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TV Reviews : Tandy Is Captivating as ‘The Story Lady’

In her first appearance since her Oscar-winning portrayal in “Driving Miss Daisy,” a radiant Jessica Tandy stars on NBC tonight in “The Story Lady” as a widow who discovers the perfect way to feel useful: telling stories to children on public-access TV (9 p.m., Channels 4, 36 and 39).

Among the kids she captivates is the lonely young daughter (Lisa Jakub) of an ambitious ad agency executive (Stephanie Zimbalist), who in turn thinks Tandy would be perfect on a network, sponsored by a key Zimbalist client, a toy manufacturer.

Targeted for the Christmas season, “The Story Lady” has lots going for it in its well-written roles for Tandy, Zimbalist and Jakub. Writer Robert Zeschin satirizes the grotesque way in which commercial TV attempts to transform Tandy’s elegant, unpretentious New Jersey matron into “Granny Goodheart,” sticking her into a ridiculous costume and placing her on a fancy set.

The relationship between Zimbalist, trying to be a responsible single parent while absorbed in climbing the corporate ladder, and the neglected Jakub, trying hard to be adult about her mother’s lack of time for her, rings all too true. Unfortunately, “The Story Lady,” after having created real people in real predicaments under Larry Elikann’s brisk, perceptive direction, opts for an ending that is strictly fairy tale itself.

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