March 25, 1986
and ABC Present Two Series Premieres
John J. O'Connor
Two new series that
begin this evening return to the past for what they hope is inspiration.
CBS's hourlong ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' at 8 o'clock, tries valiantly to
evoke the soothing warmth that in the 1970's was the trademark of ''The Waltons.''
The executive producers are Earl Hamner, creator of ''The Waltons,'' and Fred
Silverman, the former CBS programming chief who gave Mr. Hamner his big
break. ABC's ''Perfect Strangers,'' a half-hour comedy that airs at 8:30
P.M., goes back even further, to vaudeville and comedy with a funny accent, this
time provided by a young man named Balki who comes from ''a small Mediterranean
island country'' that sounds very much like Greece. The good news is that
Balki is played by a gifted comic actor named Bronson Pinchot.
Mr. Hamner is
credited with developing ''Morningstar/Eveningstar'' from a scenario created by
Roger Damon Price. And, as in ''The Waltons,'' Mr. Hamner is back as
narrator, succinctly revealing the show's ''concept'' in the opening moments:
''This is the story of some young people who needed a home, some senior citizens
who needed love, and how they became a family.'' When the Morningstar
orphanage burns down, Bob (Darrell Larson), a young social worker, takes his
wards to the Eveningstar retirement home, asking Debbie (Sherry Hursey), another
young social worker, for temporary shelter. Given the already stated
family concept, the suspense is not exactly killing.
ranging in age from about 7 to 17, move in, grumbling and sassy. ''We've
ended up in a waxworks,'' says one. The older folks are a bit nervous; one
or two are downright hostile to the idea. ''Ah find it most disruptive,'' says a
former Southern belle still preoccupied with the social graces. But in a
matter of minutes, Mr. Hamner and Mr. Silverman have established their basic
demographics, clearly aimed at the millions who are not turned on by the
music-video glitter of a ''Miami Vice.'' This is closer to ''Highway to
Heaven'' territory. The lovable characters include everybody from an
adorable little girl, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the youngest daughter
on ''The Cosby Show,'' to a kindly woman who collects stray animals, saying,
''someday I'm going to find a place where I can keep every homeless thing in the
world.'' The two social workers, of course, provide a note of contemporary
The result sometimes
comes close to sentimentality running amok, but ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' for
all of its gooey and sometimes shameless machinations, can be accused of nothing
more than promoting decency and compassion. It beats mindless violence.
And it would be foolhardy to underestimate the cast of veteran actors recruited
for the Eveningstar home. Sylvia Sidney plays the Southern woman, Kate
Reid the protector of animals. Equally prominent are Elizabeth Wilson as a
three-time and still simmering widow; Scatman Crothers as a pianist waiting for
his agent to call; Jeff Corey as a crochety loner, and Teresa Wright and Mason
Adams as a couple married for 40 years. The always lovely Miss Wright is
billed as a guest star, and the reason is revealed in next week's four-hankie
Directed by Jerry Jameson, ''Morningstar/Eveningstar''
is not without a sense of humor. In one scene, sprinkled with good nights
as the youngsters climb into bed, one of older boys smirks, ''This is just like
'The Waltons'.'' It is indeed, but maybe that is not such a bad idea for
television in the mid-1980's.
Over on ABC, Mark
Linn-Baker has left his large suburban family and is just starting out on his
own in the big city of Chicago. Opening his apartment door one evening, he
is confronted by a fiercely amiable young man who insists that he is a relative
and wants to move in. This is Balki (Mr. Pinchot), who reasonably asks,
''What do you think, I'm going to move in with some stranger?'' Although
straight from the hills of his Mediterranean home, and thrilled to have arrived
in ''the home of the Whopper,'' Balki insists that he is a professional - a
professional sheepherder. This Miller-Boyet production was written by Dale
K. McRaven and directed, with a neatly raised eyebrow, by Joel Zwick.
routines are, by now, not the stuff of fresh television comedy. There are
a limited number of laughs to be drained from the spectacle of a wide-eyed
enthusiast discovering such truly American artifacts as pink lemonade and sofas
that turn into beds. But Mr. Pinchot, who in a brief role almost stole
''Beverly Hills Cop'' away from Eddie Murphy, makes it all seem hilariously
complemented by Mr. Linn-Baker as the wisecracking cousin (''related by rumor,''
he decides), Balki rushes into life with a trusting smile that is as innocently
calculating as it is disarming. He is Harpo Marx weaned on feta cheese and
high hopes. No matter the problem, Balki has a solution. ''Of course
I do,'' he assures skeptics, ''don't be ridiculous!'' Balki: ''I can fix
things.'' Doubtful boss: ''You can fix things?'' Balki: ''Why not,
I'm young.'' Mr. Pinchot is clearly having a good time with Balki, whether
telling a story about how he managed to make his grandmother's limp finger as
hard as a nail in a board, or doing an impersonation of Tina Turner singing
''What's Love Got to Do With It?''
Now, it would seem,
it is just a matter of ''Perfect Strangers'' finding enough worthwhile material
to keep Mr. Pinchot and Mr. Linn-Baker reasonably employed.