Paying price for nostalgia

Preview: `Patty Duke' more reflux than redux.

April 27, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Up until this weekend, I thought "Return to Green Acres" -- featuring Arnold Ziffel, the pig, in a greatly expanded role -- was the worst made-for-TV reunion movie I was likely to see in my lifetime.

And, then, I saw "The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights," which airs at 9 tonight on CBS. Why? Why, why, why, why, why did they have to take this tasty, fondly remembered nugget from television's past and grind it into one more gaseous piece of prime-time sausage in 1999?

Eva Gabor, I hope you can hear me, because I apologize for every nasty thing I said about you in that "Return to Green Acres" review. After watching the performances in "Still Rockin'," I admit to the world I was wrong. Compared to them, you were an artistic giant. Oh, to just be able to hear you say, "Ol-leeeee-vah," one more time, instead of listening to Patty Lane (Duke) calling her father (William Schallert), "Poppo," for two hours! Well, we pay for our sins, don't we?

"The Patty Duke Show" ran from 1963 to 1966 on ABC at a time when ABC was a weak network with limited distribution trying to establish itself by getting teen viewers the way the WB is today. Duke, then a teen-age actress who had just won an Oscar for her performance in "The Miracle Worker," played lookalike cousins, Patty and Cathy Lane.

Patty, an American, lived in Brooklyn Heights, in an all-American family right down to the big, floppy dog. Cathy came from Scotland to live with the Lanes. The mischievous Patty regularly talked Cathy into using their identical looks to fool family, friends and classmates.

As the show's theme song put it: "Meet Cathy who's lived most everywhere/From Zanzibar to Barclay Square/But Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights/What a crazy pair/But they're cousins, identical cousins all the way/One pair of matching book ends, different as night and day/While Cathy adores a minuet, ballet ruse and crepe suzette/Patty loves to rock 'n' roll, a hot dog makes her lose control/What a wacky pair."

As "Still Rockin' " opens, Patty is still living in Brooklyn Heights. She's a grandmother, but she still digs rock 'n' roll and is still rockin' the boat at Brooklyn Heights High. She's a teacher now, and her beloved school is on the verge of being closed down and turned into a shopping mall by Patty's old nemesis, Sue Ellen, now a ruthless developer. To save the school, Patty has to raise $500,000.

As if the ruthless developer story line isn't lame enough, they brought in one of the worst TV actresses of all time, Cindy Williams of "Laverne & Shirley," to play the developer. And, while Duke plays Patty and Cathy in all-out earnestness, Williams plays the developer so far over the top you expect cartoon character balloons to appear over her head when she speaks.

Duke is doing dramady, while Williams is doing "Batman." After a while, all you can do is groan. Cheap as nostalgia is said to be, "Still Rockin' " still comes up way short.

You want another clash that's hard to take, check out the scenes between Patty and her ex-husband, played by Eddie Applegate, who appeared as Patty's boyfriend in the series. The guy looks older than Schallert, who plays Patty's dad. No wonder the marriage failed; Patty tried to marry "Poppo."

You may think that last remark is too vitriolic, but you haven't been walking around for days with this stupid theme song blaring in your head like I have: "But they're couzzzz-innnnnnssssss, identical couzzzz-innnnnnssssss all the way."

Don't say I didn't warn you.

`Patty Duke'

When: Tonight 9 to 11

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

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