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TV REVIEW : A Long-Suffering Tale of ‘Open Admissions’

Move over “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” “Return to Gilligan’s Island” and (name your own all-time-worst TV movie). Here comes “Open Admissions” (at 9 tonight on Channels 2 and 8), a classic example of tube-cinema turkeydom.

But with a difference. Unlike most TV-movie bombs, “Open Admissions” doesn’t give you a warning shot like a schlocky title or an obviously tacky plot. It sneaks up on you, boasting award-winning actresses Jane Alexander and Estelle Parsons, derivation from a Broadway play and a social-realism plot about a long-suffering black student (Michael Beach) and his longer-suffering college speech professor.

Somewhere at its genesis (a play by Shirley Lauro, who also wrote the teleplay), “Open Admissions” may have been a decent idea. It’s obviously trying to say something about the failures of the American school system, but it becomes predictable, confused and preposterous.

Alexander, playing teacher Ginny Carlson, passes students through her class like cattle through a chute. Most of them do seem hopeless: Enrolled in the college thanks to its open-admissions policy, few have mastered the basics of reading and writing.

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One (Beach) rebels at the soft treatment--he wants to learn something that will get him out of his roach- and crack-infested neighborhood. So far, so good.

But Alexander and Parsons (playing another teacher) are swamped by impossible dialogue, and there are repetitious scenes of Alexander contemplating her troubles at home and of Beach running through his neighborhood for no apparent reason.

The slow pacing is punctuated with overblown, overacted scenes of Beach expressing his anguish by pounding desks, turning over blackboards and--in the topper--terrorizing his family by tearing up their kitchen.

Artlessly directed by Gus Trikonis, and produced by Stevie Phillips and Thom Mount, “Open Admissions” is just the thing to inspire viewers--not to do anything about education, but to sign up for cable.

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