`Reversible Errors' hard to resist

William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman shine in miniseries

TVPreview

May 22, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Everyone knows the place to find quality drama on Sunday night is HBO. When The Sopranos ends in two weeks, back comes Six Feet Under, followed by The Wire - and so on.

But what about the 60 percent of TV homes that don't subscribe to the costliest of the premium pay cable services? Is there anything for those 95 million viewers?

The happy answer, at least for two nights, is yes. Tomorrow night, CBS begins airing a two-part miniseries called Reversible Errors and starring William H. Macy. Based on Scott Turow's best-selling book, the network movie is as good as anything you'll see on HBO this month. (Perhaps CBS is trying to atone for last week's execrable film about Charles Manson, Helter Skelter ? )

Reversible Errors tells the story of two couples caught in a seven-year saga of crime and punishment related to a triple homicide that occurred in 1996 in a Chicago diner. The film takes place in two distinct time periods - the time of the crime in '96, and in 2003 as new information and a death-row appeal re-open the case and upend the lives of the film's major players.

Muriel Wynn (Monica Potter), a savvy, young lawyer in the district attorney's office, and Sergeant Larry Starczek (Tom Selleck), an aging hard-nosed homicide detective, form one couple - a relationship mainly based on sex. Starczek's married, she's about to be, and the film opens as she announces while they're in bed that their relationship is over.

That's when Starczek gets the call to investigate the triple killing. Despite her stated desire to end the affair, Wynn accompanies the detective to the scene in hopes of getting assigned to the case. From the bed to the dead, Wynn's unbridled ambition is one of the driving forces in the film.

As in Shakespeare where one set of lovers serves as foil for the other, there is nothing physical about the second couple's relationship (played by real-life husband and wife Macy and Felicity Huffman). But it is the emotionally complicated dance between these two characters, Arthur Raven and Gillian Sullivan, both deeply wounded souls who unwillingly are drawn back into the homicide case, that elevates Reversible Errors above ordinary network fare.

The day of the triple homicide is Raven's last in the district attorney's office. His sister has just died of a drug overdose, and he is switching to corporate law to escape a caseload filled with drug cases. One of his last duties on the night of the murders is to visit the home of Judge Gillian Sullivan to get warrants signed. He has been attracted to her for some time, but doesn't act upon his feelings.

Flash forward to 2003: Raven and Sullivan meet again when he, as part of his firm's pro bono work, is asked to handle the death row appeal of the man convicted of the triple homicide. Judge Sullivan, now a disbarred ex-con who went to prison herself for taking bribes, has information that Raven needs to defend his new client. Neither wants to revisit the case, and she wants absolutely nothing to do with his personal interest in her once he finds the courage to express it. They might not be Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, but by the standards of made-for-TV movies, Macy and Huffman are as good as it gets. While her role is smaller, it's the harder of the two. Huffman plays a character so psychologically damaged by her public disgrace and time in prison that she has walled herself off emotionally from the world. As Raven reaches out to Sullivan, she pushes him away. But the trick of Huffman's performance is in making Sullivan's need and vulnerability palpable to the viewer even as she rejects Raven.

As he did in the Emmy-Award-winning cable film, Door to Door (2002), Macy plays a modest and earnest man trying responsibly to handle the job entrusted to him. He may be a little man, but he also is a decent man. And against the larger backdrop of reality TV shows in which win-at-all-costs, narcissistic big shots of Donald Trump's ilk are celebrated, he is very appealing.

That draw, particularly during May sweeps, may not be magnetic enough to transform Reversible Errors into a hit. But for at least one Sunday night this year, a network is offering a film with two characters worth caring about.

TV

What: Reversible Errors.

When: Tomorrow and Tuesday nights at 9.

Where: WJZ (Channel 13).

In brief: William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman shine in this film version of Scott Turow's best seller.

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