'McKenna' shows great outdoors, mediocre Everett

September 15, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

If you like the scenery of "Northern Exposure," the themes of "A River Runs Through It" and the acting style of Clint Eastwood, you'll probably love ABC's "McKenna," which will premiere at TC tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

This saga of a family headed by patriarch Jack McKenna (Chad Everett), a tour guide in the Pacific Northwest, contains a little bit of a lot of things you've seen before.

For starters, there's the splendid scenery of Oregon's mountains, forests and waterways. Then there's the relationship between a father (Everett) and son, Brick (Eric Close). They get along best when saying nothing to each other, standing in their hip waders and fly-fishing at sunset.

Brick is the focal point of the pilot. A stock car racer, he comes home tonight to return his runaway teen sister (Jennifer Love-Hewitt) to the McKenna fold. She ran away so she wouldn't have to get a bumblebee tattoo removed from her backside.

Not all the themes in "McKenna" are large and heroic.

Jack McKenna is a remote outdoorsman who loathes heart-to-heart talks, which he calls "going deeper" into things. The thing he avoids going deeper into most is the death of his other -- and favored -- son Guy, two years before. His death, and Jack's reaction to it, are two of the main reasons Brick left home and took to stock car racing.

Tonight, Everett pulls out all the acting tricks he's ever seen Clint Eastwood use in such films as "Unforgiven" and "Heartbreak Ridge." Everett is playing a man who's tough, but has suddenly found himself aging. He's never been given to introspection and is not very good at communication.

Eastwood is capable of telegraphing a world of feelings through the look in his eyes or the set of his jaw. Unfortunately, Everett is not in the same league. "Wooden" is one word that comes to mind; other, less charitable adjectives will suggest themselves to you as you watch Everett grimace through the hour.

Fortunately for the series, Close fills a lot of gaps. His Brick brings energy to every scene he plays.

In fact, one scene between Brick and Jack is genuinely memorable. It might be the best scene Everett has ever done. Keep in mind, however, this is not saying much. We all remember "Medical Center."

The cast of "McKenna" is rounded out by Guy's widow (Shawn Huff), her two children (Jacob Loyst and Ashlee Lauren), and Brick's ex-best-friend who is now the local sheriff (Rick Peters). There's also a next-door neighbor, whom the McKennas are battling with for right of way so they can make a living leading wilderness tours. Brick and the neighbor come to blows tonight.

This is an old-fashioned kind of TV drama -- a little bit western, a little bit pioneer family saga, a little bit the prodigal son returning home to save the family . . . and, of course, catch a few trout.

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