Get this plot: woman recovers from leukemia, then conceives what doctors call a “miracle baby,” but before she weds the baby’s father or gives birth, she wants to go sailing — and not on a lake, mind you, but up the Atlantic Coast as a deckhand on a yacht crew — and then a hurricane hits, topples the boat, and the 3 1/2-person crew attempts to survive for more than a week on a life raft. That’s ABC’s “Desperate Journey,” and as ludicrous as the synopsis sounds, telepic actually makes it into port thanks to the acting skills of Mel Harris and John Schneider.
There’s rough sailing early as telepic’s premise is set up, with Allison Wilcox (Harris) trying not to crack a smile as she tells her beau (Cotter Smith) that she is not suffering from lingering effects of leukemia but is pregnant with his child; she also says that before marriage, she needs to satisfy the urge to hit the high seas.
He reluctantly agrees, and she sets out for the Southeast coast where she meets her ship mates, Eddie (Schneider) and Marc (Dana Ashbrook), a mismatched duo who apparently don’t mind that the new shipmate is four months pregnant.
The voyage is soon on, and it’s not long when Hurricane Bob crosses their path, sending boat and people in the seas, but all three scramble to a life raft , where the story loses its implausibility and becomes compelling.
The three experience the depression and madness of being stranded in the high seas, with Schneider playing both the antagonist and protagonist, depending on the mental state of the moment.
Back on shore, Smith prods and pushes the Coast Guard to commence a search. Smith plays the role relentlessly enough, but what is fact and what is fiction is never quite clear. There’s an advisory at the beginning indicating the telepic is based on a true story but that aspects of the characters and events have been dramatized.
Director Dan Lerner and scripter Jonathan Rintels save the best for last, with a solid climax that erases the memory of the silly start.