While you may be induced to reach for a Kleenex box by the end of "For Hope," the overall impression is that this is just another entry in TV's race to discover the next Disease of the Week.
Still, the ABC Sunday movie is dotted with bright patches, most notably Polly Bergen and Harold Gould as the ever-optimistic parents of a woman diagnosed with scleroderma, a potentially fatal illness that primarily affects women.
Directed and executive produced by Bob Saget, host of ABC's Sunday night staple "America's Funniest Home Videos," the production tells the story of a teacher, played by Dana Delany, who finds herself stricken with the degenerative disease, which hardens her skin and eventually spreads to her vital organs.
Saget has personal knowledge of scleroderma: It claimed the life of his sister two years ago. Her experience inspired "For Hope," and though Saget receives no writing credit (Susan Rice wrote the script), Hope's brother (played by Henry Czerny) is clearly modeled after him--a successful, obnoxious sitcom writer who deals with his sister's illness with a never-ending series of wisecracks.
Indeed, while "For Hope" is a far cry from "Funniest Home Videos," it both benefits and suffers from an unflagging sense of humor.
The first half, for instance, which focuses on Hope's life pre-scleroderma, is deftly handled--especially a montage with cameo appearances from John Ritter and Louis Anderson as two of her potential suitors.
But the production becomes muddled as Hope's disease grows worse, and the glib dialogue comes off forced, only seeming to deflect any serious exploration of scleroderma, its effects on its victims and their families. Fans of "China Beach' veteran Delany won't be disappointed, however, as she gives a fine performance.
* "For Hope" airs 9-11 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channels 7, 3).