Solid writing and appealing performers grace this brisk 30-minute drama that traces the fruition of a young boy’s dream to meet his favorite ’50s-era TV sitcom star. Reflecting a common debate of the era, a subtext of the necessity of spanking as a tool of discipline is also deftly examined.
This is the third of six installments in PBS’ “TV Families” series, which takes a look at nontraditional families and their depiction on TV, as well as their relationship to the tube.
Story centers around little Stevie (Evan Bonifant), an almost 7-year-old with exceptional drawing skills who is obsessed with Dottie Frank (Julie Halston), a comedienne in the vein of Lucille Ball, who stars in her own sitcom, “The Dottie Show.”
Naturally, Dad (Robert Pall) is less than sympathetic about his son’s interest in the zany comedienne and her onscreen antics, despite how the show has spawned Stevie’s interest in drawing, which is quite advanced for someone his age.
When Stevie wants to send in a postcard as part of a sweepstakes to win a trip to meet Dottie, Dad balks.
Director and scripter Todd Haynes (the arthouse pix “Poison” and “Safe”) uses Dad’s reaction to give the first of several strong tugs on viewers’ heartstrings , but balances the act with Mom (Barbara Garrick) — seemingly the only one with intuitive skills — who senses the importance to Stevie and sends the card.
Stevie wins the trip, but the visit to the Dottie set is uneventful. He watches a rehearsal of the chain-smoking, gravelly voiced star getting spanked by her TV spouse (Adam Arkin) during a sketch, and the event is seared into his consciousness. He relates it to his everyday life when he sees his school chums getting disciplined.
Bonifant is a star in the making, charismatic and gifted, and can communicate lines of dialogue with just a look. Garrick is perfect as the ’50shomemaker issuing familiar utterances, while Halston nails the Lucy/Imogene Coca model for Dottie.
Haynes gets the most from a talented cast, and production designer Therese Deprez helps the story by capturing the look and feel of the era.