NBC's "The People Across the Lake," airing tonight at 9 on Channels 4, 36 and 39, is supposed to be serious suspense thriller. But this Valerie Harper vehicle is most notable for its unintentional guffaws.
The Yoman family (Harper, Gerald McRaney, Tammy Lauren and Gregory Togel) quit their big city pollution-and-burglar-alarm way of life for the simple pleasures of a country home in the woods near a lake. Dad (McRaney) has always wanted to quit his stockbroking and open a windsurfing business; Mom (Harper) hopes that small-town values will save her son and daughter from bad influences.
Dismembered bodies aren't in their plans, but Dad discovers one during a morning skinny-dip after a jog through the woods.
Trouble is, the torso disappears and the local sheriff (Tom Peacock) doesn't seem very concerned. When Mom and Dad discover another body during an amorous moment--after a jog through the woods (city folks like to jog)--they make sure it stays put and the investigation begins.
Meanwhile, the town gossip (Dorothy Lyman) and a very nice neighbor (Barry Corbin) and his deputy son (Jeff Kizer) fill them in on the community's terrible mystery, while locals Gary Bisig and Frank C. Turner ride Dad for imagining things.
Director Arthur Allan Seidelman seems at a loss with Dalene Young's clinker of a teleplay--no one seems to be in control as the cast indulges in caricatures and histrionics of the worst kind. If you stay with this one, it'll be for the laughs, not the chills.