'Winnetka' has the makings of a winner

March 12, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

You've seen it all before: Young couples living, laughing, loving, overdosing on pills, having illicit yearnings for their old high school sweethearts, fighting over custody of their children, performing Kabuki Theater topless.

You'll see it all again at 10 tonight on NBC when "Winnetka Road" makes its debut. And you'll probably enjoy it all over again, too.

The new drama series from producer Aaron Spelling is a little bit "Picket Fences," a lot of "Melrose Place," and heaps more of the old "Peyton Place." It is thoroughly watchable, and might be even worse than the dreaded peanut brittle when it comes to addictability.

Ed Begley Jr., as a man going through a rather comic midlife crisis, and Meg Tilly, as the topless Kabuki dancer and bored rich woman, are the stars of "Winnetka."

But they are the least of its strengths. There are four or five good story lines that start tonight, and a few of them look like they have the stuff to keep viewers tuning in week after week.

Spelling is the man who gave us "Melrose Place," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Charlie's Angels," "Fantasy Island" and "The Love Boat." He's the king of prime-time soap opera fluff and story lines that keep you munching. This is serious Yuppie fare, or cocooning fare, or whatever the current hot word is for what the 30- to 49-year-old set is doing these days.

One of the things they are doing is going home, or thinking about home and their roots. "Winnetka Road" is the kind of place people come from -- a small, heartland hometown that's big on family values and taking back its young who have flown into trouble in the big city.

Let the record show, however, that the title is the only authentic taste of the Midwest viewers will get. In network TV, a Midwestern setting only means the L.A. producers are filming out of camera range of the ocean.

In tonight's pilot, Begley's character divorces his wife, played by Catherine Hicks, for an aerobics instructor. The aerobics instructor then overdoses when her husband goes off with her best friend. It's hard being an aerobics instructor.

Hicks' character, meanwhile, gets a job at a video store. (Aaron Spelling Productions is owned by Blockbuster; no coincidence here.)

Tilly's character is married to a wealthy older man, and amuses herself with Kabuki makeup and topless Kabuki Theater until she rents the garage apartment to an out-of-work stockbroker who is young, good-looking and lonely. Say goodbye to the theater, Meg.

The former high school football star, played by Josh Brolin, is now a cop. When his former high school flame comes back from L.A. with her child, the old flames start to smolder. The story lines continue like that and are presented by an appealing cast.There are lots of new faces -- another Spelling trademark.

Winnetka hasn't changed much -- most of the characters remark that at least once or twice. Some things in America, however, such as prime-time soap operas, have changed even less.

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