TV gets around to Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith
In the 1930s "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" were examples of a genre film in which Joe Citizen/John Doe stood up for his rights against the establishment/bureaucracy. And won.
Now "Ohms" (CBS, Wednesday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) is reviving that genre for the electronic medium. It concerns the underhanded manipulations of a power company as it strives to string 1-million-volt towers across the land of the unsuspecting farmers of Freedom Plains. Government is on the side of the power company and the principle of eminent domain gives the company the right to use private lands for "the public good."
The TV confrontation is based upon the alleged health dangers of the high voltage lines, the noise, and the fact that the towers "are just ugly." At first , the farmers rebel with violence; then with a nonviolent ploy -- disassembling a huge tower and reassembling it on the governor's front lawn. He gets the point.
Like other works of the genre, "Ohms" is simplistic, flag-waving, kneejerk political, old-fashioned, and yet somehow inspiring.
There are heroes and villains -- all portrayed in extremes. The farmers are good guys; the power company and the bureaucrats the bad guys. Even the prime mover of the protesters, a crippled left-wing Vietnam vet turned agitator, is pictured as totally unselfish -- a good guy in temporary retreat.
Nobody ever wonders about other farmers whose land will have to accommodate the towers as a result of the Freedom Plains political action. Nobody ever wonders how the farmers would fare without electricity. Claimed to be based upon a real New York State case of local resistance to high-voltage power lines, "Ohms" at least forces viewers to think a bit about the point at which progress and conservation clash. If real solutions are not suggested -- at least in its own hurray-for-the-good-guys way, "Ohms" hints that there is a problem. And it's so nice to have good old-fashioned "common man" heroes again.
"Ohms" (produced by Neil Maffo for Grant, Case, McGrath Enterprises) is written with unsubtle good intentions by Gene Case, directed with head-on straightforwardness by Dick Lowry. It is impeccably acted by Ralph Waite ("The Waltons"), David Birney, Dixie Carter, Cameron Mitchell, and Leslie Nielsen.
Especially good in the role of the innocently activist daughter is Talia Balsam, a young actress who will undoubtedly be seen often in future TV shows. A driving rock musical score was composed by Elizabeth Swados ("Runaways"). Mr. Waite, by the way, has the widest, most lovable grin in television -- and he uses it often and effectively in the special.
"Ohms" is a lovely, leisurely, naive homage to Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith. The question is: Will corporate America foot the bill for attacks upon itself" CBS did not have a list of sponsors available when I previewed the film but I bet you won't find utilities among them.