ABC took a flier on a two-hour pilot in which Blair Brown as determined Cleveland widow Elizabeth Cleary moves two spoiled teenagers to a Santa Fe ghost ranch her husband once envisioned running. Mysticism, faith, practicality and honor — things not usually broached in TV ventures — are mainstays in Linda Bergman’s effective, if scattered, drama; vidpic’s as courageous as the widow Cleary.
Oldest son Patrick (Michael Deluise) walks out on the family for selfish reasons, but weak teen Jack (Patrick Van Horn) and complaining daughter Bridget (Shay Astar) pile into a motor home with their mom to roll out of Cleveland.
First sign they’ve bumped into other worlds hits them on meeting blind Indian Gabriel (Floyd Red Crow Westerman), who states that Elizabeth is destined to run the adobe shambles as a guest ranch.
Joining Elizabeth as caretaker is seemingly ditsy Beatrice (Penny Fuller), whose connection with other worlds gives Elizabeth strength against the kids’ resentments.
Suave landowner Tito Carson (Robert Beltran) opposes Elizabeth’s plans, but she’s self-assured enough to stand firm; her motives are succinctly expressed in a brief moment with her father when she realizes how patient her late husband had been.
Writer Bergman doesn’t mind pouring jolts into the meller, and director Mimi Leder makes inventive use of them. Elizabeth develops a throat tumor that needs excision, so she loses her voice for much of the TV movie. And Bergman pours the late John Cleary’s (Jay O. Sanders) Irishness into the New Mexican air as a guide for the soft Jack.
Program’s loosely constructed, and young Bridget’s not seen enough. The story’s climax is, of all things, a barn-raising, with unexpected help that’s dramatically successful.
Prospects for a series may be gone, but Brown’s luminous presence, Jack’s not-unexpected emergence into manhood, the presence of fascinating Ana-Alicia as a force in Jack’s evolution are all part of the artful study of the effect of a special place upon susceptible humans. Fuller and Westerman supply the appealing ethereality that gives the otherwise commonplace plotting the extra spin.
An eccentric pilot, it didn’t have a chance. Brown’s Cleary is its strength, and without her, there would be no center. But how fine that ABC would consider for a moment a series about other voices, other rooms. Tech credits are good.