Why anyone thought we really needed another adaptation of Flowers for Algernon (Sunday February 20; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS), the Daniel Keyes novella that inspired a 1961 episode of The U.S. Steel Hour and then the 1968 movie Charly, is one of those imponderables of network Vulcan mind-meld. It would be impossible for Matthew Modine to improve on Cliff Robertson, who won an Oscar for his work as the mentally retarded clerk in a bakery store who’s turned too briefly into a genius by experimental brain surgery, or for Kelli Williams to improve on Claire Bloom as the teacher who arouses his suddenly adult sexuality, and neither of them has. They are fine, even in the dubious service of a distinctly sixties sort of celebration of the superiority of feelings over books, of kindness over intelligence, and of the slobby, bullying camaraderie of workplace lowlifes over the heartlessness of Big Science careerists.
But if my memory is correct, in Charly Cliff Robertson tried to rape Claire Bloom, after which he went through Marlon Brando-biker and David Crosby-hippie periods. In Flowers for Algernon, rather less luridly, Matthew merely falls in puppy love with Kelli – a tender intimacy hard to distinguish from his feelings for Algernon, the white laboratory mouse.