After 14 churning years, "Knots Landing" turned up its toes in 1993 and the ol' gang presumably went their diverse ways. But it turns out they're still living raunchy suburban lives in that four-house cul-de-sac as CBS airs a four-hour up-to-dater. The more things change. Second most popular CBS nighttime drama series (behind "Gunsmoke"), concocted by David Jacobs as a "Dallas" spinoff, hasn't changed purposes in the teleplay penned by Ann Marcus, Lisa Seidman and Julie Sayres: to grab viewers with heart-on-sleeve characters behaving outrageously. Motivation has nothing to do with reason, only with holding onto audiences.
Original cast members move back into familiar behavior: The good are still stuck with being good, the bad forge ahead. Most reliable characterization is by William Devane as wearying but wily Greg Sumner, now married to snooty Anne (Michelle Phillips), whose purpose seems mostly decorative. But Donna Mills, as lovely, layabout Abby Fairgate, gets to display most of the program’s excesses.
Michele Lee’s put-upon Karen now has to figure out why hubby Mack (Kevin Dobson) is sulky. Ted Shackelford’s bland Gary Ewing, the “Dallas” connection, runs into a surprise daughter. Too, he witnesses wife Val (Joan Van Ark), who’s writing a screenplay autobio with a drunken, amorous scenarist (Michael Woods), getting mixed up in sudden death. Everyone’s children are multiparented, whether they know it or not.
Miniseries, painted in blatant poster colors folks like to watch, and with no intended humor, should work up respectable ratings. Whole thing’s a plot catch-up carried on with appropriate directness by helmer Bill Corcoran. Dialogue’s routine, with an occasional “What?!?” inexplicably called out when a scene’s quiet. John Fleckenstein’s camerawork in a beach scene catches troublesome shadows, James Hulsey’s production design serves its purpose, and Jerrold Immel’s pounding theme extends into the action.
While “Back to the Cul-de-Sac” plays like a travesty, it also plays like a fantasy. Nice place for a quick visit, but nobody really lives there.