'Crossroads': Off in the wrong direction

NEW TV SERIES

September 14, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

A teen-ager named Dylan with sideburns just a bit shorter than Luke Perry's. A leather jacket. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle. A cross-country quest. All of it wrapped in beautiful heartland photography.

It might sound like the formula for a pretty good new show, but it's not. It's part of the formula for "Crossroads," a weekly drama from ABC premiering at 8 tonight on Channel 13 before moving to its regular time slot at 9 p.m. on Saturdays.

The show stars Robert Urich, and Urich is where the formula goes kerflooey. He's the one in the leather jacket. The Harley is his. And the name of this tune is "Baby Boomers Can Wear Pinstripes and Still Rock 'n' Roll" -- just like the TV ads for Michelob beer promise under the banner of "You Can Have It All." "Crossroads" is ABC trying to have it both ways with the key 18-to-49-year-old audience.

The series opens with Johnny Hawkins (Urich), a fortysomething prosecuting attorney in New York City, about to become NYC's district attorney. But just when it's most important for him to be out campaigning, Hawkins gets a call from Atlanta saying that his estranged teen-age son, Dylan (Dalton James), has been arrested for breaking and entering and is about to be sent to prison.

Hawkins flies to Atlanta and wins a temporary reprieve for Dylan, a son he's hardly ever known. Hawkins, a Vietnam vet, then decides he's going to get to know the kid by getting his leather jacket and Harley out of mothballs, strapping the kid on the back of the bike and setting out on a cross-country odyssey.

It's not quite as bad or preposterous as that might sound -- mainly because Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter") is directing, and he catches you up visually in the journey.

But it gets more preposterous right quick, as they say in Hannibal, Mo., where Hawkins and the kid find themselves stranded with an old-time dreamer (Oscar Poland) until their bike can be repaired.

If Hannibal faintly rings a bell, it's because Hannibal is Mark Twain country. And, it just so happens, that Hawkins gave Dylan a notebook at the start of the trip and told him to write about what he saw out on the American road -- just like Twain's Huckleberry Finn wrote about what he saw as he was sailing on a raft down the Mississippi. How's that for coincidence?

But even more coincidental is the dream of the old man they find themselves staying with: to sail a boat, which he has been building all his life, down the Mississippi. Of course, they help him do it. And, double of course, Dylan, who 55 minutes ago was a sullen delinquent, is now connecting all the dots and summing it up for us with an entry in his journal at the end of the show that reads like Thomas Wolfe.

But even all of that is tolerable. What is not tolerable is the show centering on Urich's character.

As an actor, Urich is just a shade better than Joe Namath and looks a lot worse in leather. And the kid's coming-of-age story is the one that counts dramatically. The kid is having an adventure. Hawkins is having a midlife crisis. Too bad ABC and the producers don't know the difference.

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