Two serious TV plays tackle problems of family behavior
Circle of Violence CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. Starring Geraldine Fitzgerald and Tuesday Weld. Directed by David Greene, written by William Wood. Can You Feel Me Dancing? NBC, Monday, 9-11 p.m. Starring Justine Bateman, Roger Wilson, and Jason Bateman. Directed by Michael Miller; written by J. Miyoko Hensley and Steven Hensley. Commercial television tackles major social problems with minor original dramas this holiday weekend.
In ``Circle of Violence,'' which deals with parent and child abuse, a daughter (Tuesday Weld) abuses her aging mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and seems on the verge of abusing her own children as well. We soon discover that she also suffered child abuse herself -- years ago at the hands of her mother.
The reason the drama offers for this circle of violence is each woman's frustration at being deserted by their respective husbands. It's a rather complicated story line, oversimplified by the soothing voice of a therapist with whom the younger woman finally consults.
The superficial plot doesn't take the necessary time to build character; it zooms right in on the case histories. The ultimate resolution seems pat and self-righteous: the return of the younger woman's hubby, earphones so that dear, old, impossible mother can play the TV set as loud as she wants, and eventually a retirement home for her.
Weld and Fitzgerald are such fine actresses that they almost make you forget you're watching soap opera. ``Circle of Violence'' isn't awful; it's just not quite good enough to provide a meaningful exploration of this timely topic, which, according to the therapist in the film, involves nearly a million cases each year.
The most imaginative thing about ``Can You Feel Me Dancing?'' is the title.
The story concerns a blind teen-ager (played by Justine Bateman of ``Family Ties''), who must fight overprotectiveness on the part of her brother (played by her real-life brother, Jason Bateman, of ``Valerie'') and the rest of her family. When she finds a boyfriend, she must deal with his overprotectiveness as well.
With a plot reminiscent of ``Saturday Night Fever,'' the boyfriend, a great dancer, teaches her some steps and then enters the two of them in a contest.
Dancing isn't the girl's only leisure pursuit, however. With the help of her family, she also learns to ice skate, scuba dive, and hang glide.
Her parents don't put up much of a fight on moral grounds when she decides to move in with her boyfriend. But they really object when she decides to go away to college. Finally, with the help of a seeing-eye dog and some karate lessons, she is deemed independent and marches off into the sunset.
The Batemans try hard, with Jason turning in a more believable performance than his sister. (The show's producer, by the way, is Kent Bateman, their real-life father.) But, despite the fact that the script was inspired by actual events, viewers get merely a well-meaning, simplistic, sudsy story that cries out for more inspired writing.
Both ``Circle of Violence'' and ``Can You Feel Me Dancing?'' have moving moments and occasional glints of incisive introspection. But both programs prove that it simply isn't enough to dramatize a contemporary problem and cast interesting stars in the leads. The scripts have to be skillful and sensitive and well motivated -- things neither ``Circle of Violence'' nor ``Can You Feel Me Dancing?'' achieves.