I’ll Take Manhattan (1987)


Let this one stew around in your brain for a bit: “I’ll Take Manhattan” was the highest rated American miniseries of the 1986-1987 season.  That means more people watched this claptrap than “Kane and Abel,” “Rage of Angels: The Story Continues,” “Richest Man in the World: The Story of Aristotle Onassis,” “Amerika” and ALL FIVE of the Emmy Nominated Outstanding Miniseries (“Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna,” “Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder,” “Out on a Limb,” “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” and the winner, “A Year In the Life”).  Every miniseries I just mentioned has already been discussed here except for “A Year in the Life,” and all of them are better than “I’ll Take Manhattan,” which is neither stupid nor silly enough to be a guilty pleasure, except in a few accidental moments.

But quality did not pre-determine success in the American miniseries movement.  Apparently Judith Krantz did, because yet another of her vapid soap opera miniseries mopped the floor with the competition.  How?  Beats the hell out of me.  “I’ll Take Manhattan” is chock full of TV stars, but they can’t fully save it from its somnambulant ability to bore and stupefy.  For over six hours!

It’s hard to imagine a better start than Ella Fitzgerald singing “I’ll Take Manhattan” over the opening credits.  It’s also another piece of proof that Krantz has never been particularly creative in her titles.  Why stress yourself when you can have Rodgers and Hart do it for you?

After a mysterious into showing a shocking dead body (shocking story-wise, not shocking viewer-wise), we meet our heroine, Valerie Bertinelli.  She’s on a  plane, wearing a get up with shoulder pads so wide she had no choice but to book first class, and her hair is multicolored, the overall impression being a wig made of skunk.  And blue eyeshadow.  It wouldn’t be the 80s without it.  On a tear at the airport, Valerie tells a gate agent about her “lurid past,” mentioning her gaggle of ex-husbands, in a voice out of an old movie, maybe Greer Garson or Celeste Holm.  This continues when a customs inspector, who is familiar with all of the scams Valerie has pulled, rattles them off for us.  In her Greer-Celeste voice, she hurries him by openly stating, “no drugs, no unpasteurized cheese, not salami with hoof-and-mouth-disease,” but the inspector finds the evidence of illegal transportation of something or other and charges her $600, which she has in cash and which he takes as payment.  I don’t remember customs inspectors taking cash.  “One of these times, you’re going to earn yourself a body search,” he says creepily.

After more dippy flirting, Valerie meets up with brother Adam Storke and we finally link in the mysterious intro: the dead guy was their father.  He must have been important, as are they, because there is a board meeting called.  Emergency board meetings only happen in sagas of the rich and famous.

Meanwhile, Perry King is getting a massage with his factotum present.  “Who’s going to be at this meeting?” he asks, instantly making it obvious he’s the villain.  It’s only a sentence or so later we find out he’s Valerie’s uncle.  He’s trumped by Jane Kaczmarek, wearing a gigantic blanket (or something that looks like it) and even bigger hair.  She complains that the deceased “is supposed to die in his mistress’ arms.”  Francesca Annis is on Perry’s side, but neither has any idea Valerie and Adam will be at the meeting.   Given the amount of frills on her decorous outfit, Francesca’s likely to have no head for business matters (pretty AND smart usually applies just to the heroine–I don’t make the rules folks, I just make fun of ’em).

Francesca, sending her natural English accent over-the-top, and sporting a veil that had not been in style since…ever, is Valerie’s mother, Adam’s mother and Tim Daly’s mother.  The latter is blind.  Blind-sighted by the surprise appearance of Valerie and Adam, Francesca can’t disguise her shock or her attempts to be the silliest matron this side of 1937.

The board meeting is humdinger.  The family is in publishing, but oily Perry has gotten Francesca to agree to cutting out a bunch of magazines, which alarms everyone since the company is “not in financial trouble,” as Valerie yowls, then adding that “the only danger is the one you are causing. You are my father’s younger brother, but you have never been a part of his publications AND YOU NEVER WILL BE!”  Francesca tops that with the bombshell that she and Perry were married yesterday, which is not a popular announcement.  “I will not be judged by you,” Francesca snarls at Valerie, who increases in volume word by word, almost bursting out of her mom jeans.

Do you think Valerie, or anyone else, including Judith Krantz, realizes this is the plot of “Hamlet?”

Valerie has dirt on Perry, so she blackmails him into reversing the decision to kill the specified magazines, demanding he give her one and a year to make it turn a profit.  Which magazine would she like?  “‘Buttons and Bows’, the one that started it all,” she answers.  Please tell me this isn’t a crafts magazine.  No empire was built on crafts until Martha Stewart came along.  “I’m not going to shake your hand…I’m not wearing gloves,” a triumphant Valerie says as she dramatically departs.  “Okay Pop, what do I do now?” she wonders aloud.

You all know how much the miniseries love flashbacks.  Let’s go back to 1945, shall we?  To a welcome home parade in honor of WWII vets (of course it is, what other war is there in the miniseries?), Fritz Weaver and Barbara Barrie (it’s hard to consider them slumming vets for such a short appearance, and Barrie is more than a bit grating)  are so excited that son Barry Bostwick is home safely, with his Bronze Star medal.  “No more of this hero stuff, Mom,” Barry chastises his crowing mother, “these guys are the real heroes,” and looks up at a massive grave stone of dead servicemen.  That was put together quickly!  Where is black sheep brother Perry?  In a car getting jiggy with some bimbo.  Barry finds him and there is an expected row, more melodramatic because the bimbo once belonged to Barry. “You had her last time you were home, today it’s my turn,” says Perry giggling.

He only just arrived, but it’s time for Barry to bid the family goodbye.  Only about 20 or so years too old, and covering by acting like a gangly simpleton, Perry is angry that his big brother, “got to go off to war,” while he has to go to school.  “It’s not my fault I was born first,” Barry says, as if it’s earth-shattering news.  Squeaky clean Barry tells Perry that he’s every bit as special because he has football letters, six of them, on his sweater.  Perry buys it and then goes wide-eyed when Barry gives him a Japanese sword.  “The guy who owned it, doesn’t need it anymore,” he says wistfully before noting it’s also his good luck charm.  “I can do anything I want with it?” Perry asks, acting like a six-year old child, literally.  “Thank you, honorable brother,” the younger one says with a racially idiotic bow.

Barry is Hamlet’s father, Polonius and Laertes all in one.

Barry’s bus hasn’t left before Perry tries out his sword, snapping it off at the hilt and whistles.  Yes he does, he malevolently whistles.  Perhaps he’s assuming Barry bought the sword in a souvenir shop, passing it off as filched in combat.  Or, perhaps Perry is truly as mentally lacking as he seems.

Now showing graying hair, Barry can be found working as a grunt in a clothing sweatshop.  Though he’s really just a switchboard operator (in all of history, can anyone remember at male switchboard operator in any movie?), he writes and mimeographs a fashion column, impressing boss Ken Olin, but then goes all Walter Mitty on him by hiring an illustrator, Paul Hecht, for his proposed magazine and when reeling off a series of lies to fleece Ken, barely letting Ken speak (and introducing us to the “Buttons and Bows” phrase, as if it’s something everyone says regularly).

The one-sheeter is a success and Barry wants it to be a magazine, but Ken “is expanding into ready-to-wear,” which is meant to sound purposely dismal compared to Barry’s flashy ideas.  It’s Barry’s charm that convinces Ken to not only purchase the current offices, but lend him the $5K to do it.  Or maybe it’s just bad writing, hard to tell.

Re-enter Jane Kaczmarek (the great thing about flashbacks is everyone gets TWO entrances!), a clothing model with a sassy attitude.  They meet when he’s selling ad space, though she’s not at all into his over-obvious flirting.  Luckily, the old standby of a stopped elevator gives them time to bond, though she makes it as difficult as possible by reading her book.  Once they realize their are kindred conmen, we get sent into that miniseries favorite: the falling in love montage.  It’s actually she who comes up with the idea that will make his magazine click and about two minutes later, after an undressing sequence that takes longer than it does to make clothing, they have sex.  Or we assume they do, given the flashing red neon sign in the darkened room and the chaste kissing: remember how afraid of sex the miniseries tends to be.  In afterglow, he offers her a job editing his new magazine (editing what is a fair question), and she agrees, but with one condition, that “you promise not to fire an employee for sleeping with the boss.”  “Not if she does a good job.” “Well, in that case, she better practice.”

There is a scene with Barry and a distributor that involves red paint, tacky magazines and a very overly-choreographed fight scene.  It’s very cuttable.  Watch it in fast forward and it plays like a silent movie (and faster is better with crap like this).

At the magazine’s 50th issue celebration, and just before he goes off to London where there are people with British accents (you can see where this is going), he proposes to Jane, who rebuffs him, joking that “you always propose on your third glass of champagne.”  She does not want to get married because she loves working and doesn’t want children or responsibilities to get in the way of her career.  That is a groaner of a plot device, because this character has never been conventional.

Cue the violins.  Barry is having a new wardrobe made when he spots Georgia Slowe (in the movie’s absolute worst costume, as if she’s touring in “The Belle of Amherst”), as the young Francesca Annis, buying a tie for her father.  He asks her advice on the clothing, she declines, so he says he “has a pit in my stomach” that is either hunger or love.  Take note of the salesman and his reactions to this.  He’s expressing the same sentiment as I am here.  She agrees to have lunch with him, still in her Emily Dickinson dress and hair.  As they wander by the Thames, she talks about the career in ballet she wants to pursue.  That very night, it’s off to Covent Gardens, where he’s clearly fallen in love (and where she wears only a moderately less ridiculous get-up).  The first kiss is followed by Georgia doing a ballet audition.  She’s crushed to hear that she can never be a prima ballerina because beauty and technique aside, “that other thing…is missing from your dancing.”  Spark?  Energy?  A love of anorexia?  I know it’s not the answer, but I choose age.  She’s only 10 or so years too old to be playing a spoiled British deb.  “Personality.  Magic.  One can’t dissect it,” she’s told after a full facial explosion of anger, bug-eyed, nostrils flaring, the whole deal.  She then unexpectedly undoes her hair, screams and throws a stool at the mirror.

When she tells her parents she’s giving up ballet, her father chalks it up to nerves and timing, though his ability to help stops there.  After all, her great grandmother “once kept Edward VII waiting for 34 minutes.”  Okay, thanks.  She also mentions she’s going to marry Barry (he must have asked her off camera, with a third glass of champagne).

Needless to say, Jane is upset.  Looking at the invitation, she caws about bride’s name, “we didn’t have names like that in Flatbush.”  In a snit, she quits her job, raging to poor Paul, though she knows it’s her own damn fault.  The wedding is in London, St. Paul’s, no less, and then naturally the honeymoon is aboard a fancy ship crossing the Atlantic.  When it’s time to do the deed, guess what?  She’s shivering.  “I’m so afraid I won’t please you.”  For crying out loud, this miniseries wasn’t written, it was simply hobbled together from scraps in The Cliche Hall of Fame.  Guess what again?  She moves his hand away when it approaches her you-know-what.  She must eventually give in because we have the “passage of time” montage, complete with adorable bouncing babies.  Georgia’s clearly unhinged solo ballet practices at home turn into Francesca’s clearly unhinged solo ballet practices at home.

Francesca has become a true ice queen.  She’s definitely not interested in having sex with Barry, and she can barely tolerate her kids, the boy going blind (she doesn’t know that yet) and the girl who “is a handful” as described by her nanny.  Barry chastises his wife for not showing them any affection, particularly the daughter, and she counters that he spoils them.  You can play out this scene all on your own and get it right.  Her ultimate issue is that he’s obsessed with his ultimate issue, meaning the magazine, which we haven’t seen in about 45 minutes.

Now, about that blind kid.  He’s not actually blind yet, but he will be.  Francesca, in her best Sable Colby imitation, puts her fist to her mouth and cries out in terror getting that diagnosis.  One assumes it’s out of embarrassment.  Don’t forget, we need to hate this character as much as possible.

At some snotty party, Perry shows up, still acting like a child, even with graying hair, so Barry forgives him for whatever he’s done (let’s keep it nonspecific, since they do).  Since we already know something will happen with Francesca and Perry, he has eyes only for her, but she is frosty when Barry asks her if his kid brother looks good.  “I don’t know, I’ve never met him before,” she purrs.  When Perry notes his interest to another guest, she says, “she never takes ice in her drinks.  Doesn’t need to.”  Okay, that’s a good cheesy line, I laughed.  “Everyone in Manhattan calls her the Ice Queen,” she continues.  Yeah, but I got there first.  Perry wants her and suddenly she’s a tigress–they even do it on the floor!  They even do it in a pay phone booth across the street from her mansion!  Better than a faulty Japanese sword, eh Perry?

Perry decides to use code.  Get this.  When he says “I want you,” or mouths it, it he means he wants her.  Wow, subtle.  No one will catch on!  Like Pavlov’s dog, it actually works.  Even in front of a roaring fire in her home while she’s giving a giant party.

Francesca is the chairwoman at a ballet performance (yet sitting in crappy seats), and when it’s time to mingle, Barry asks to stay in his seat so he can work.  He even has his briefcase with him.  Perry is there, taking her to a closet, where she regally announces, “you thrill me so.”  After the session, she gives him a necklace with her family crest.  She gave Barry one of those on her wedding night.  Oh, and by the way, she’s pregnant with his child.

Back inside, Barry tells her someone popped over to note his brother was at the performance.  He tells Francesca they should have him over to dinner again, this time with a date.  “No!” she insists, dripping melodrama.  “Why not?  I want to see what his taste in women is like these days,” he adds innocently.

When Barry leans over to say something else, she shushes him, then takes a VERY long time to smell her hand and kiss it.  Camp highlights don’t get better than this!  It makes for a fine ending to the first portion of the miniseries.  Francesca Annis is a wonderful actress and her overdone spark is a welcome touch to everyone else sleepwalking through a terrible and predictable script.  As for her hand, unlike mother unlike daughter.  Remember, Valerie had refused to shake Perry’s hand without gloves.  Francesca may never wash her hand again!

It’s 1960, and Jane has already gone go-go with her make-up and is anticipating the coming (in 25 years) shoulder pad revolution.  Barry wants her back at his company and in his life.  “I draw the line at married men,” she announces.  She still not interested in marriage.  Plus, her life is perfect.  “I have a hairdresser who doesn’t gossip, a gynecologist who doesn’t scare me, a dog that never had an accident on the carpet.  Why would I want to trade in such a terrific life for handful of uses goods like you?” she rails.  Wait, a hairdresser who doesn’t gossip?  Impossible!  She softens and they literally run into each other’s arms in Central Park.  I swear!  Among her breathless conditions are “maternity leave if we get lucky.”

Perry, looking hunky in a tight white t-shirt, slips a business card for an abortion doctor into Francesca’s purse, but she refuses to get rid of the baby.  She assumes Barry will simply let her go, and Perry is the more practical of the two, worried about scandal, the family, her kids, but she doesn’t care.  He decides to flee to San Francisco, writing a Dear John letter on the plane before joining the mile high club with a sexy stew.  Said sexy stew and a friend eagerly go with Perry and an old college buddy who is going to set up the smooth talker in San Francisco, noting warily that he hopes Perry hasn’t gotten into any trouble in NYC because “they are very particular about who they hire out here,” as if it’s a foreign country  Perry assures him it was personal and that makes everything okay.  Off with the stews.

At age five, Barry’s daughter is able to predict horse race winners during quality time with her dad.  They also duet on “I’ll Take Manhattan.”  Meanwhile, Francesca receives Perry’s letter breaking things off, but only reacts to an “i love you” tossed in at the end.  She tries to seduce Barry, but is so inept that he confesses his love for someone else, but Francesca persists, describing how she’s “afraid of the darkness” and every other dire cliche she can use as she wrings her diamond-clad hands.  She plays the sympathy card concerning the blind son and convinces him of course she loved him, “I gave up everything for the love of you,” which he knows to be untrue, but he falls for it anyway.  Men are so stupid.  Mission accomplished, now she can claim the baby is Barry’s.  He’s not thrilled when she announces her pregnancy.

Upset, he wanders around and is late for dinner at Jane’s.  She carps and checks herself.  “I sound more like a wife than a mistress,” she admits cheerfully.  Jane isn’t stupid, though she doesn’t guess the full truth.  She stops at Francesca playing on Barry’s feelings to get him to stay in the marriage.  “I don’t hate you.  I pity you.  And I love you,” Jane tells him and then takes away his key to her pad, though telling him she will keep her job.

Perry has talked his way into a brokerage job in San Francisco and is now on the hunt for a wealthy bride, the boss’ daughter.  He met her once, the day of his interview, when he became tangled up in her dog leashes.  His friend sets it up so Lynne Griffin (not the pretty one, as Perry’s pal says, “she’s jailbait”) can meet Perry on a yacht, and she brings her dogs.  Okay, maybe it’s really only a sailboat.  Perry, shirtless, with abs that no one had in 1987, and looking like a zillion bucks, recognizes the dogs and the girl, using the opportunity to “apologize” and charm her (it works immediately).  His unceasing charm offensive works exactly as he expected.  “I prefer to keep my business life separate from my private life,” he oozes.  “Do you think you can become my private life?”

Lynne, so far giving the worst performance of all, runs headlong into Cliche Country.  Her father finds love letters, she insists that Perry loves her, her father tries to get her to see reality and she runs off in tears.  Perry takes up polo as a sport, and we should be thankful because his pants are extremely tight.  Lynne plays right into the trap after a polo game offering herself up, but modestly.  What neither knows is that Lynne’s father has been bugging them and fires Perry.  “If you remain in San Francisco, you will never work again,” the boss snarls.  I said we were in Cliche Country, so I probably don’t have to detail what is about to happen.

Oh, Francesca had the baby!

Lynne is terribly afraid of horses, so Perry takes her on a hunt, where he taunts her into disobeying everything she holds dear and naturally is thrown from her horse in slow motion and breaks her back.  Insisting she’s a “cripple,” she begs her father, who has promised her anything she wants, for Perry.  There is a showdown in the office, where her father rightfully causes Perry of crippling her.  “She’d follow you to hell,” he notes, “you insolent bastard!” He has to agree to marriage, but warns Perry, “you better treat her well.”  “At the very least, I will be as kind and considerate as you have been,” Perry gloats.  Playing fast and loose with the facts, he breaks the news to Francesca that he has to marry Lynne.  “I have to do my duty.  I have to take care of her, marry her, as some kind of penance for what I’ve done,” he says, pretending he wishes Lynne hadn’t made the jump.

I won’t swear on it, but I think they are using the same staircase in multiple sets.  When their daughter gets in trouble at school, Barry and Francesca walk down one that looks just like the ones used with for Francesca and Perry at the beginning of the movie.  The scene with the headmistress is pure comic relief (or intentional comic relief) as Barry manages to get his daughter out of trouble and have the headmistress on the defensive.

Anyway, its 10 years later, by the way, and Valerie Bertinelli has replaced the child actress.  Playing her school chum is Julianne Moore!  They have cut school to go to the track, where Valerie can still pick the winners.  Barry insists that Paul and Jane hire her for the summer, but Jane doesn’t want a 17-year old around and Francesca won’t take her to The Hamptons for fear of endangering lifeguards.

It may not look like it, but indeed Tim Daly is older than Valerie Bertinelli (by four years).  There are a lot of awkward age transitions here.  When this was filmed, Valerie was in her mid-20s, but playing 17.  Even worse, we are full into 1980s fashions here, but the story is in about 1970, so let’s just go along and we can figure it all out later.

Want to know when PC attitudes on TV started?  After 1987, apparently.  For reasons that don’t make sense, it’s decided that wild child Valerie work at the magazine, but under a fake name.  One assumes she had visited the office many times and people would know her by sight, no?  Also, she keeps her first name and only slightly adjusts her last name.  Ooooh, that’ll throw them off the scent!  “You know Goldilocks, I can’t really see what you are wearing, but from the sound of all that jewelry and the smell of your perfume, [you] are going to be a hooker,” the blind Tim Daly says when Valerie is nervously preparing her job.  Yes, I think we all understand that blind people often have stronger senses to compensate, thus the “sound” and “smell” references.  “Do you think you have a camera lens wide enough to take a picture of [Valerie’s] ego?” he continues, addressing his photo-snapping brother.  But wait, everyone’s a comedian in this family.  When Valerie tells Barry to have the limo to the office stop a few blocks away so she can get out and walk, he hands her a subway token, telling her that’s what normal people use to get to work.  “I’ll take a cab,” she says to herself, snorting at her own goofy joke.

Oh, and the outfit she picked out for the first day?  Barry would have preferred a dress, but Valerie goes full-on 80s career woman.  Again, the timeline given would put us in the early 70s, so why is everyone now so 80s decadent?  Did they run out of money and ask the actors to bring their own clothes?

Valerie’s boss is Jack Scalia, sporting a terrible perm.  She’s immediately smitten, but he is too busy to notice her.  After one week, her ego is so massive it doesn’t matter which of Tim’s senses are heightened, she’s simply unbearable! She knows it all and isn’t afraid to tell anyone so.  “She sounds so indisposable,” her kid brother notes.  “Indispensable,” Barry corrects him.  “No, I think he’s right,” Tim says dryly, his most honed sense being that of the quip.

Valerie decides to stalk Jack, with Julianne’s help.  He lives in an iffy neighborhood, but Valerie tells Julianne that’s because “all artists live in lofts…didn’t they teach you that in drama class?”  Um.  Well, let’s look at this in pieces.  That we know of, Jack is not an artist, simply an art director, so the loft is unnecessary (though a staple of 80s films) on that account.  And I don’t think too many drama classes pause to tell students where people live, so that makes Julianne unnecessary.  If only there were a way to make Valerie unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the girls catch Jack going home with a woman.  “I would starve in the woods for him.  I would…I would walk barefoot across continents if he asked me to, but I will not let him spend one more night with that floozie!” ever zealous Val says.  Remember, she’s only 17 (though Jack thinks 19).  Though she loves nothing more than sharpening his pencils, she manages to get an invitation to his pad under the guise of helping him work on a Saturday.  By the way, Tim is in cooking school, with an upcoming “egg exam,” but he’s learned the first thing all cooks need: a stupid French accents.  I want to know how he labels his spices.  Anyway, he’s only in this scene so Valerie can ask him to cover for her should the folks wonder where she is.  He is happy she’s going out because he invited a cooking co-ed “to dinner and to breakfast.”  Oh, that wit!

Back in San Francisco, Perry and his sister-in-law, Kate Vernon, are hot for each other.  “You wasted your best years ignoring me,” she says with a permanently arch demeanor and so many curls on her head I thought I was at a Dolly Parton concert circa 1978.  It seems that Kate has quite the private life as some sort of bisexual hooker with a penchant for Polaroids because “all the best performances should be recorded,” like Caruso (her line, not mine) and Perry jumps into a threeway with Kate and her friend.

Perry’s next stop is Francesca’s hotel room.  She’s sporting a veil already.  Most likely he’s not going to mention the romp from the previous scene and urges Francesca “let’s not talk” as they go into a giant clinch.  Francesca wants him to leave his wife for her, but he’s not happy with her turn.  “If we are together, it will be when I say and where I say,” reminding her somewhat violently that he’s not her lapdog.  These two are pros at acting in trash, so their wild performances are actually welcome.  Thanks to the slowest and sloppiest room service delivery man in television history, who wheels a card an inch a minute and leaves doors wide open, Kate sees Perry and Francesca while walking in the hotel hallway.

With the Christmas issue finally finished, there is no more need for Valerie to be at Jack’s apartment, but when he goes to take a shirtless nap, eager Val burns a steak, brushes her hair and sails into the room.  After taking off her clothes, she pounces, but Jack doesn’t push her away.  Julianne plays devil’s advocate because Valerie is lying about her age and who she is, but Valerie is too much in love to care and makes Julianne take an oath that she will always lie and cheat for her, “in the name of love.”

After her sister maliciously tells her about Perry’s peccadilloes, Lynne becomes a big drinker.  When Perry comes home one night, he tells her is was a busy day for commodities and he’s tired.  “What about fornication?  It that up or down?” Okay, chill, lady.  Just because you know he’s lying doesn’t mean you have to resort to stupid dialogue!  Sly fox Perry is able to turn it around to make her the victim and the tears pour out of her.  In a rage, Perry goes to Kate, nearly choking her to death.  Not a good idea.  Remember, she has those Polaroids!  And knows how to use them.  When her sister sees them, she goes full tilt bonkers, first howling at her reflection in the mirror and then dressing up as Mamie Eisenhower, gloves and all, writes a note, checks into a hotel and checks out from the balcony.  She really wanted THAT to be the outfit for her suicide?  Egad, lousy taste.  When she hurls herself off, she screams and when we see the body, it seems that the plunge of a few floors pulled her jacket right off her, loosened her hair…you know, became a victim of sloppy continuity.

The note is even more tragic than her life.  It’s addressed “To Anyone Who Cares.”  Alas, that does not seem to include anyone.

After working for Barry for 165 years, it seems Jane has never been to his house.  Even more bizarre, she’s never met Francesca.  In all the years of marriage, Francesca never went to the office?  Never went to an office event?  They don’t actually have a showdown because Francesca doesn’t care what Barry does.  It doesn’t affect her.  She does tell Jane one harsh reality: “You’re not as tall as I expected.”  Has her husband’s mistress’ height kept her awake all these years?

Perry’s father-in-law tells Barry about the affair between Perry and Francesca.  He confronts her, but she doesn’t deny anything.  “Tell me that the girl was crazy, that the old man’s vindictive, it’s all a lie!” he roars.  Without missing a beat, in perfect deadpan, Francesca calmly does what he asked and says, “the girl was crazy, the old man was vindictive, but it’s true.  It’s all true.”

“If he ever comes near me again, I’ll kill him!  I’ll kill him!” Barry yells at the end of the second episode.

Part 2 starts in 1972, but by now.  Well, the story does.  The fashions are still mid-80s and how any of these actors, directors, costumers, producers, etc. didn’t think we would notice questions their ability to rock the boat.  I, alas, have no responsibility in that area, so I will keep pummeling at this.  We’re talking a six-hour miniseries where the costume budget ran out before we hit 1945!  Generational miniseries never end in the 40s.

Valerie, never much of an actress, squeaks and yammers about her summer with Jack, comparing it to the consumptive starving artists of “La Boheme,” though she’s neither with talent nor without food.  Worse is her pal Julianne Moore, who could not possibly have expected to be considered one of the finest actresses of her generation shrieking, “the whole time I was with my parents in Europe, you were having…AN AFFAIR!”  A better friend would tell Val to knock it off with the increase skunk streak in her hair.  “I’m finally a woman, I can’t believe this is happening to me,” she tells Julianne, who attempts to understand how Valerie feels through the acting class skills her character has obviously not absorbed, but Julianne’s acting mishaps are nothing compared to Valerie’s problems: Barry and Francesca are due home from their summer sojourns and Jack “doesn’t know I have parents, let alone that I’m the boss’ daughter.”  He doesn’t?  Where did he think you came from?  Genetically mutant rhinos?  Clicking your heels together three times?  A snowman able to last all year?  Not only is that inane, but in all of this time they have been together, in all of the time he has worked for her father’s company, he’s never put the two together?  As they say, “great minds think alike,” and now we know the opposite to be true.  Un-great minds don’t think.

Julianne’s reaction to the next piece of news is, “what are you going to do?”  “I’ll knit, I’ll sew, I’ll take child birthing classes,” she screams while hugging a stuffed dog.

Dragging Tim to dinner where she plans to tell the folks, Valerie gets ill and the brothers have a moment together.  The kid tells Tim to look at the pictures he’s taken.  That made even me momentarily uncomfortable, but it seems that all along Tim has a tiny bit of vision (there was no way for us to know that, so don’t think you missed anything subtle-Krantz doesn’t allow it and neither do the nitwits behind the scenes), but it’s getting worse.  “I’m okay about it.  Really. Everybody’s got something.  Mine is I can’t see,” he tells his kid brother.  True, people can’t stay thin, people lose their hair, people wrinkle, people put mini diamonds on their toes, but I would say blindness tops them all.

When Valerie goes to break the news to Barry, we notice he’s aged.  How do we notice that?  He has glasses.  Francesca has returned to her Sable Colby look.  Here’s how Val delivers the news: “I met a man.  And I’m in love.  And I’m going to have a baby,” but to get the full effect of how she sounds, pretend she’s singing “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall,” and is at six, total autopilot.  Francesca arches her eyebrow to the second floor while Barry demands a drink and offers to kill Jack.  “How did it happen, by remote control?  Does he have any idea how old you are?” he roars, with a  bizarre non-sequitor.  What kind of remote control, you might ask, as this is only 1972.  Beats me.  “He’s deliriously happy,” Val insists, now on bottle of beer number three, about her fiancé, who is not aware he’s a fiancé or father-to-be yet.  Ten minutes later, Barry has decided he won’t let “anything stand in the way of their happiness” to a doubting Francesca.

“Didn’t you ever make up something?  And then act as thought it was the truth.  And then get stuck in a fantasy that was better than real life?” Valerie asks Jack at the bar of a crowded restaurant, again delighting us with her impeccable lack of sense of occasion.  “You wanna tell me you’re talkin’ about?” asks accent-overdoing Jack.

We all know there are two ways this conversation can go.  First, just as she’s about to say something, they will be interrupted, causing Jack to say something like, “what was it you wanted to tell me?” with Valerie responding with something like, “no, it’s nothing, I’ll tell you later.”  The second route is a full on hissy-fit from the duped.  Which way will Krantz go?

With whatever is dopiest.  So, after Valerie tells him about her age, parentage and pregnancy, Jack takes a bite of celery and goes for option two, the hissy fit.  “A [Valerie] by any other name is still…” she starts to say, cutely, though he trumps her by ending that sentence, “pregnant.”  Valerie volunteers to be his mistress, but Jack decides they will get married, toning down his option two hissy fit so the plot can gasp along.  He makes her promise one thing.  No, he doesn’t ask her to be forever truthful, he doesn’t ask to talk to her father, he simply asks her not to be late for the wedding.

One expects a miniseries wedding to be garish, but since we’re playing fast and loose with era versus fashion, we get full on 80s trashtastic.  Well, except for Julianne, who, as maid of honor, is given a nightmare blue number with lace, fringe and a net veil (in honor of the one Francesca has worn constantly).  Valerie is in Fallon Carrington lace and ruffles so voluminous she could be nine minutes or nine months pregnant and no one would know the difference.  But Francesca sashays in dressed as a half-human “Star Trek” guest star, with a bizarre hat, and half-Liza fashion plate with a backwards scarf flowing all the way down.  “You’re used to having your own way.  That won’t work in a marriage,” Francesca cheerfully notes as she fusses with Valerie’s dress and hair, delivering gloomy advice and capping it off with the fact that marriage “made me gift up the most important thing in my life, ballet.”  As Julianne rolls her eyes, we should remember that it wasn’t marriage that caused her to give up ballet, it was an aging montage.  The blind jokes keep a-comin’ when Jack asks Tim how he looks.  Barry is the only truly happy family member, telling his darling daughter that “there’s a man out here who wants me to give you to him.  What do you say?  Want to be given?”  Barry has loving advice for his daughter, so it’s not stupid enough to quote.  Like every wedding on TV, it’s a mammoth Catholic wedding, only so it can be as over-the-top a service as possible, and what actor doesn’t want to don the full priestly vestments?

Perry is back in NYC after a year in Europe, lunching with a pal, when Barry and Francesca come in.  The brothers deliver gravely threats to each other, though Perry’s threat to tell the world was a meanie Barry is wins the battle of the bad dialogue.

It’s 1973 and with a new daughter, Valerie is still reliving old arguments with her parents, as they want to give them a house and a nanny, better than a “cold water flat,” as per Francesca, who apparently thinks it’s 1873.  Is Jack upset that the baby is a daughter?  Ever jovial, of course he isn’t, but he does, in a stereotypical Italian-on-TV way, threaten to break the legs of any suitor who brings her home late.  His Afro is a guarantee he’s not exactly menacing.  FYI, the baby is named after a grandmother of Jack’s never previously mentioned.  “I’m not going to make the same mistakes my mother made,” Valerie declares.

Let’s pause for a moment to remember some American Miniseries rules.  First, when life is perfect, it’s about to fall apart.  Second, in a multi-generational story, a bunch of actors are about to be relegated to bit parts.  The third does not always happen, the child finds itself teetering on the brink between life and death, causing emotions to run high.  One and two are already happening, but three may not because we already did the “what’s wrong with my baby, doctor?” plot when Tim was born.

If you thought Valerie was shrieky and ear-splitting before, wait until she spends what seems like an hour afraid to put a live lobster in a pot.  Valerie is not too handy in the kitchen, but chef-brother Tim Daly is there to save the day by offering the best suggestion his years of culinary perfection have taught: order delivery.  She is overwhelmed with household chores and a crying baby, sheerly because she promised Jack they would live on his salary alone.

During the hot-summer-day-in-Washington-Square montage, someone actually got the outfits and styles right!  Or maybe it’s stock footage.  Either way, we get it, it’s hot.  We got it the first 12 times.  Valerie takes the baby to see the hippies and skater dudes, but the thing wails so loudly, she jumps in the first taxi she sees and leaves the stroller.  She’s officially given up on not using money and connections.  She calls Jack and next we see, he’s entering a massive suite at the Plaza Hotel, replete with room service (lobster), flowers, uniformed maids, the works.  “It’s only for the summer,” Valerie tells him, but he’s gobsmacked by the cost: $3000 per week.  Yeah, um, about that, Valerie has already purchased a new apartment and didn’t mention it.  Summing this up, in roughly four or five hours, bought, rented, designed, ordered.  What an amazing gal.  Jack refuses to use the money, which is Valerie’s from a trust fund, telling us, “this goes against everything I stand for.”  Comfortable living quarters pose an ethical dilemma?  He gives her five minutes to pack up, grab the kid and go back to the loft.  “If you wanna live with me, you live there!” he sputters.  Sorry Jack, I’m siding with Valerie on this one.  “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either,” Tevya sings in “Fiddler On the Roof,” my comparison, not theirs.  He’s just a macho fool, and they have a terrible argument.  Say the next line with me.  Come on, you all know it:

“If I walk out that door, I’m not coming back.  Are you coming with me?”

But he tops it with “you’ve got a trust fund, what do you need a husband for?” as he smashes dishes.  We can all think of one thing, Jack.  Three months later, Valerie visits Julianne on a movie set, her second movie, but agent Chris Noth’s dreams are bigger than modest Julianne dares to dream.  “Onwards and upwards for the arts,” Julianne says when she’s need on set.  Yet another line in this movie I cannot understand.  The scene ends with Chris inviting Valerie out and in a second, he’s in a pair of shorts and nothing else, with Valerie frightened under the sheets, not sure she’s ready.  Chris asks,” when will you be ready?”  That’s a goofball line as old as time, used to set up a laugh and acquiescence, but not here?  He goes to the phone and calls a director in London.  He’s the kind of agent, FYI, who calls everyone “babe.”  As Valerie dresses to leave, Chris tells the director about a “low budget boxing movie by some guy named Sylvester.”  At least he’s in the right decade.

Have you missed Tim and the incessant uncomfortable blindness dialogue?  I have, so I’m thrilled to report that he squares off against an apple vendor selling old apples (he can tell by the small).  “Don’t ever try to rob a blind man again,” he warns.  He then barks at an employee about the way a meal should be cooked and decides to do it himself.  Suddenly, three other senses seem to desert him because he doesn’t noticed he sloshed sauce on the stove, resulting in a fire he can neither smell, feel, hear.  Oh, come on!

His employees are outside the kitchen bitching about him and also cannot see, hear or smell fire until Tim manages to catch himself on fire and yells for them.  This is his restaurant, his kitchen, so he would know how to find the nearest exit.  I guess that’s simply not dramatic enough.  “I hear you like the song ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,’ but this is ridiculous ,” not-comfort-giving Valerie cracks while visiting the hospital.  Wow, a blind pun AND a fire pun together! Tim is in no mood for puns (Valerie gets a few more in) as “it’s in poor taste.”  Correct, and always has been.

Just as Valerie turns supportive, Francesca sweeps in to tell them Tim will move back home.  Barry gets a scene alone with Tim when he shows up, and I won’t quote the conversation to save us all a sugar overdose, but there is some self-blame and tough love, all in hushed tones with violin underscoring.  You know the conversation.

Haul out the Eurotrash, playboys and indigent blue bloods because Valerie goes to Monte Carlo to forget her troubles.  Kiddo, if he seems to good to be true, he is.  He’s a miniseries staple.  We meet him when she dresses to kill and sits down at a roulette table next to Brett Cullen, sporting an Australian accent that makes one long for the same in “The Thorn Birds.”  He also isn’t upset that Valerie lost him $40 million in one spin.  He is apparently very rich, and Valerie is glad he’s not a “wharf rat, who had borrowed a dinner jacket just to spend his last dime or shilling or whatever.”  He reminds her she owes him and coos, “I’ve never met a $40 million girl before,” and Valerie slaps back with, “be careful, the meter’s running.”  Shouldn’t this conversation be between a gigolo and a high-end lady of the night?

Brett proposes to her the next morning and the next thing we know, Valerie is grumbling about her divorce from him to Julianne.  The latter has now adopted a Madonna-esque pan-European via Beverly Hills accent, a therapist and an astrologer, not to mention an annoying pushiness.

Valerie and Jack’s daughter is now around 10 or so, which gets us closer to the era of the costume design (and Jack’s hairdo copies that of Farrah Fawcett.  The kid complains about not spending much time with Valerie, missing her step-father and other rot while Jack cooks her dinner in a kitchen the size of the oft-deplored loft.  Someone isn’t afraid of money anymore!

Among Valerie’s many talents is an ability to pilot a hot air balloon all by herself.  Well, not quite, because she unintentionally lands on the archery range of a mammoth Scottish castle owned by a kilt-wearing walking British stereotype.  A year later, she’s unhappily supervising a castle make-over limping along slowly, in a fur coat because she’s too cold.  Once again, we learn of Valerie’s latest divorce while she and Julianne sip champagne in a Bel Air hot tub.  “I will never marry another man ever again!” Valerie decrees, obviously not having read the script to know that when you deliver that line, it’s time to pick the bridesmaids dresses.  This conversation gets mired in dopiness begging for irony: sledgehammer storytelling, another miniseries favorite, but also one of its biggest problems.  We watch so we don’t have to read the book, but it doesn’t mean we’re idiots!  It’s Judith Krantz, why even ponder such lofty ideals.  She’s responsible for sledgehammer storytelling while caught in cliche quicksand.

We haven’t checked in with bad seed Perry in a while (Valerie’s inane storyline has started to eat the others).  As always, he’s hired by a new finance firm based on the promise of bringing his brother’s money to the firm.  His new boss is automatically the smartest man in the whole miniseries when he calls Barry to discuss it, learning the truth and firing Perry on his first day.  Yes, I’m afraid that is the smartest “I’ll Take Manhattan” gets.  “He told me you were the plague,” the boss snaps at him authoritatively.  Francesca begs Barry to forgive Perry, but that only results in an angry eleven o’clock number and a dramatic exit.  Barry decides to get away from it all on his private plane, but not without a tender parting scene with Jane.  Sledgehamm…ah, you know already because you know exactly what is going to happen to Barry.  That’s right, he’s going to Canada.  Gold star for all of you who got it right (for the moment).

Valerie is now 29, and Tim gives her advice I’ve never thought of: “if your age ends in a nine, you have to take stock.”  Every grouchy, he wants Valerie to grow up, but she doesn’t want to.  He asks her other than her daughter, “what have you done,” preaching that someone with money and talent has an obligation to lead a good life.  If that were true in the real world, we wouldn’t have any miniseries.  Schadenfreude and roman a clefs would cease to exist if rich people were happy.

Beware of horses, this miniseries teaches us.  The first time we had horses, a woman ended up jumping off a building.  This time, Barry goes riding in a Canadian forest, but Perry has tracked him down.  So, wearing a business suit, Perry takes another horse and rides to confront Barry.  Out of anger comes stupidity.  We know Barry has only moments of screen time left, so the Cain and Abel brother thing takes the form of an argument and Perry insists Barry alight his horse.  He doesn’t, so Perry knocks him to the ground and then SMACKS THE HORSES AND SENDS THEM AWAY!  Whether the coming crime is intentional or not is academic.  Perry ought to wonder how the hell he’s going to find his way out of the forest.

Perry shouts at Barry for being so good, but gets Barry incensed when he taunts him about Francesca and the possibility that maybe even two of the kids are his.  Barry gives him a good beating between lines of dialogue.  Barry knocks Perry to the ground, but since Barry is a good guy and Perry knows it, he plays possum until Barry comes to check him out and get whacked be a convenient piece of wood.  Oh, and by the way, we’re at the top of a huge cliff.  Cliffs don’t jump off themselves, so Perry kicks Barry over the edge and the silliest puppet-stand-in takes the long dive to death.  Remorse?  No!  “Go to hell,” Perry snarls at Barry’s corpse below the cliff.

This, you will remember, is where the miniseries started, four-and-a-half mind-numbing hours later.  And we still have about two more!

Ah, but when Francesca calls Perry to deliver the bad news, we find out Barry isn’t dead, just in a coma, with a few bruises to make it look authentic.  What actor doesn’t want a hospital scene?  Unfortunately, it’s given to Valerie, who rambles through tears and the “please look at me, sorry for all the bad things” speech badly.  It’s a shame Francesca doesn’t get the scene, because she would be milking it with the campy delight she’s displayed in even the quietest of scenes.  Valerie is simply boring.  On cue, Barry wakes up, reaches out to Valerie and then dies.  “Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me,” Valerie cries, the only dialogue left to round out a hospital scene.  Francesca enters and for the first time, she holds her daughter as they both cry buckets.

You will remember, or maybe you won’t, that Barry and Perry had been given matching charm necklaces eons ago.  You certainly will have guessed that Perry’s came off during the cliff scene and that he will be frantically looking for it, but there’s a twist!  Francesca is given Barry’s possessions to sign for, but she’s too overcome and asks Perry to do it.  What do you think is the first thing he sees in the box?  Yup.  Phew, he’s in the clear now.  Or is he?

You will remember, or again, maybe you won’t, that a contentious board meeting sent us to Flashbackylvania, and we didn’t see how it all ended.  We do have to endure the entire scene again.  And the following showdown between Perry and Valerie, which is just as hysterical as it was the first time.

Feeling triumphant, Perry zooms off to his tacky mistress’ pad.  She undresses him while he pours a drink and doesn’t notice when she innocently removes the special necklace.  Neither does Perry.  PAUSE.  Why would she take off his necklace?  They don’t typically get in the way of sex, and it’s pieces like that where we learn that an outfit of diamonds and nothing else is a clear fashion statement.  As for Perry, the second he felt her fingers on the necklace, he should have reacted.  It’s the only thing between him and whatever the punishment is in Canada for fratricide.  On the counter, the necklace sits, inert and symbolic, the (pun intended) cliffhanger of the movie’s third night.

Yes, I’m afraid we still have one more to go.  Without schmaltz, it shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes, but unfortunately, it’s present, painfully so.

You will remember, or again again, maybe not, that Valerie blackmailed Perry into giving her a year to make “Buttons and Bows” a moneymaking machine.  That involves a drip to the Garment District and the hovel where it all started.  You’ll remember…no, you won’t, it’s asking too much, so I will do some helpful reminding.  The man Barry left in charge of running it about four decades is still Editor-in-Chief, but he wants to retire, having been stomped on by Women’s Wear Daily for a while now.

Like Pavlov’s dog if both Pavlov and the dog were both woefully short on intelligence, Valerie goes to Tim to whine and beg for advice.  She never listens to him and the scenes have long stopped differing, but keep going to the well, Val.  You never known when Tim will start allowing blind puns to make a comeback.  “There’s probably a whole world out there of trimming waiting to be explored,” Valerie says defiantly.  A whole world?  Better yet, she notes that every rock group in the world is trim-crazy (yes, perhaps back in the 70s, but now we’re in the 80s and costumes are not a strength here, so Val might as confused as we are).  A whole world?  Of trimming?  There’s a whole world of ant farms out there, but you don’t see anyone begging to write about it.  Trimming, though, well, trimming is…well, maybe it’s full of possibilities.  Tim tries his best to reason with her, but Valerie does it again, pissing him off when she says, “you know, for a bat, you’re really sounding like a wimp.” Ah, the relaxing route back to head scratching sentences that sounds like ad libs by lobotomized former actors.  The scene ends in a hug, thankfully.

Ever unctuous, Perry is out to undercut Valerie and scoop up lots of loot doing it.  He finds captains of industry willing to buy the company, pretending he is shocked, never considered it, but has figures available.  Captains of industry get where they are because they are mindless sheep who can’t spot a phony.  Right?

Meanwhile, Valerie needs a “brain trust” (Tim’s words) to revitalize the magazine, but when she meets with a man who does it for a living, he tells her it will take time and money, can she handle that?  “Did they ask Henry Luce that when he started ‘Time’?” she asks in a very small elevator?  Ooooohh, someone finally looked at her encyclopedia set! He doesn’t want to work for her, but he does want a date with her, ending in assumed carnal togetherness.  “Never mind, you would hate yourself in the morning,” she tells him, older and maybe slightly wiser, though still prone to sentences that don’t make total sense.  Why would he hate himself in the morning?  He’s the slime ball, so he’ll just be a worn out slime ball after a night of lust.

Valerie is stuck for a new concept, so she spreads out competitive magazines on the floor, hoping to find something.  Her daughter is no help, but does have to listen to groaners from her mother, such as, “these magazines are not selling dreams, they are selling put downs, they are selling heartache, dissatisfaction, they’re selling envy.”  I can’t even think of a witty rejoinder for that bit of nonsense, but if you have any ideas, feel free to share.  The scene, which began with Valerie at a fever pitch, goes berserk even by her standards.  In better hands, it would be one of those go-for-the-Emmy scenes, but this one fights instead for a Razzie.  Daughter dear asks, “Mom, do you want a brownie?  They say chocolate makes people happy, releases some kind of hormone or something.  I read it…in a magazine.”  Valerie does not need brownies, even those laced with special ingredients.  Hands off, you have a lot more tight costumes coming.  “If I see one more article about bulimia, I’m going to throw up,” Valerie continues, though I guarantee not one person working on this movie noticed that bit of insensitivity wipes out all of the blindness puns!

Sound the gongs, because during her harangue, Valerie said something that hit home.  The concept is, wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, “the magazine that loves you.”  Oh, wait, that was’t worth waiting for.  And maybe I’m dense, but the so-called women’s magazines she’s gone on and on about are actually empowering, even if they come off as dippy.  “This magazine wants you to have fun!  FUN!  FUN!  FUN!” she howls, jumping up and down on the magazines.  “She’s crazy!  CRAZY!  CRAZY!  CRAZY!” her neighbors at Trump Tower are probably complaining.  She also renames the magazine “B&B,” though it appears neither mother nor daughter realize those are the initials of the magazine already.  With this inspiration, Valerie is even more ridiculously self-delighted, as if the rest is going to be easy.

Jane is wild about the idea.  Valerie suggests they use celebrities to write articles, like one devoted to chocolate by Jane Fonda and one devoted to men not liking thin women by Clint Eastwood…”no, make it Mel Gibson!”  Apparently Jane’s years of experience have turned her brain to soup.  Clint Eastwood has always been associated with women’s magazines, right?  Now all Valerie has to do is a mock magazine to show investors.  Armed with a scissors and glue, she puts something together that might rate a C- in fourth grade.  I need not tell you where this is leading.  Valerie=incompetent=needs a professional art director=ex-husband/love of her life Jack. The sassy daughter won’t call her father to help, forcing Valerie to do it herself.  He’s not interested until she lies, telling him the kid is on birth control, and that nabs him.

It’s a new era at the magazine shop.  Perry doesn’t even pretend to be interested in the magazines, snarling that “I only care about profit,” yet he then tells an underling, “dismantle this monument” to his late brother.  It’s a shame it wasn’t an acting troupe, as that would have naturally happened.  Or, we can watch Valerie make mistake after mistake, though we know she’s the heroine and will ultimately win.

The first mistake is taking former trim factory receptionist Corinne Bohrer, roughly Valerie’s age and make her the magazine’s fashion editor.  You see, when the old office was closed and everyone was let go, Corinne found a job as an assistant to the assistant editor.  But, Valerie feels she’s qualified to be a fashion editor for one reason: she has good fashion sense.  How does she know that?  Because Corrine happened to show up in her office wearing the exact same outfit.  Then, though no one else has recently aged, Valerie’s little brother Adam Storke (who has aged, just in time for his father’s death) comes flying into the office in a bad mood and Valerie wants him to be the magazine’s photographer.  Now, to be fair, we have watched the child version of this character taking pictures since way back when he was born, but that doesn’t exactly qualify him for “Button and Bows.”  However, no one there is qualified, so, despite his misgivings about Valerie’s motives, he agrees.  That’s good news for Corinne who goes into heat the minute Adam enters, meaning she takes the job.

Though about 45 days have passed seemingly, the nights haven’t, since the next scene finds Valerie and her mock-up magazine in Jack’s unhappy hands.  Unimpressed, he says, “I don’t do dummies anymore,” without any sense of irony, a common problem getting more common and these characters get more and more witless since all we are doing is filling time.  “I wouldn’t help you if I put a gun to my head,” Jack tells Valerie, having figured out the birth control ruse.  Valerie tries to charm him, but he’s not fooled.  “You’ve always got to have a new toy.  Once it was me, now it’s a magazine.  Guess what? [I] don’t wanna play,” he growls, older and wiser, though Valerie is in va-va-va-voom red and getting touchy, so my guess is his resolve will weaken.  But, before that can happen, Valerie throws one of the most idiotic and shrill hissy fits in all of miniseries history.  She mentions, as she walks out, that she had some “brochures” to show him, but “I’ll just stick ’em in the mail.”  Against his better judgment, Jack takes the bait and asks what brochures.  “For Swiss boarding schools for [their daughter] because if this magazine doesn’t work, I’m going to have to leave the country and put her into boarding school, but don’t worry, if you miss her, you can always visit at Christmas!”

You want to pause and catch your breath?  Please do, I’ll wait.  It took me 30 minutes to calm down after that one.  Plus, you know what’s going to happen next, so your laughter won’t cause you to miss a whole lot.

Jack springs up and literally slides to the door so he can reply that if she’s so desperate that she’s using the kid as a potential weapon (not that she would be allowed, but logic isn’t the bedrock of “I’ll Take Manhattan”) “why don’t you get one of your other husbands to do it.  Someone who doesn’t know you so well!”  Good one, Jack!  Contrary and slinky, she adopts a full pout, the kind that made her a sitcom star, but is just annoying without a laugh track.  “It might sell a few copies,” he says, looking at it, “you don’t even know what to do with your white space!”  His advice?  “I’d rip it up and start all over!” When she slithers to his design table and purrs, “coming?” he jumps up and says to himself, “I hate her.”  She then passes out on the couch while he works so laboriously on it that he stoops when walking (I clocked less than eight seconds, but whatever).  Valerie is overwhelmed by how good Jack’s work is, and he wants her gone, but it’s 4am and nothing gets her motor running like more exhausting sex.  “Damn you,” we hear, a few others, but when she commands “shut up,” he becomes the stereotypical male miniseries character who just can’t say no to the sexy domineering wonderful woman who has him wrapped around his finger…in this case, well into what should be roughly middle age.

Speaking of infantile men, Perry now has to convince Francesca to sell the entire company for “well over a billion dollars,” but suddenly she has a soft spot for her husband’s dead brother’s lifetime of work.  So, Perry hits even lower, “you could start your own ballet company.”  Oh, for Pete’s sake!  She wanted to be a ballerina as a teenager and got turned down.  It may have affected her immediate decisions, but since it’s been mentioned only once in the last few DECADES, it shouldn’t be the sure-fire way to change her cotton candy mind.  “We could start to become serious collectors of everything you love,” he reminds her and then pouts that he doesn’t want to be stuck in an office not seeing her, she actually takes a tiny stance, thought not a good one, by cooing that though Barry was overly involved in the magazines, “they are a living thing.”  “That’s the end of it then,” he tells her, “I only want to see you happy as the camera does a vintage 80s trick and shoots the mirror, where Perry can watch himself contort his face into evil.

Without Francesca’s firm approval, Perry has other avenues.  First, Adam.  Perry drags out all of the bills Valerie is “running up,” things like paper and rent, which would most likely be necessary expenses at any magazine, but Adam defends her, saying that it will be a success and plenty of money will be coming in.  “You don’t really believe that,” asks Uncle (but really Daddy) Perry, who changes tactics mid-sentence when Adam proves unwilling to listen to obvious manipulation. “People who go against me pay a price,” he warns Adam.  Adam helps him finish off that thought, offering his trust fund and life as chum, still not impressed, because he believes it’s all up to mom, who may be fooled now, but “she loves her children.  She’ll listen to me.”  Uh oh, that means a showdown where Francesca gets to play harried decision maker, which usually means talons clawing at hair, confusion, tears and, if we’re really lucky, either a faint or a breakdown.  In desperation, Perry calls a faceless male model (stripped down to the essentials, to quote Mr. Sondheim) and hires him to sort out Adam.  “You’re a model, you must know lots of pretty girls,” the hint being that Adam is easily seduced when he shoots pretty women.  For the amount of time the camera lingers on the faceless male model’s crotch, one wonders if a woman is going to be enough.

What follows next is a hootfest that would have elicited peals of laughter in a Hepburn-Tracy movie.  A battle of the sexes grudge match played out in front of stupid people.  Valerie has advertising, distributing, rack placement, etc. all figured out, partially because “Uncle Barney” (you remember Barry’s bruiser distributor, who would be roughly 204 years old) has arranged it all.  Having gone legit, he’s agreed to back the magazine for a year.  The Mayberry-ish goofs listening to the pitch react so excitedly, but Jack is there to poke holes in every answer Valerie has, to the point of mimicking her words, as if that’s cute in your 40s hosting a business meeting.

I didn’t mean to trash Hepburn and Tracy by associating them with this malarkey, I was just making a point.

Anyway, the entire world suddenly wants to be a part of Valerie’s endeavor and it seems she is consulted about everything from the cover to covering the cost of a pizza run.  There is one person, however, who is surprisingly not excited.  I think it might be Julianne.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s on her 54th hair color (in a pith helmet) and her accent has gone from charmingly pseudo wannabe to poke-your-ear-drum annoying, since nobody, not even great actors, speaks like that.  Valerie offers her the cover.  “Oh, that zipper thing?” Julianne asks, actively trying to avoid it.  “Believe me, it’s changed a lot,” Valerie says.  We know.  The white/gray streak in your hair is now branching out like a huge albino spider, which means age and success in this context (I know, the fact that we have to rely on hair to know that is kind of frightening).  She demurs, “you know how I feel about publicity,” not that we actually do because we only see her as many times as her contract stipulated and she exists only to we understand that Valerie is untrained and inexperienced in her career, but there are plenty of far lesser lights out there burning bright (well, that’s my take on it, at any rate–think of Valerie as a charming young Danielle Steel, pre-polish, and Julianne is, well, uh, Judith Kranz).  But when a harried man with a brilliant idea yells to Valerie, “I can get a major Hollywood star to do an interview on sex in a moving vehicle,” not only is Valerie delighted, but Julianne just can’t resist.


I thought the demographic was women who should love themselves more.  I don’t remember Oprah’s magazine running a story about sex in a dune buggy or tilt-a-whirl.  But this point, there is only one plot strand running, Perry versus Valerie, we know how it’s going to turn out, so that makes this crap filler for filler.  This is as woebegone as it gets, my friends.

It’s time for Adam’s photo shoot, but we seem to have blown the budget, and we’re tossing in anyone who happened to pass by the set,  not exactly all right for modeling.  It’s only when the once-faceless model shows up (hairy chested, remember when models had hair?) with his bimbo sister and everyone throws colored confetti into wind machines to make it look like a party that Adam gets what he wants from the shoot.  Faithful Corinne is on hand to help him sweep up (as fashion editors do).  Apparently they are an item, because he sends her out with a cute kiss. Exit girlfriend, enter once-faceless hairy model.  “I saw you looking at me,” he says to Adam.  “What gave you that idea about me?” Adam asks.  “Good instincts,” replies the model.  I guess that’s a better answer than “your father/uncle.”  Adam asks him if this is a trick he employs on every set in the hopes of making it with the photographer.  “I want what you want, the only difference is, I’m not afraid to ask,” he says, stroking Adam’s cheek.  While I respect a possible gay subplot, a rarity in a miniseries, where white versus black was the only racial question ever addressed because it has clear heroes and villains, tossing it in roughly 45 minutes before the end of the whole shebang with characters we have either never met or haven’t seen enough of to care, is once again, filler filler.  They reach for each other and…do not kiss.  It’s 1987, kids, we’re lucky we got a hug!

The party of a lifetime arrives with the re-introduction of B&B, a party thrown at Trump Towers, which has had its name spoken or shown more times than most of the film’s characters.  Valerie, across the street at a newsstand in a shimmering bugle-bead outfit that Liza Minnelli obviously turned down, is forlorn because the newsstand doesn’t have any copies.  “Oh, that,” says the cranky man running it, “I don’t know what they put in it, but the damn thing sold out.”  Really?  Before the party?  Has anyone ever seen a magazine sell out?  Okay, maybe in the days before other mass media, but on the very first night of its re-existence, across the street from the party?  What, no hired college kids or models are handing out free copies?  I have a big problem with this scene.  “They just melted away,” he says, fighting off Valerie’s happy tear-stained face.  Every 80s fashion faux-pas, horrible musical ability and old man trying to dance is on display at this shindig.  Still kicking, Paul Hecht once again has emcee duties.  “I’m told that B&B is sold out all over the city,” he says, wedged into a fat suit and sporting what seems to be a backwards toupe.  Valerie does a victory sweep of the floor, kissing Tim, with a “hey, Bat!” greeting, which is met with a just as stupid “that’s my sister!” crowing.  We know, why do you think anyone is speaking to you?  Then there is some flirting and genuine happiness dialogue for Jack, Valerie and their kid.  Even the PR guy who turned her down and wanted to sleep with her is there, but Valerie is confident and feisty.  She introduces him to Jack, noting, “you both said it couldn’t be done,” leaving the daughter to explain, “that’s her way of giving a compliment.”  Really?  Sounded like a very obvious and deserved dig.

Anyway, the magazine is a big success, but in true miniseries fashion, and as it limps to the finish line, there are problems.  If you guessed that the former-faceless hairy model was setting up poor Adam to be caught with his, um, camera lens open, you guessed right.  Oh, there’s even some drugs around to make the pun of a “snow shoot” funny to anyone still awake.  A frantic Valerie doesn’t know what to do, so the dashes over to Tim, dragged out of the shower this time to give advice.  In case you are wondering, his burns have not only never again been mentioned, they cannot even be seen.  There is a reason he’s showering.  He’s just gotten up.  Apparently, he got lucky at the party.  Oh yeah.

With Julianne.

Oh no.

The bail hearing does not go well for Adam.  There was a lot of cocaine on him.  However, Francesca, finally given an occasion when a veil comes in handy, is so worried about her favorite son, but Valerie rest a reassuring hand on Francesca’s jewel-encrusted ruby red lacquered nails and that seems to be a bonding experience.  Francesca doesn’t react, just FYI.

Coming down the stairs, before hitting the swarm of reporters (okay, four, but they are aggressive), Valerie begs Adam to give up the man who framed if.  “If you are worried about being gay, don’t be, we’ve know for years,” Valerie notes, but the shocker is Francesca’s uncharacteristically sweet, “we’ve always known.”  So everyone is fine with him being gay, which is progressive (I guess in a family that contains an adulterer, a lusty hussy, a psychopath, a teenage nympho and a blind guy who used to be burned, the kid had to do something to get noticed), and we don’t have to sit through the typical “where did I go wrong scenes,” but how come WE didn’t know?  When the character was shown as a child, he was always radiantly blond, but other than his eye for photography and usefulness as a question asker to move the plot along, there were no signs.  Hell, we spent more time on Perry’s devilish hooker sister-in-law!  Valerie doesn’t understand why Adam is protecting the guy who got him into this jam.  “You fell in love with the wrong guy.  It happens.  It happened to me, three times!  It’s not a disgrace,” she chirps.  Watch Francesca’s face closely.  The excellent stage veteran in her (actually, this is Francesca Annis’ only bad performance, and even then, she’s still the highlight of this trash) wants so much to react to that line, but she knows better than to break character.  So, the three link arms and fight their way through the non-army of reporters.

The formerly faceless hairy model (who, by the way, is played by longtime fan favorite and Emmy-winner actor of “The Young and the Restless,” Doug Davidson) wants his money, so he waits for a lawn party to nab Perry.  Apparently not even Perry planned the scheme as it happened.  “I know what the guy wanted, and it wasn’t my sister,” he snarls, but rather than dignify that, Perry moves onto the drugs, apparently also not his idea.  “Somebody called the cops on me,” the model complains.  “I know who it was.  It was this friend of mine.”  “Some friends you have,” Perry snaps.  “Yeah…just like you,” the model says.  Score one for him!

Apparently an amateur detective, Jack rushes to Valerie’s office when he hears about poor Adam.  Nobody knows who the mystery guy that Adam is protecting could be.  But, brain trust Corinne, who doesn’t seem at all upset that the guy she’s been dating is gay, remembers a model at the shoot who “made me uncomfortable.  He was giving him the eye,” she notes, not telling us quite what eye that would be.  Is it the stare down of an angry-mother eye?  The “vengeance is going to rain down on you” eye?  Or the “let’s get these gals into their leggings so you and I can go shoot out back?” eye?  I need specificity, people!  Corinne shows them a picture, Jack finds out the agency didn’t send him and a lawyer goes to talk to Doug in prison, where he’s allowed to wear his pastel-colored clothing.  “I know some very important people and if they don’t get me out of this, I’m going to blow the whole thing sky high,” Doug warms, picking his words very poorly.  The lawyer, in a fresh round of sledgehammer storytelling, warns Doug to keep his mouth shut, “do the time, since this is a first offense, you’ll be out in a year or so,” (as if that’s nothing to worry about, especially for a guy who likes pastels in 1987) and the man paying his salary will be “very grateful.”  “How grateful?” Doug wants to know.  For $500,000, Doug takes the fall.

Perry is busy digging his grave, and for once Francesca’s frostiness is handy, because she’s finally seeing the truth.  Perry isn’t thrilled to have a gay son, it seems, but claims not to hate him.  He just feels the children are spoiled, “allowed to run riot” to the point where they are embarrassments that hurt him…and her, he remembers to add.  Francesca asks him what his solution is and he says to sell the magazines and get away.  What do the magazines have to do with her troubled children (well, one troubled child, one reformed troublemaker and one blind guy who nabbed a movie star)?  She’s onto him, but stays silent, letting her rings once again do her acting so she can remain quiet.

Valerie goes storming into Perry’s office because she received a letter saying B&B is defunct.  He’s called the advertisers, distributors and everyone else, barred her from spending any money and fired the staff.  She gives us a lesson in magazine publishing, how no magazine makes money initially, but Perry, now not a handsome wacky villain, but a cartoon villain, just feeds her anger.  If nothing else, he’s violating the agreement of a year he gave her.  We also know how much this means to Valerie because they dig up Paul again so it means more when she says she “wants to keep Daddy’s dream alive.”  She wants to buy the magazine, but doesn’t have the cash.  She can’t borrow on her stock in the company as it can only be sold to her mother.  “You don’t have any cash,” her accountant rather merrily tells her.

She still has her furs, wearing one while drinking by the pool at night.  Her daughter comes to comfort her.  “Will we be poor?” the kid wants to know.  Valerie is pretty honest, and the daughter tells Valerie to fight, reminding her that’s the advice she gave to Tim when he was at his lowest.  True, and smart kid, she’s the only one who seems to remember it.  In fact, the daughter sees it as an adventure, one that will allow her to get a job at the magazine!  Valerie, chuckles and refuses, saying, “stay out of the art department,” as if we don’t know how she’ll get rescued.

Not just yet.  First, she needs to sell her apartment.  There’s only one person who can help her with that: Donald Trump, as played by Donald Trump.  Yup, the Age of Excess’ Pin-Up Boy proudly shows up to play himself, technically Valerie’s landlord, which we know from the zillion times Trump Tower has been part of the movie.  It must have literally hurt The Donald to deliver the lines he does (with eyebrows going all over the place and hair blowing, though we’re indoors), which is that he’ll happily buy the $6 million apartment right now, sell it and anything over $6 million, he’ll give to her.  I don’t think Donald grew his empire (already substantial when it was given to him) by doing pretty ladies favors.  “Where are you going to be living,” he asks sincerely.  “Are park benches still illegal?” she chuckles.

Perry and Francesca take the new buyer of the magazine empire and his wife to the Canadian resort, and Perry is eager to show the guy the amount of timber he owns, which will cut down on the need to buy paper from someone else (but will still not solve the problems of deforestation).  Francesca asks to go see the spot where her first husband died, but Perry tries to talk her out of it.  She does not back down.  “You needn’t come if it makes you feel uncomfortable,” she says sweetly to Mrs. Moneybags.  “If you don’t mind, I think I won’t,” she replies without a moment’s hesitation.  Perry loses his train of thought and Mrs. Moneybags has to upbraid him for his bad card-playing.  “That’s what you get for talking business and not paying attention!” she insists.  Sorry, is that cliff still available?  We have someone who needs to check out the bottom of it.

It’s not Perry who takes Francesca to see where it happened, and she’s warned by a Canadian-accented servant, “it’s real dangerous,” but that the staff members all know of the dangers.  So, Francesca decides to go see the cliff herself.

In the ABSOLUTE STUPIDEST moment of the movie, she finds the medallion ripped from Perry’s neck.  So, a medallion about the size of a quarter, has stayed in the same spot, on the edge of a cliff, since Barry was killed?  Rain, erosion, wind, time, bears, scatterbrained squirrels, nothing moved that weightless shiny piece of metal so that it was still there when Francesca went, by herself, to the very spot where her husband was killed?  Somebody find out what the metal is, we’ll make a fortune!  The camera gives Francesca one of those daytime soap opera moments, where the fade-out takes 15 seconds without dialogue.  It means she can adjust her neck, arch her eyebrows, register some surprise, but not really “get it.”  However, by the time Perry gets back, she’s ready with the quiet accusation, “you killed him.”  And then she gears up to plow through her last chance to tear this crap limb from limb.  The tears, the yelling, the emotion, she nails it all.  Apparently, not only is the special metal, but Perry is special stupid.  He had no idea the medallions bore separate inscriptions (off by one word).  “A small difference, but everything to me,” she heaves.

As Francesca goes mad, Perry slaps her and he grasps for anything, that it was an accident, that Barry was the one who started the argument, Perry countered about the son’s paternity, Barry swung first, it was all his fault. Sounds plausible, at least until Francesca tells him that she told Barry of her son’s true father years ago (that we did know).  Oops.  “You loved [Adam] as one of his own. You are the last person he would have ever told,” she snarls and smacks him to the floor.  Her warning to him is, “if you ever come near my family, no matter what it cost me in pride, I’ll bring you to trial…I swear it!”

I had the pleasure of seeing Francesca Annis play Gertrude to Ralph Fiennes Hamlet, one of the most memorable female performers I have ever seen.  A regular on the finest of British television, she is a legendary actress.  Like fellow British actresses Angela Lansbury and Stephanie Beecham, greatly respected, reputations cemented, American television offered well-paying effortless roles.  Lansbury dots half a dozen miniseries and Beecham WAS Sable Colby, a performance to which I’ve compared Francesca’s often here.  Joan Collins was Alexis Colby, devil and vixen, but it was a full characterization.  With Blake and Krystal to balance her out (and Dominique later), the character was not one-note.  Sable Colby, of “The Colbys” had no competition, except twin statues Charlton Heston and Ali McGraw, since Barbara Stanwyck, way too ill to compete, dropped out after one season.  Not even that Latin personification of cheese, Ricardo Montalbam could compete, so Beecham played Sable to the balcony.  There was no attempt to muzzle her and she was the only thing that worked.  No wonder they kept her around after her show expired.  It’s essentially the same here for Francesca Annis.  She could do crap like this standing on her head and full of tranquilizers, but since everyone here is capable of only one note, which is usually shrill, she tops them all by showing them how far she can go.  An American actress, say Jaclyn Smith or Susan Sullivan, would have brought a tameness to the character, which would have been no damn fun at all.  Francesca Annis plays it like the trash it is, instead of pretending it’s not trash, and her wild acting is the best thing about this movie.  Did she win any awards?  No, and I’m sure she’s thrilled  at that.  I felt the need to explain this because I didn’t want anyone thinking such a capable actress was the victim of trash.  Like Lansbury as the flighty Aunt Hortense in “Lace” or boozy tower of wealth in “Rage of Angels: The Story Continues,” Annis happily left her acting chops back in the UK and came over here to shout until hoarse and collect a big fat paycheck.  That helps one live high on the hog during another season of rep in the provinces.

But, the movie’s not over.  Desperate Perry tries to manipulate Adam.  “Your mother and I have had a little misunderstanding I thought you might be able to help,” Perry starts, which nets a harsh reply from Adam, but Perry continues with the story, blabbing the truth.  “I’ve known, I’ve always known.  I saw the letter you wrote my mother.  She locked it away, but I found it.  And you know…[Barry] was my father.  He was the only father I ever wanted, the only father I ever had and he still is my father!,” he spits out, joining the overacting pool right near the finish line, though with admittedly better hair than most of his costars.  “Blood is blood, doesn’t that mean anything?” Perry (who also has a great head of hair, did then, still does now) stammers?  “It means nothing,” Adam drawls slowly, all eyebrows and anger.  The two end up in a tussle and Perry hits his son on the head with what might be a speaker, but is pliable like a pillow, yammering on about revenge as his son may or may not be dead on the floor (he’s not, but Perry doesn’t know that when he leaves).

Valerie, who hasn’t been on screen in over ten minutes, shows up at the office in the most demure outfit yet.  It’s still ugly, but it has a shape.  “There’s something I would like to discuss with you,” Francesca says coldly as Valerie nervously sits down in the nearest chair.  “Are you quite comfortable?” Mother asks.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t…” Valerie says, realizing she’s sitting in the boss’ chair.  “No, no.  Sit down.  Yes, you belong there,” she says, now toned down back to a Goneril or Regan fierceness.

From this exchange, it’s clear she has just given Valerie the company, right?  Not to Valerie.  She requires a full explanation, a mistake on her part, because of the 502 scenes these two have had together, well, it just gets worse and worse for Valerie.  “Take them all over?  I would…I never…I would never dream of that,” she says, believably, since she still looks 14.  Realizing too late that her mother was never going to sell the magazines, Francesca sinks into a chair with a heavy sigh and says, “good God…sometimes I think you don’t understand me at all.”  It’s not just her.  You are a family of disconnected puzzle pieces, so they are all to blame.  Oh wait, I was mistaken (or purposely led you astray): Francesca ain’t done yet.

You see, Valerie doesn’t know what happened with Perry and naturally wants to know.  Francesca dramatically heaves that no one in the family is to ever mention him again.  Why?  “Don’t ask me!” she says, turning away with a head snap, clasping her pearls, now doing the private Nancy Reagan, the one only her frightened children got to see.  But, unlike Nancy Reagan, this scene gets to end with mother and daughter clasping each other.  For the zillionth time, Francesca brushes Valerie’s bangs up.  “I’m still doing it wrong after all these years,” Valerie pouts.  “I was just thinking how charming you do your hair.  It really wouldn’t be you any other way, would it,” she says with bug eyes and a laugh, now doing an imitation of Carol Burnett’s Norma Desmond spoof.

Adam is fine, in fact, better than fine.  He’s managed to get a wound that allows the bandage to act as a bandana, pushing up his hair for a sexy 80s androgyny look.  Francesca is due to pick him up at the hospital, but coos, “there’s one thing I’ve got to do first,” unafraid at Adam’s warning that Perry has threatened the whole family.  Breathing in deeply, she presses two digits on the phone (I counted).  “Is this the police?” she asks?  No, lady, it’s Sal’s pizza, whatcha want?  “I want to report a murder,” she whispers, now doing Kim Novak as a “Murder, She Wrote” guest star.  In the far less watchable plot tie-up, Valerie shows up at Jack’s apartment to sputters of disapproval, in an outfit that looks like her 17-year old self’s wardrobe, daisies and pizza, he knows “I’m being set up.”  No, Valerie just “needed to get out of the house,” since she is somehow annoyed by Bat and Bestie (Tim and Julianne) making wedding plans.  “I hope they’re happier than we were,” Jack quips.  Adopting the sedate carefully rehearsed style of Francesca (but not succeeding), she stays calm through Jack’s way-off-the-mark list of reasons Valerie has shown up with pizza.  The blue eye shadow is pushing her lids down dramatically, which helps make her seem a bit more serious, even as she slithers, on her knees, to Jack, admitting she does want something.  “I want you…I never stopped loving you,” and they have another one of their ultra-cutesy arguments that ends with Valerie snaking her way into Jack’s arms, not kissing until Jack has proposed…again.  Jack stops to ask if they should inform their daughter, but said daughter is posed in a limo downstairs, legs in perfect Z shape (though in pants, that effect means little–even less on a teenager).  A servant offers to take her upstairs.  “No, let’s give her another few minutes,” the kid says, temptress in training.

“Welcome back!” Jack manages to yell as the lovers fall onto the couch.

“I’ll Take Manhattan.”  Go for it and please, please, don’t return it.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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