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TV REVIEW : Winning Ways of WWII ‘Homefront’

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

The present may be perilous, but there’s safety in antiquity.

So no wonder that TV projects pitching nostalgia are being warmly received by the networks. Familiar older faces and musty themes loom large among this season’s new series, spreading what the networks hope is a safety net across turbulent economic waters.

In addition, the CBS comedy “Brooklyn Bridge” and the coming NBC drama series “I’ll Fly Away” are set in the 1950s. And tonight brings ABC’s “Homefront,” an occasionally mushy but entertaining homage to America in the mid-1940s.

It premieres with a nicely done 90-minute episode at 9:30 on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, thereafter airing Tuesdays at 10 as the caboose on what’s expected to be a high-achieving evening for ABC.

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“Homefront” encompasses those ever-present “isms"--racism, classism, sexism and ethnocentricism--traits that endure today but which are inevitably more salable to networks when benignly cloaked in the past than when explored as part of the present.

Not that this diminishes “Homefront” or its large and talented ensemble cast. What the premiere does quite effectively, through depictions of three distinctly different families, is capture the ambivalence of evolving post-war America, a cocky land that was flush with optimism and high hopes as it shed its old skin while clinging to the remnants.

The setting is a small Ohio city preparing in 1945 to welcome home its victorious GIs. But the red carpet is strewn with as much anger and disappointment as joy.

Two riveting Rosies in the working-class Metcalf family are bitter about losing their coveted plant jobs to returning soldiers. English and Italian war brides are resented for supplanting local girlfriends, and one GI is welcomed by a girlfriend who’s been having an affair with his kid brother.

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The Italian bride (Giuliana Santini) is greeted icily by her condescending new in-laws, the well-to-do Sloans. And the black Davis family’s angry son (Sterling Macer Jr.) gets even angrier when learning that the medals he received while fighting for his country earn him nothing better than a low-paying janitor’s job at the Sloans’ factory.

This is a script of too many conveniences, with confrontations occurring on cue when adversaries just happen to run into each other at odd places and times for no logical reason other than to create conflict in an artificial way. And the resolution to the black’s GI’s job woes seems terribly far-fetched.

Otherwise, “Homefront” is a rich, well-directed (by Ron Lagomarsino) piece, full of character and emotion and driven by fine performances, including Jessica Steen’s jilted plant worker Linda Metcalf, David Newsom’s confused Hank Metcalf and Mimi Kennedy’s haughty Ruth Sloan. It was created by Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick, former producers of “Knots Landing.”

Just as World War II wasn’t determined in a day, “Homefront” won’t be a winner or loser based on one episode. Yet it does appear to be a series that gives nostalgia a good name.

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