'Rosie O'Neill' returns and she's in love

April 10, 1992|By Susan Stewart | Susan Stewart,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

A healthy, active sex life is a wonderful thing. I'm all for people having a healthy, active sex life well into their 90s, or even their 50s. I just don't want them to have it on TV.

Robert Wagner is lending his Wagnerian charisma to yet another trial of the long-admired and low-rated CBS show, "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill." He plays Sharon Gless' date in "Rosie's" next three episodes (beginning Saturday night at 10 p.m. on Channel 11). Heart-shaped diamond pendants, smoldering stares and dewy glances. This is no ordinary sexual-chemistry plot line. It's The Real Thing.

Ms. Gless, if you are not one of her legion of 25-to-49-year-old women fans, plays Rosie, a high-strung, high-minded defender of politically correct victims of injustice, with a few scuzzballs thrown in for realism. Mr. Wagner plays a newspaper editor with the romance-novel name of Peter Donovan. He shows her his hunk of the Berlin Wall, she admires his photo with Martin Luther King, he tells her she's well-informed, and before you can say "fabulous face lifts," their two famous profiles are inching toward each other.

A couple of dates later (one date took place on top of his desk -- "Rosie" is unstinting with details we don't want to know), they've left politics and foreplay and are having a cuddly conversation under Ms. Gless' floral comforter.

Even lying on his back, even under a floral comforter, Mr. Wagner has a stomach of Wagnerian proportion. And Ms. Gless has some hips. Nothing wrong with this. People should be allowed to gain weight as they grow older. I know I should. And it's not like Mr. Wagner and Ms. Gless are whales. But seeing these well-loved TV stars cooing under a comforter is like ... seeing your parents.

And then you think: But I'm a parent. And I have some hips. Then you must leave the room, to come back just in time to see Ed Asner, playing the proverbial crusty investigator, in a Turkish bath wearing nothing much but a towel. If there's one thing I want to see less than Robert Wagner in a floral comforter, it's Ed Asner in a bathing suit. "Rosie" is going where no one has gone before, to a place where no one wants to be.

It gets there on a raft of cliches. They fall into two categories: crime cliches and love cliches. The worst crime cliche is Mr. Asner saying, "I hope she looks good in horizontal stripes." This is not only a cliche, it's an outmoded one. When was the last time you saw a criminal in horizontal stripes? In all the women-in-prison movies I saw last fall, inmates wore cotton separates that looked like they came from The Gap.

The worst love cliche is when Ms. Gless, learning she's got competition, snaps, "What part do I get? Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays?" When Ms. Gless and Mr. Wagner are not having intense discussions about their future, they are finding themselves in bizarre comic situations: lying in bed in Eskimo-style fur hoods, for instance.

Early on in these three episodes is a case for Rosie to solve, but it quickly disappears in the romantic miasma surrounding her. Rosie disappears as well. "I feel," she says, "like I'm talking like a character out of some romance novel."

She is -- that's the point.

If these "Rosie" episodes are supposed to explore the pitfalls of mid-life romance, they are as honorable as all the other "Rosies" that didn't make it. And, like those other "Rosies," they are suffocating under the weight of their good intentions, and their scripts.

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