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TV REVIEW : Troubled Teens Seek Aid in ‘Getting Straight’

At age 6, a cherubic Drew Barrymore charmed audiences in “E.T.” Last January, the 13-year-old actress let it be known that she had recently undergone treatment in a drug rehabilitation facility--for alcohol and drug abuse that began when she was 9.

Today, Barrymore’s guest role in a low-key, effective “CBS Schoolbreak Special” called “15 and Getting Straight” (at 3 p.m. on channels 2 and 8), has extra poignancy. She plays one of several teen-age participants in a 12-step drug-abuse recovery program.

A uniformly fine ensemble cast makes up the program’s representative assortment of teen-agers. They’re Susan (Barrymore), bulimic and angry at her mother, who considers herself “too fragile” to deal with a troubled daughter; the resistant new kid, Jeff (Corey Feldman), who tried to commit suicide while high, and Vonette (Monica Calhoun), well-to-do and black, feeling pressured to achieve.

High school football star Rick (Cal Evans) is fighting a crippling lack of confidence; tough, smart Patti (Stephanie Nicols), is a runaway from incest, and Luis (Dante Basco) is a gang member and the “baby” of the group.

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Tatum O’Neal plays the program leader, a recovered user. O’Neal is self-effacing, quietly guiding the teens through their 28 days of treatment. The stronger moments are left to guest star David Birney, who has a few telling scenes as the program director.

His best moment is with Basco, a very young actor of surprising maturity, who reveals the depths of his vulnerability as he remembers his father, killed in a drive-by shooting.

Written and directed by Emmy Award-winner Joanna Lee, the hour is notable for its simplicity: The sad backgrounds--of broken homes, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and parental and peer pressures--and the destructive effects of the substance abuse are conveyed frankly, without preachiness or overt dramatics.

The message comes across with compassion: that denial is the “enemy” and taking personal responsibility is the key to “getting straight.” No one pretends it’s easy.

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