a little bit of what happens in this stereotype-laden production:

Rather than accepting the lucrative position offered by Rosenthal & Bierbaum -- everybody knows Jewish lawyers make the big bucks -- she chooses to join the D.A.'s office. Her father, Jack Kilcoin -- everybody knows the best cops are Irish -- is none too pleased.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, how could you do something like this?" he cries.

Then she goes after Fat Tommy Carducci and his pals -- everybody knows the Italians are the best-organized criminals.

Rookie assistant D.A.'s aren't supposed to get such interesting cases, but if rookie Jodie Foster can get that juicy FBI job working with Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," why shouldn't Bertinelli get her own swell law-enforcement gig?

Bertinelli's Molly Kilcoin gets involved because she went to high school with one of Fat Tommy's errand boys.

Maybe she can get him to talk, after he's arrested for the murder of Big Georgie Zirello. Zirello got zipped because he was letting some sleazy Asian punks -- everyone knows how sleazy Asians are -- into the local narcotics action.

"That ain't sushi," says one of the wiseguys when the Asians break out big bags of dope.

Set amid all the stereotypes and shallowness is Bertinelli, who, as usual, tries to stick to her guns through thick and thin. She's fragile, vulnerable, victimized, spunky, powerful and ultimately capable.

In one scene, a bandaged and bloody Bertinelli and her bruised and battered father (played with gusto by George Dzunda, late of "Law & Order") bare their souls. It would be laughable to see another actress, similarly dilapidated, spouting emotional explanations. Maybe it's laughable anyway.

But a lot of viewers won't be laughing. Once again, they'll be rooting for Val to get all the success and happiness they think she deserves.

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