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Fascination with the very rich. `Under the Biltmore Clock' adapts Fitzgerald story

If the phrase ``trendy chic'' had been part of the contemporary vernacular in the 1930s, F. Scott Fitzgerald would have been so categorized by many critics. But Fitzgerald's work seems to have outlived the cruel gibes of the supposed cognoscenti of his era. As the years go by, he is hailed as one of the greatest writers of his period, a man who managed to spotlight his times through the seemingly superficial mores of a certain stratum of society. The rich and beautiful captured his imagination most vividly, and ``Under the Biltmore Clock'' (PBS, Monday, April 22, 9-10:30 p.m., check local listings), based upon his short story ``Myra Meets His Family,'' focuses on Fitzgerald's fantasies about them.

Included in the fourth season of ``American Playhouse,'' TV's only weekly dramatic anthology series and certainly the only series which features American drama, ``Under the Biltmore Clock'' is as much illusion as it is reality, as much legend as truth.

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None of its characters -- from Myra, who hangs around the lobby of the chic Biltmore to meet eligible men, to Knowlton, the weak wealthy man she falls in love with -- are believable human beings. They are just one-dimensional paper dolls chosen to play out Fitzgerald's seeming fascination with the way of the rich.

The teleplay by Ilene Cooper and Neal Miller doesn't help very much, nor does the direction by Neal Miller. It is almost as if everybody involved, including the actors, recognized they were caught in a tricky charade not worthy of more than minimal effort. No depth, no dimension was added at any level.

``Under the Biltmore Clock'' is the kind of story that probably made the rounds of l930s and '40s cocktail parties and might even have slipped into the storytelling sorority pajama parties and graced Girl Scout campfires. It is slim, slick, and utterly superficial. It is F. Scott Fitzgerald at his frivolous and insular worst. You won't believe its premise, its story line, its climax for a moment, although it does manage to re-create a time and a place fairly well.

If the accusations of superficiality hurled at F. Scott Fitzgerald have validity in the perspective of time, ``Biltmore Clock'' would almost alone provide ample proof.

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