September 30, 1996 in Features

Potts A ‘White Knight’ At Troubled School

John Martin New York Times Syndicate
 

I feel for Annie Potts. Her starring role in “Dangerous Minds” (ABC at 10) is without doubt the best work she’s ever done.

But the series, based on the 1995 movie, has a mighty big obstacle to overcome.

Set in a racially charged California school, it’s about feisty ex-Marine-turned-English-teacher Louanne Johnson. She faces a daily battle to inspire disadvantaged and disruptive problem-students to keep their eyes on the prize.

The obstacle is that people aren’t that interested when it comes to city schools. How many weeks will they watch altruistic stories of a petite white teacher transforming mostly minority students into productive members of society?

Too few, I’d say. It’s unfortunate because Potts (“Designing Women,” “Love & War”) handles herself well, even overcoming some strained classroom speechmaking.

And, in the premiere at least, there are stories worth telling.

Tonight, Louanne helps a single teen mom (Tamala Jones) and a pair of tough guys (Greg Serano, Vicellous Reon Shannon) who are about to blow their chances of staying in school.

The bottom line is that viewers hear so much negative news about city schools that they no longer believe one person - no white knight - can make a difference.

Of course, they’re wrong.

Last season, viewers rejected similar “Matt Waters” and tuned out in droves when Sidney Poitier reprised his “To Sir, With Love” role in a TV-movie sequel.

The producers of “Dangerous Minds” will have to come up with something special.

The premiere is engaging and wellacted. But it will take more for the series to survive.

Highlights

“Cosby,” CBS at 8: Hilton and Ruth (Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad) are victims of a break-in as a minicrime wave hits the neighborhood. Hilton fights back, with mildly comic results.

“Melrose Place,” FOX at 8: Billy (Andrew Shue), trying to forget Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith), goes out with Samantha (Brooke Langton). Taylor (Lisa Rinna) pays an official visit to Peter (Jack Wagner) hoping it will lead to something personal.

“Pearl,” CBS at 8:30: Always-funny Billy Connolly guest stars as Pynchon’s (Malcolm McDowell) estranged Scottish brother.

“Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?” (1996), NBC at 9: Tori Spelling (“Beverly Hills, 90210”) stars in a too-familiar woman-in-jeopardy tale. She plays a college student whose boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) is more than a little possessive and controlling. He’s a psychopath who, after killing his last girlfriend, has assumed a new identity.

Spelling again demonstrates her profound lack of dramatic range as her character battles to escape the maniac. Sergei’s performance is chilling, however, and Lisa Banes turns in an even performance as the young woman’s mother.

“Football,” ABC at 9: Dallas (3-1) visits Philadelphia (1-3).

“Murphy Brown,” CBS at 9: Frank (Joe Regalbuto) is devastated when the director of his autobiographical play casts a gay actor as the lead and turns the play into a gay love story. The series has a knack for dealing with homosexuality in smart and humorous fashion. The last time the show tackled the issue - the time Jim (Charles Kimbrough) unknowingly bought a gay bar - the results were spectacularly funny.

Cable Calls

“Dallas,” TNN at 8: The 1978-91 series begins a Monday-Friday repeat run. TNN owns the rights to all 356 episodes. There are two other chances to see the show each day at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Talk Time

“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35 : Elizabeth Dole and saxophonist Kenny G.

“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35 : Talk show host-actress Ricki Lake, Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) and singer Tom Petty.


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