Remember the Alamo, forget 'Texas'

April 15, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It might take a Texas-size measure of stamina and fortitude, but if you can hang on through the first hour of "James Michener's 'Texas' " at 9 tomorrow night on ABC (WMAR-Channel 2), you've weathered the worst of this so-so miniseries.

Things get a lot better in Monday night's conclusion of this four-hour fictionalized history of Texas. But "uneven" doesn't begin to cover what you'll see.

The low end of the experience begins tomorrow night, when you realize in the opening minutes that Patrick Duffy is playing Stephen F. Austin with a range not quite worthy of the adjective "wooden." You expect to see Larry Hagman show up as Andrew Jackson and, maybe, Dom DeLuise cast as Santa Anna, with Charo at his side.

This "Texas" is an underwhelming experience, and there is a very real temptation to giggle at what are supposed to be dramatic high points in the occasionally ridiculous script.

The actors and writers even appear to sense this. Watch the way David Keith (as Jim Bowie) and Stacy Keach (as Sam Houston) play the scene in which Houston asks Bowie if he can see his famous knife. It's campy, full of double-entendre and seems better suited in terms of tone to a Harvey Fierstein revue than the dramatic, macho, violent story suggested by the music, title and Charlton Heston narration.

On the upper end of the "Texas" viewing experience, there's the Battle of the Alamo on Monday, which is filmed with old-fashioned bigness -- with hundreds of extras in full regalia on horseback playing the Mexican army, which gathered on the plains to overwhelm the mission and its band of insurgents in San Antonio. At least, that's the way it was according to the Anglo version of events.

Ricky Schroder, who plays a fictional immigrant lad (as opposed to a historical immigrant lad), does some nice work Monday, stealing several scenes at the Alamo.

As a whole, "Texas" is a very violent four hours of television, with much killing and dying filmed in slow motion. The conclusion to many segments could be summarized as, "and then, everybody dies," or "not a man or woman left standing."

If it weren't for a few of the artier moments -- like Schroder's character experiencing a Holocaust-like pain at the death of so many at the Alamo -- the violence would be utterly without redeeming value.

What comes between such worthwhile moments, though, is mainly more violence and costume drama, with such actors as Duffy, Keach and Anthony Michael Hall uttering stilted dialogue provided only to fill viewers in on some of the popular history of Texas and keep this clunker lurching along.

"Texas" is unconvincing and turgid -- the reason why this miniseries is airing in April instead of the coming May sweeps.

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