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An Unexpected Family

Executive producer-writer Lee Rose, whose effective "A Mother's Prayer" graced the USA net in 1995, delivers another touching, bittersweet drama, directed assuredly by Larry Elikann, who also helmed "Mother's Prayer." It may head toward the sentimental, but all hands are so pro they bring it off. It's an unexpected pleasure.

With:
Cast: Stockard Channing, Stephen Collins, Christine Ebersole, Noah Fleiss, Chelsea Russo, Jenny O'Hara, Ken Pogue, Benjamin Ratner, Sarah Strange, Kevin McNulty, B.J. Harrison, Fulvio Cecere, Barry Levy, Rory J. Aylward, Charles Siegel, Allan Lysell, Bob Dawson, Michael Hirano, Dee Jay Jackson.

Executive producer-writer Lee Rose, whose effective “A Mother’s Prayer” graced the USA net in 1995, delivers another touching, bittersweet drama, directed assuredly by Larry Elikann, who also helmed “Mother’s Prayer.” It may head toward the sentimental, but all hands are so pro they bring it off. It’s an unexpected pleasure.

Single N.Y. career dame Barbara Whitney (Stockard Channing), who’s never liked kids, finds herself forcibly saddled with sister Ruth’s (Christine Ebersole) two offspring while Ruth hits the trail with her latest romance. Barbara’s good friend, widower Sam (Stephen Collins), is there as a splendid leavening agent while Barbara gets used to 10-year-old Matt (Noah Fleiss of “A Mother’s Prayer”) and still younger Megan (Chelsea Russo, whose accusing stare is terrif).

That, of course, is Rose’s idea: showing these characters working their way out of antagonism into fondness and so on, with Ruth already saying she doesn’t want them. Over a year, Barbara and the children learn to like each other through well-introduced incidents. Ruth, of course, demands the return of her children.

A custody hearing (with Ken Pogue as the judge, Jenny O’Hara as Barbara’s lawyer, and Kevin McNulty as Ruth’s mouthpiece) handsomely showcases Fleiss’ and Russo’s allegiances. There’s well-laid suspense, some of it because Rose springs an unfair surprise about Barbara in the courtroom.

Elikann’s knowing hand sparks the telefilm, and Channing gives a substantial study of a woman who’s deeper than she seems. Ebersole is superior as the thoughtless mother, and Collins makes the family friend an enjoyable companion. Eric Van Haren Noman’s astute camerawork and Peter V. White’s editing, masking N.Y. vs. Vancouver differences, hand the vidpic an admirable Manhattan feeling. Chris August’s designs set up excellent tones and ambience, and Tom Scott’s music is supportive.

A surprisingly old-fashioned theme with an old-fashioned structure, Rose’s tale covers several undesignated areas, giving the drama much of its depth. Most important, it’s a meller that works.

An Unexpected Family

Wed. (4), 9-11 p.m., USA

Production: Filmed in Vancouver and New York by Lee Rose Prods. Executive producer-writer, Lee Rose; director, Larry Elikann.

Cast: Cast: Stockard Channing, Stephen Collins, Christine Ebersole, Noah Fleiss, Chelsea Russo, Jenny O'Hara, Ken Pogue, Benjamin Ratner, Sarah Strange, Kevin McNulty, B.J. Harrison, Fulvio Cecere, Barry Levy, Rory J. Aylward, Charles Siegel, Allan Lysell, Bob Dawson, Michael Hirano, Dee Jay Jackson.Camera, Eric Van Haren Noman; editor, Chris August; art director, Jim Steuart; sound, Gordon Anderson, Jeff Pullman (Vancouver); music, Tom Scott; production designer, Chris August; casting, Amy Klein (USA), Sid Kozak (Canada).

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