TV REVIEWS : 'Antonia' a Classy Outing on USA Cable

"My Antonia," a loving, faithful adaptation of a novel by Willa Cather, dramatizes the bond between a tentative farm boy and a spirited Bohemian immigrant girl in 1890s rural Nebraska.

In a production that represents a striking and classy departure for USA cable, the show stars Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser") as an orphaned 14-year-old Virginia boy who arrives on a remote Nebraska plain to live with grandparents who are strangers to him (Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint).

Almost immediately, the shy youth is bedazzled by a vivacious, spirited 15-year-old neighbor (the entitled Antonia in an affecting performance by Romanian-born actress Elina Lowensohn). Although she can't speak English and her impoverished immigrant family lives in a dirt dugout, she infectiously revels in her new friend and daily discoveries.

Their early, joyous scenes together, cavorting in undulating plains of tall grass or rolling on stacks of hay etched against brilliant golden wheat fields and deep blue skies, are redolent of Cather's burnished sense of the land and beautifully lensed by cinematographer Robert Primes.

The almost incommunicable bond that develops between the adolescents--even after the boy goes off to college and becomes a lawyer and she remains on the land that she can never leave--is the bittersweet heart of the story.

A running subplot about the snide, racial prejudice cast by native farmers toward poor foreign sodbusters speaks volumes to the theme of immigration in our society today.

* "My Antonia" airs at 9 tonight on USA cable.

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