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Childhood Sweethearts?

Mood defeats common sense in Devra Maza's preposterous teleplay in which a young lady turns up after disappearing 17 years ago and finds her old boyfriend still yearning for her. The blatant question mark in the title could well spill the beans. Melissa Gilbert's Karen Carlson and Michael Reilly Burke checks in as Greg, who holds a crucial locket she gave him when they were 12 or so. First, murky part of the vidpic has Greg waking repeatedly in the rain (apparently only around his house) and his discovering what looks like an incarnation of the lost Karen. Only she's full grown.

With:
Cast: Melissa Gilbert, Michael Reilly Burke, Ed Lauter, Leon Russom, Barbara Babcock, Ronny Cox, Stephanie Erb, Rutanya Alda, Derek Webster, Anthony Alexander, Cissy Wellman, Janet Wood, Brian Grandison, Keith McKechnie, Jeanine Jackson, Warren Munson, Chelsea Blatt, Trevor Michael Davis, Melissa Thompson.

Mood defeats common sense in Devra Maza’s preposterous teleplay in which a young lady turns up after disappearing 17 years ago and finds her old boyfriend still yearning for her. The blatant question mark in the title could well spill the beans.

Melissa Gilbert’s Karen Carlson and Michael Reilly Burke checks in as Greg, who holds a crucial locket she gave him when they were 12 or so. First, murky part of the vidpic has Greg waking repeatedly in the rain (apparently only around his house) and his discovering what looks like an incarnation of the lost Karen. Only she’s full grown.

Mystic possibilities make the TV film look promising at first. Karen is home, and the mystery of her disappearance will be explained in good time. Meanwhile her mother (Barbara Babcock) is delighted Karen’s back, even if Karen’s doubting father (Ronny Cox) wonders if she’s really Karen since she can’t pick out a tune on the piano.

Karen explains that a strange man walked off with her and wouldn’t let her come home. The man’s daughter Lynnell, same age as Karen, and she became such good friends that, as Karen reports to gullible Greg, “Everything that happened to me I told her. It was kind of like an escape for both of us.” More beans spilling.

Details of the disappearance, blamed on Karen’s confusing adolescence and torture by her kidnapper, begin to surface. Instead of getting an analyst to help Karen sort out her messed-up memories, Maza’s characters just let things happen. At one point, when a principal dies from a heart seizure, the victim’s wife idly wonders where his medicine was and is. That point’s dropped.

Director Marcus Cole knows how to cast a gloomy aura, and scripter Maza concocts a schism between Karen’s parents that’s repaired thanks to the homecoming. Babcock and Cox deserve nods for forging their ways through the ankle-deep sentimentalism, and director Cole earns his own reward by taking the story seriously. Stephanie Erb’s a pleasure as Greg’s castoff romance, and Ed Lauter at Sheriff Bowman is his usual dependable self.

Ross Berryman’s lensing of Gilbert has been unflattering, but the actress gamely carries off the transparent romanticism. Clean-cut, determinedly handsome Burke as her lifelong love staunchly limns Greg, but is stuck with a summarizing declaration that’s a hoot. Viewers may be enchanted by Maza’s labored plotting, numbing characters and absurd talk; they don’t write dialogue like that anymore.

Tech credits are okay, and Leon Russom’s fine as a Police Lt. Walker anxious to solve the mystery. And get it over with.

Childhood Sweethearts?

Tues.(18), 9-11 p.m., CBS-TV

Production: Filmed in L.A. by Daniel H. Blatt Prods and Warner Bros. TV. Exec producer, Daniel H. Blatt; producer, Elliot Friedgen; director, Marcus Cole; writer, Devra Maza; camera, Ross Berryman; editor, Jim Oliver

Crew: Sound, Don Johnson; music, Patrick Williams; production designer, Michael Clausen; casting, Shana Landsburg, Laura Adler.

Cast: Cast: Melissa Gilbert, Michael Reilly Burke, Ed Lauter, Leon Russom, Barbara Babcock, Ronny Cox, Stephanie Erb, Rutanya Alda, Derek Webster, Anthony Alexander, Cissy Wellman, Janet Wood, Brian Grandison, Keith McKechnie, Jeanine Jackson, Warren Munson, Chelsea Blatt, Trevor Michael Davis, Melissa Thompson.

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