Mckenna Mckenna’s Wonder

Chad Everett, cast as widowed outdoorsman Jack McKenna, returns to TV with a series whose strong, engrossing first episode promises much. It's got a likable, talented cast, suspense, the great outdoors -- and Everett, who fits glovelike into the role of the rugged individualist who has lots to learn about the human condition.

With:
Cast: Chad Everett, Eric Close, Vinessa Shaw, Shawn Huff, Ashlee Lauren, Jacob Loyst, Rick Peters, Jack Kehler, Eric Laneuville, James Parks, Greg Johnson, Anthony Ray Parker, Lisa Dow, Susan Damante Shaw, Jayme Hoffman.

Chad Everett, cast as widowed outdoorsman Jack McKenna, returns to TV with a series whose strong, engrossing first episode promises much. It’s got a likable, talented cast, suspense, the great outdoors — and Everett, who fits glovelike into the role of the rugged individualist who has lots to learn about the human condition.

The story is narrated by Brick McKenna (Eric Close), Jack’s second son, who always felt left behind when older brother Guy and his dad went off together.

Guy, Jack’s favorite, worked as the guide for Jack’s outfit, McKenna Wilderness Outfitters, but died in an accident on a hand bridge over a gorge. Now, two years later, stock-car mechanic Brick comes home with his rebellious sister, Cassidy (Vinessa Shaw in this chapter, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt from now on).

Cassidy has her own reasons for staying home, while Brick announces he’s not sticking around. But the company needs Brick to work with his father, so the first hour concentrates on bringing Jack and Brick together. Good scenes between them iron out some of the past, but the strongest catalyst is an adventure over the gorge where Guy died.

Guy’s widow, Leigh (Shawn Huff), works with the Outfitters, living at the ranch with her two children as she deals with a secret romantic interest in town.

Helping fill the bill is cop Dale Goodwin (Rick Peters), Brick’s best friend; as a semi-comic relief, Walter Maddock (Jack Kehler) registers as a reactionary townsman (though an incident between Maddock and a feminist jars because it’s lamentably predictable).

Otherwise well organized and scripted by creator Gil Grant, “McKenna” has a becoming wholesomeness to it. The characters are credible and involving and are well cast, especially Close and Everett, who’s particularly persuasive as the stoic Jack. Director Eric Laneuville (who plays the role of a snooty tourist) intelligently builds the program.

The first episode was produced in New Zealand, but subsequent chapters will film in Bend, Ore. The production has a good look, and Bruce Rowland has supplied an appropriate score. The camerawork by John Mahaffie is terrif, and Art Stafford’s editing is primetime stuff.

ABC and Grant have developed a worthy family hour worth checking out; it could be a runaway hit.

Mckenna Mckenna's Wonder

(Thurs. (15), 9-10 p.m., ABC)

Production: Filmed in New Zealand by GrantVision Prods. and ABC Prods. Executive producer/writer/creator, Gil Grant; co-executive producer, Stephen Zito; producer, Peter Dunne; director, Eric Laneuville.

Crew: Camera, John Mahaffie; editor, Art Stafford; production designer, Ralph Davies; sound, Ken Saville; music, Bruce Rowland.

Cast: Cast: Chad Everett, Eric Close, Vinessa Shaw, Shawn Huff, Ashlee Lauren, Jacob Loyst, Rick Peters, Jack Kehler, Eric Laneuville, James Parks, Greg Johnson, Anthony Ray Parker, Lisa Dow, Susan Damante Shaw, Jayme Hoffman.

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