Review: ‘Where Are My Children?’

Filmed in Southern California by MDT Prods. Inc. and Andrea Baynes Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producer, Andrea Baynes; producer, Ira Marvin; co-producer, Jacklyn Conway-Pratt; director, George Kaczender; writer, Michael Zagor; If the creators of this telepic intended to explore a pressing social issue, they don't succeed. If they meant to tell an inspiring story about a woman overcoming great misfortune, they left out the inspiring parts. "Where Are MyChildren?" deals with a mother's worst nightmare, but it's probably too bland to capture a big share.

Filmed in Southern California by MDT Prods. Inc. and Andrea Baynes Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producer, Andrea Baynes; producer, Ira Marvin; co-producer, Jacklyn Conway-Pratt; director, George Kaczender; writer, Michael Zagor; If the creators of this telepic intended to explore a pressing social issue, they don’t succeed. If they meant to tell an inspiring story about a woman overcoming great misfortune, they left out the inspiring parts. “Where Are MyChildren?” deals with a mother’s worst nightmare, but it’s probably too bland to capture a big share.

Marg Helgenberger stars as a divorcee who settles in Cape Stark, Ga., with her three young children in 1962. When she’s arrested on a petty charge, the judge makes an example of her.

After three months in an Atlanta jail, she returns to find that her kids have been sold into adoption by a ring headed by a local family court judge (Bonnie Bartlett).

Thus begins the woman’s 24-year search for her children, and a string of bad luck that would make Job feel fortunate. She’s relentlessly victimized, and the blows are depicted with a frustrating matter-of-factness.

Though she holds up remarkably well, her efforts aren’t really uplifting. Justice is not served, and viewers don’t get inside this mother’s head or heart; for the audience, a 30-second hug during the predictable happy ending can’t make up for her devastating life.

The story is “inspired” by an “actual incident”– presumably the kidnapping — but it’s never clear what’s true and what’s fictionalized. Michael Zagor’s monotone script is filled with lines like “I can’t believe this, it’s like a bad dream.”

The material calls for less restraint, but director George Kaczender plays it straight, manipulating the audience with tried and true tactics. The vanilla performances are solid enough, with good character acting lending some necessary flavor. Helgenberger hits most of the right notes without rising above the script. The likable Christopher Noth stands out as one of her hubbies, while Corbin Bernsen plays a nice guy quietly and effectively.

Producer Ira Marvin lets some small period anachronisms slip by, and the production design by Josan Russo seems low-budget. Craig Safan’s dreary score relies on an annoying flute and tinkling piano.

Sad but innocuous, “Where Are My Children?” doesn’t break any new ground or shed any light on the adoption and social welfare systems, except to make the point that they’re slow bureaucracies subject to corruption.

Where Are My Children?

Production

ABC, Sun. Sept. 18, 9 p.m.

Crew

Camera, Laszlo George; editor, Michael S. Murphy; production designer, Josan Russo; sound, Sunny Meyer; music, Craig Safan. 120 MIN.

With

Cast: Marg Helgenberger, Christopher Noth, Bonnie Bartlett, Corbin Bernsen, Cynthia Martells, Jerry Hardin, Angela Paton, Lois de Banzie, John Cothran Jr., David Spielberg, Paul Linke, H. Richard Greene, Ellen Crawford, Paxton Whitehead , Tanner Lee Prairie, Brittany English Stephens, Greg Almquist, Susan Beaubian, Julie Bowen, J. Trevor Edmond, William Frankfather, Sam Gifaldi, Dean Hill, Brixton Karnes, James Morrison, Jonathan Nichols, Marcia Rodd, David Sage, Harvey Vernon, Jack Armstrong, Jeremiah W. Birkett, Owen Bush, David Drummond, Shannon Gardner, Adrienne Hampton, Tiiu Leek, Michael McCarty, Marilyn McIntyre, Fredi Olster, Ryan J. O'Neil, Stacy Ray, Cecelia Riddett.
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