Sunday, January 22, 2017

TV Spot Tuesday: Sharing Richard (1988)



Network: CBS
Airdate: April 26th, 1988


To promote the airing of Sharing Richard, the network released a brief statement declaring the film "explores a timely phenomenon: the shortage of single men for women over thirty." To present the issue, Sharing Richard was designed as a "contemporary comedy," in what may have been a sometimes misguided effort to dissect a topic that was on a lot of minds.

Then, shortly after Sharing Richard originally aired, an angry viewer wrote to the Los Angeles Times, complaining, "The concerns of singles dating are very real and complicated issues. The movie's plot utterly made fools of these four characters whose self-awareness, self esteem and mutual respect seemed to be in the dirt. Women were in their usual role of apologizing for messing things up and the man could somehow spread his "caring" among many women. The movie pretended to have a modern plot but frankly it was a long way from giving any kind of decent message about modern relationships."

This may be an issue...
The TVMs of the eighties often had a weird relationship with the women in them. Recently, I was just considering how the telefilm, as a medium, has proven to be a rather female-centric space, featuring so many actresses that are often aligned with the genre, such as Barbara Eden, Patty Duke and Donna Mills (in fact, you can here my co-hosts and myself discuss the topic on this blog's companion podcast). Yet, even with all of those strong women (and I'm talking outside of the Aqua Net and shoulder pads), there was a real tug of war between making female characters independent while having them chase down a hot guy with a good job. The sentimental, Harlequin-esque romance (which I am totally into) sometimes overwhelmed the idea of female independence. This, my friends, is a bit of an issue (although in the context of entertaining fluff like Sharing Richard, a sometimes fun and mostly inoffensive one). It created an uneasy mixture, and it was up to the Eighties Woman (well, really it's up to the actress playing her) to make the whole thing flow and not seem like it was a conundrum at all. Did all of this back and forth confuse my growing brain? Probably, but that's OK. As nostalgic and sappy as I can be, I don't discount that films are time capsules - especially TV movies - that tended to fall on the most prominent contemporary beats to quickly engage the audience - and are sometimes best served by viewing them with a grain of salt.

In short, unlike the lady who wrote to the LA Times, I make excuses for my romance. So sue me.

Men might be scarce, but there were plenty of 80s sweaters to go around!
Sharing Richard, which is ultimately delightful and flawed, walks this fine line in an attempt to bring all of those modern ideas about love and sex into a story about three best friends who exude independence, but are essentially really, really, really about finding Mr. Right. I won't call them desperate because despite their desire for love and marriage, they also come across as contented with their life as is. Of course, all that goes to hell when they realize they are all falling for the same guy!

The women:




The man: 


Admittedly, that guy is pretty much everything. And when I say everything you know I'm not overstating this because it's Ed Marinaro. Eighties Ed Marinaro, a few years after Police Woman Centerfold (lord help me, I love that movie), and Laverne and Shirley (btw, is it just me, or is it creepy that Ed played Laverne's cousin and then went on to play her boyfriend... yikes!) . Anyway, Richard is a handsome and charming plastic surgeon who just happens to be recently divorced. While somewhat bitter about his marriage breaking up he turns out to be a great date, fulfilling certain individual needs in each woman. So, why not just pass him around like a great sweater (an analogy a character uses)? And they do.




At first it's fairly innocent, but then this thing called love gets involved and the trio of lifelong BFFs find themselves sneaking around each others' backs and growing more and more jealous of whichever friend has Richard on any particular night. Despite the oogie factor that creeps in when two of the friends start having sex with Richard, the film does its best to keep the women likable, and even to a certain degree, Richard, who probably should have been more honest about his dating schedule, but who is also unaware that these women are friends.

Potential mic drop moment...
Of course, marriage and family were, and remain an important core goal for many, female and male. Still, the women in the TV movies of this era are often obsessed with finding the perfect husband, and having babies (see Babies for a more than obvious example). All of this would happen with characters who were also portrayed as independent and career driven. Certainly, you can have both (and hats off to those who do), but inevitably Sharing Richard is a reflection of the eighties (by way of the fifties) American Dream, which includes the white picket fence and 2.5 kids, but with a dose of second wave feminism that mirrored the career woman who "wanted it all." And, the result is that characters can come across as more pathetic than focused or ambitious.

Well, currently 1/3 of him is focused
Luckily, this telefilm goes for the light touch, and has genuinely funny moments, using humor to examine the issues. The trio of leading ladies are amazing, and I was especially pleased to see Hilary Smith, best known to me as Nora from One Life to Live, showing off her adept comic timing. Her character is a bit grating, but the one liners are choice, and her delivery perfect. Eileen Davidson is great as well, and looks amazing (and pretty much the same as she does now). I was not as familiar with Nancy Frangione, and while I feel her character is the weakest of the bunch, the actress does a good job of making her likable.

Buds before duds...
When these characters become hostile towards each other over a man, it is apparent that the message is mixed and muddled. But some of the humor is timeless, the actresses are warm and Ed... well, he's hot. Despite its flaws, Sharing Richard is worth a watch, mostly for the actors... and shoulder pads, but its also just so damn amiable and more charming than it has any right to be.

The TV spot for Sharing Richard:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

City Killer (1984)

 
Network: NBC
Original Airdate: October 28, 1984


As a genre that sort of falls somewhere in the middle of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, the made for television movie was able to play around with expectations and the types of stories it could bring to viewers. But then somewhere in between the betweens of The Burning Bed and Diary of Teenage Hitchhiker lies another middle, where films that set out to entertain weren’t sure if they should aim for that high or low bar. One of those films, City Killer, which is somewhat befuddling and perhaps overly ambitious, is also, for the most part, high entertainment, thanks to an extremely engaging Terence Knox and some decent special effects.


And, then there’s that common trope of 1980s TV. We all loved Heather Locklear. Circa early – mid 1980s, Locklear was all over the, ahem, boob tube, appearing as a series regular on the popular T.J. Hooker, while also showing up periodically to stir the pot at the Carrington mansion in Dynasty. She also somehow managed to appear on things such as Love Boat and even Firestarter. So it’s no shock that the indefatigable charmer found the time to star in a Movie of the Week, although it is really what the MOW is about that makes City Killer so interesting (Sorry Heather, you’ve been upstaged by a mad bomber!).


Locklear is Andrea McKnight, a general workaholic who has a dog she never walks, and who also enjoys slightly warm relationships with her co-workers. But she tends to be a tad aloof, choosing to keep herself in a self-imposed state of solitude in her airy apartment (she could walk that dog once in a while though). Things take a weird turn when she comes home late one night to find an attractive, but creepy man waiting for her. He’s Leo (Terence Knox), an ex who would prefer to be a current. But considering how he picks locks and waits in the dark for pretty blondes, he's not made of great boyfriend material. Even worse, when Andrea flat out refuses his advances, he decides to blow up buildings to get her attention! Nicknamed The Love Bomber, Leo joyfully sets explosives throughout the city, eventually targeting Andrea’s job amongst other random buildings.


Enter Lieutenant “Eck” Eckford (Gerald McRaney), a handsome but humorless cop who is assigned to protect Andrea and bring Leo to justice. Mostly though, he seems almost as sinister as Leo, constantly telling Andrea that she’s a target because she’s “a very nice person,” who understands when a guy can't get an erection. Then he quietly ogles her. In short, I was sort of rooting for Leo.


City Killer is, pardon the expression, a blast. Locklear and McRaney seem to be phoning it in, but the supporting cast, especially Todd Susman, John Harkins (best know to me for playing Ham Lushbough on an episode of the Golden Girls), and Harkin’s little rodent co-star, not to mention the lovably weird Knox are up to the task of making the ridiculous material work. Knox in an absolute joy as crazy Leo and if anyone can make terrorism adorable, it’s this guy.


The screenplay was written by one of the stalwarts of the Movie of the Week, Michael Wood, who was responsible for the excellent telefilms Savages, Haunts of the Very Rich, Outrage and Death Car on the Freeway. By the 1980s, Wood was still penning some interesting fare, including The Execution and The Penthouse, but City Killer honestly seems a little below him. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun film, but considering how small scale and intimate most of his TVMs are, it felt as though Wood was dipping into his Death Car repertoire and perhaps overshot expectations.


Director Robert Michael Lewis (Pray for the Wildcats, y'all!) moved predominately to TV movies by the 1980s, and this was just one of eight films he directed between 1983-1985! It appears some of the explosions were done with miniatures with the rest comprised of footage of actual demolitions, all to decent effect. Things go boom quite nicely, and you quickly understand that Leo isn't joking around! He pulverizes the city, and kills several people along the way… all in the name of amore. Awwww, ain’t love grand?


As entertaining as City Killer is, it may be worth noting that it can be an uncomfortable viewing in our post 9-11 world. It’s mostly a flight of fancy and is so gloriously over the top that it’s 99% inoffensive, but (and maybe this is just me) it can be difficult to watch buildings pancake, even all these years later. At the same time, it also sadly recalls a bygone era of innocence adding a nostalgic flavor to the proceedings… but Heather’s intense feather cut basically does the same thing without making you feel bad. City Killer is worth a watch. You’ll fall in love with Leo and root for the bad guy. It’s a good time.

US VHS release

Promotional still

Who cares?!? I love it!

Incredible foreign VHS art (image from Rare Cult Cinema)