Waiting for something to happen in "Journey," the first entry in the "Hallmark Hall of Fame's" 45th season of specials, is like watching snow melt on a cold December morning.
The story, written by Patricia MacLachlan (author of "Sarah, Plain and Tall"), is small and quiet, strikingly so by the noisy, hyperactive standards of much current television drama. And it unfolds sluggishly, strung together with atmospheric shots of open farmland and repeated portrayals of characters staring moodily through windows.
In literal terms, not much happens at all. Min, a young, angst-ridden mother, walks out on her family, leaving her son, Journey, and daughter, Cat, in the care of their grandparents. Will 11-year-old Journey come to understand why she left? Can he learn to accept her departure and find love and happiness with his grandparents? Will his concern with the issues of his past intrude upon his passage to maturity?
Simple questions, universal questions. And, because they underscore the relevance of the nuclear family, they are questions well worth examining.
But "Journey" never reaches beyond the short answer that kids are better off surrounded by loving family. (No mystery there.) Written and directed novelistically, it rarely generates either dramatic movement or character insight.
Min, acted in nervous fashion by Meg Tilly, fails to come into focus, even though her actions are the story's key energizing factors. Are we to believe that her difficulty in getting along with her father, Marcus (played feistily by Jason Robards), is sufficient justification for leaving her children for an on-the-road, beatnik lifestyle?
And, in the quest to explore the Journey/Marcus, grandfather/grandson connection, why is there no room for even a brief look at the equally important, three-generation relationship between the women--grandmother Lottie (Brenda Fricker), Min and Cat (Eliza Dushka)?
"Journey" contains some memorable visuals and a few occasionally touching scenes. More often, it sacrifices perception and imagination for static images and buffered emotions.
* "Journey" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS (Channel 2).