TV Reviews : 'After the Shock': A Grim, Cautionary Tale on Earthquakes

For those who wait for The Big One, there is value to be found in "After the Shock," a USA cable docudrama (tonight at 9) about the The Almost Big One in San Francisco last Oct. 17.

"Value" may sound like paltry praise, but you can't call this a swell show and good fun.

This is occasion for grimness, of course. Producer-writer-director Gary Sherman chose to understate the natural panic and chaos of the events, even to understate the normal flood of sentimentality at the heroic rescues--but the emotions are there. He videotaped overlapping stories of personal heroism with a kind of low-lit, shaky, hand-held earthquake verite that made it easy to intercut his scenes with real TV news tapes. Production designer Patricia Van Ryker and art director Mayne Schuyler Berke made an ugly, twisting mess for director of photography Alex Nepomniaschy to crawl around in.

Not your usual spritely movie-of-the-week. Even its stars--Rue McClanahan, Yaphet Kotto, Scott Valentine, Jack Scalia and Richard Anthony Crenna--are incidental to the disaster. If there is a special performance, it is by Nick Zaninovich, who was crammed into his crushed car on the collapsed Nimitz Freeway for four hours; he plays himself with decidedly black humor, which is the only wit of the piece and probably of the whole earthquake.

The result is a dark, dank, ugly, claustrophobic, totally perilous reality. This is probably very much like it really was and, if you're up for cautionary tales, like it may be again.

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