Just in time for the democratic convention in L.A. comes Running Mates (Sunday, August 13; 8 to 10 p.m.; TNT), a TV movie set at a Democratic convention in L.A. where Tom Selleck is about to be nominated for president. After sleeping with his campaign manager (Laura Linney), his Hollywood fund-raiser (Teri Hatcher), the wife (Faye Dunaway) of his Beltway mentor (Robert Culp), and, of course, his own forgiving spouse (Nancy Travis), Tom will now make love to the whole nation. Or screw us, who knows? The best scene in Claudia Salter’s generally clever teleplay gathers all these women in one candlelit room, just after Laura’s been fired by Tom as part of a deal he struck with the Daddy Warbucks crowd to abandon campaign-finance reform, and they compare notes and sing songs (including “The Star-Spangled Banner”).
That Tom will renege on this unprincipled deal in the middle of his nationally televised acceptance speech (“America’s not for sale!”) is both a narrative given for anybody who saw Michael Douglas ban handguns, save the environment, and retrieve Annette Bening at the end of The American President, and about as likely in real life as a Nader landslide this November. But in the rollicking meanwhile, Linney is immensely fetching as the idealistic pro; Dunaway and Hatcher are wonderfully over-the-top; Bruce McGill and Bob Gunton are the bad-guy, good-guy alternatives for veep; Tom should never have shaved off his Magnum mustache; and director Ron Lagomarsino has fun at the three-ring circus. Running Mates would lose in any primary that included Altman’s Tanner ‘88 or Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, but it’s a lot more interesting than the Harvard-Yale game.
As I type, or keystroke, or whatever, there is no way of knowing if all the delegates to the Republican convention escaped from Philadelphia unbrutalized by its feisty cops. But an equally feisty docudrama, The Thin Blue Lie (Sunday, August 13; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; Showtime), makes it clear that the recent police beating of a black civilian, so inconveniently recorded by an overhead chopper trolling for local news, had such lurid antecedents as to signify a tradition of Brotherly Tough Love. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, the seventies, when Mayor Frank Rizzo, an ex-cop himself, was so popular in Philly for chasing crime off the streets that he thought he could get away with changing the city charter in order to run for a third term. And then a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Inquirer revealed that a “Goon Squad” of homicide detectives was in the unfortunate habit of beating, torturing, and maybe even murdering suspected perps who hadn’t confessed fast enough to meet their closed-case quota.
Rob Morrow is perfect as Jonathan Neumann, the young reporter who broke the story and brought down Rizzo (Paul Sorvino, also inspired casting). Not only will Morrow remind you of Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein in All the President’s Men, and of Robert Walden’s Joe Rossi on the old Lou Grant show, but he’s just as obsessive-obnoxious to Cynthia Preston, the superblonde at the Inquirer (here called the Examiner), as he was to Janine Turner, the cutie-pie pilot on Northern Exposure. Randy Quaid, on the other hand, as the City Hall bureau veteran forced to team up with this investigative whippersnapper, suggests that it may be possible to be a reporter and also have a life. Other old familiar TV faces include G. W. Bailey from M*A*S*H, as a grouchy editor, and Al Waxman from Cagney & Lacey, as a wise old Police Plaza insider who knows where both the files and the bodies are buried. (Turns out there are floors the elevator doesn’t go to.) And Roger Young directs as if he were Costa-Gavras.
The Thin Blue Lie, slick and scary, redresses a dangerous imbalance. For decades, TV has trained us to forgive our centurions almost anything because their jobs are thankless. But what happens when mayors start thinking like Greek colonels is that cops start behaving like German border guards. I especially prize Philly’s White Rabbit – a homicide dick in a bunny suit who thumps on cuffed suspects until they’re anxious to sign anything, even their own death warrant. What are they going to tell their public defender, that they were whacked by a six-foot rabbit?
I like Tom Skerritt. He may even be a better actor than Gary Cooper, who was not exactly Laurence Olivier. And Susanna Thompson is a more persuasive Quaker than it was ever necessary for Grace Kelly to pretend to be. And Maria Conchita Alonso is a perfectly acceptable substitute for Katy Jurado. And Michael Madsen is a menacing improvement on Ian MacDonald as vengeful Frank Miller. But there is really no excuse for a remake of High Noon (Sunday, August 20; 8 to 10 p.m.; TBS), not even if you stick mostly to Carl Foreman’s original coward-bashing screenplay and its 85 tick-tock minutes of “real time.” It’s like stuffing beans up your nose just because you’ve got a pair of nostrils.
Never mind, either, Dennis Weaver and the rest of the supporting cast, who do nothing of which they need be ashamed. If, however, you’re going to redo a much-loved golden oldie, which is better anyway in memory than it is on VHS, then at least rethink it. Why buy into Hollywood’s perverse line on Quakers? (The movies love them most when they abandon their principles and take up arms.) Why not meet that train at noon with a collective of vegetarian carpenters and a nonviolent sit-down strike?
But if you absolutely insist on doing the same thing all over again with commercials, then you have to shell out whatever bucks it takes to get the original music. Without Tex Ritter’s performance of the Dimitri Tiomkin theme song, “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me),” this copycat crime is just asking for capital punishment.
Bull (Tuesdays, starting August 15; 10 to 11 p.m.; TNT) asks us for the next thirteen weeks to identify with a bunch of young hotshot renegade investment bankers and traders who walk out of their old-shoe firm one step ahead of the S.E.C. but months before they have a truly interesting line of credit, to buy and sell on the telephone and push money through their modems as if the spider-speak in green decimals of international currency speculation were Holy Script.
Maybe in the coming three months Stanley Tucci will lead them to some Brigadoon of the New Economy and I will understand more than a fly-by third of the slanguage they frisbee with such insouciance. But I like them – George Newbern, Malik Yoba, Elisabeth Rohm, Ian Kahn, Christopher Wiehl, and, especially, Alicia Coppola – at least as much as I can stand to be in the same room with bipolar hypercapitalists.