The worst of it all? The new Roseanne movie, with sleaze

October 31, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

I did not think anyone could make a worse movie than the one Fox did on Roseanne earlier this month. Then I saw NBC's "Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes."

Compared to this ripped-from-the Enquirer docudrama, airing at 9 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2), the Fox version of Roseanne's life was a Merchant and Ivory production.

Let us pray that NBC's "Roseanne and Tom" does not indicate where made-for-TV movies are headed. Wasn't there a big story in the New York Times in August saying the networks were cleaning up their act on sleazy docudramas this fall? I'll trade ya two Roseannes for three Amy Fishers any day.

"Roseanne and Tom" is one major piece of sludge. The title character is miscast, the shooting schedule looks like it couldn't have been any longer than a couple of sunny Saturday afternoons, and "cheesy" is too kind a word to describe the production values. I am not exaggerating. I have seen films made by students for Bulgarian television that had more texture and richness.

Patrika Darbo plays the domestic goddess and ABC sitcom star, with Stephen Lee as Tom Arnold, Roseanne's former husband and producer.

Darbo -- not to be confused with Garbo -- never seems to comfortably inhabit the shell of Roseanne. It's just a bad fit, as if Darbo is wearing someone else's clothes and thoughts.

Lee fares somewhat better, although he is second banana to Roseanne's character, and he's working with a script desperately in search of a story. The central question of tonight's drama is: Did Tom or didn't Tom do you-know-what with Kim Silva (Heather Paige Kent), the young woman he hired as a receptionist and then promoted to executive vice president of his and Roseanne's multi-million-dollar production company?

Other great moments in "Roseanne and Tom" include a scene that shows Tom's nose hemorrhaging from cocaine abuse. Another scene shows Tom and Roseanne bingeing on sweet rolls in the back of Roseanne's limousine.

We also get to see them check into a motel to make love, and, afterward, talk about what a great 13 minutes it was.

We are privileged to watch Roseanne's 14-year-old daughter, Jessica, go into a detox program for alcoholism. And then, there's that special moment when Tom explains his drug addiction by telling us that when he was a child his mother's boyfriends used to lock him in the trunk of a car and urinate on it. This is also said to explain why rain depresses Tom so much.

"Roseanne and Tom" is chock full of such insights, inspirational moments and glimpses into the greatness of the human heart.

What truly undermines this movie, though, is that it's about headlines from the National Enquirer instead of about people.

We see a lot of of Roseanne ranting and raving at ABC executives about the quality of writing on her hit series. In fact, at least four scenes revolve around that rant. But we never hear what she objects to.

Nor is any attempt made to reconcile the ranting with the fact that "Roseanne," the series, shot to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings at the hands of these allegedly sexist imbeciles at ABC.

In the end, there's simply no Roseanne in this film.

The best line of the two hours comes from Tom, who says, "We're America's worst nightmare: White trash with money."

That is the very best that can be said about the Roseanne and Tom presented tonight by NBC.

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