There are some holiday TV movies that you watch and know instantly that they are destined to become Christmas classics.
CBS’ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1997) at 8 is not one of them.
Robert Hays plays a recently widowed and very troubled doctor who returns to his hometown of St. Nicholas to visit his father (Jack Palance). The locals, including the mayor (Ann Jillian), try to recruit him to save the town’s tiny hospital - something he’s dead set against.
It’s unfortunate but true that some makers of television believe that the Christmas season gives them license to pull out all the worst cliches, dress them in fresh red and green, and expect viewers to get all misty-eyed.
“I’ll Be Home” tugs at the heartstrings by setting up Hays’ character as being so emotionally distraught by his wife’s death that he can no longer perform surgery. Then, he is forced to face his fears when his aging father requires a lifesaving medical procedure.
Hays and Jillian present one-dimensional, perfunctory characters who never allow us to care about anything going on here. The happy ending is happy only because of the relief you feel that it’s finally over.
When the holiday season ends, this dull melodrama should be taken to the attic with the rest of the Christmas decorations - and left there.
“Trapped in Paradise” (1994), FOX at 8: This box-office flop should be much better than it is.
Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey play crooked brothers who talk their sibling, played by Nicolas Cage, into robbing a bank in peaceful Paradise, Pa. But the townspeople are so friendly, they have trouble pulling it off, especially with it being Christmas and all.
Once established, the plot becomes as bogged down as reindeer in deep powder. Don’t be trapped by this one.
“Home Improvement,” ABC at 9: Tim (Tim Allen) becomes Brad’s (Zachery Ty Bryan) personal trainer when a college recruiter indicates he’s a candidate for a sports scholarship. It’s clearheaded Jill (Patricia Richardson) who sees that Tim is putting their son under too much pressure.
It’s a good take on fathers, sons and sports. Repeat.
“Ed Bradley on Assignment: Town Under Siege,” CBS at 10: This hour plays out like a classic “60 Minutes” expose. Bradley reports on the struggles of Grand Bois, La., where people say they’re being slowly killed by exposure to a nearby toxic waste dump.
The stunner is that the dump, which contains poisons such as cancer-causing benzene and hydrogen sulfide, is virtually unregulated, thanks to a loophole in the federal hazardous-waste law.
“Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden V,” ABC at 10: The former “Good Morning America” cohost goes inside Secret Service training headquarters in Beltsville, Md., and talks with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton about the pressure of being constantly shadowed by agents. Then, it’s off to Las Vegas, where Lunden trains to perform as a showgirl.
Give Lunden credit for another ambitious and original prime-time special.
“In Search of Mother Russia’s Children,” MAX at 8: This depressing documentary filmed by Tom Roberts is a follow-up to his acclaimed 1992 film, “Mother Russia’s Children.”
He returns to St. Petersburg to find out what has become of the homeless children he first encountered. Their lives largely unchanged, they are representative of an estimated 30,000 homeless children in the city.
It’s beyond me why anyone would want to watch this.
“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35: Actress Bridget Fonda, 5-year-old actor Logan O’Brien and singer Bebe Winans and the Big Christmas Choir.
“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35: Fox football analyst Terry Bradshaw, actor Billy Zane and singer Darlene Love.
“Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” ABC at 12:05 a.m.: Erica Jong, Rita Rudner, Dylan McDermott and columnist Susannah Breslin. Repeat.
“The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder,” CBS at 12:35 a.m.: Actor Kirk Douglas and author Harlan Ellison. Repeat.
“Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” NBC at 12:35 a.m.: Comedian Lewis Black.
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