Using the university as a microcosm of society as a whole, “Silencing Mary” explores issues surrounding date rape and how star athletes are allowed special treatment because of their physical gifts. Hart’s popularity as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” should draw young teens, an ace target for this message.College journo Mary (Melissa Joan Hart) and roommate Holly (Lisa Dean Ryan) enjoy campus life, and football fan Holly’s thrilled when wide receiver Billy (Lochlyn Munro, who, in a note to casting, is too short for the position) invites her to a fraternity party. Seems the team’s having a banner year, with major bowl aspirations and maybe a juicy NFL contract for QB Clay (Josh Hopkins). At the party, a drunk Holly goes off with a predatory Clay and he rapes her. Mary is outraged, and wants to call the cops; a reluctant Holly agrees to report the rape through the university judicial system. But no cops. Mary, already tracking a story in which football players broke in to a prof’s house and stole a history exam, is outraged, and wants to use her position at the school paper to expose the arrogant athletes. But the team gets wind of her vigilance and sets on a campaign to threaten and terrorize her, Holly and other friends of Mary’s. Campus authorities look the other way. This out-of-control behavior — and the passivity of the university officials — deepens Mary’s conviction to expose the guilty parties. Telepic by Steven Johnson tackles a timely issue — coddled athletes who think they are above the law, and the system that treats them as if they are. Well-written script touches base on all the reasons big-time college football players believe they deserve special treatment — TV exposure, bowl game money, alumni money — but also does not lose sight of the victims of their crimes. As Mary, a doggedly determined Hart knits her brows a lot, but it’s Lisa Dean Ryan as Holly who’s a standout. Ryan takes Holly from a sexually and intellectually confidant young woman to a spiritless zombie in a convincing portrayal. A few missteps don’t detract from “Silencing Mary’s” main message. Tech credits are fine.
Sun. (8), 9-11 p.m., NBC
Filmed in Vancouver by Heartbreak Films in association with Viacom Prods. Executive producer, Paula Hart; producer, Kay Hoffman; co-producer Trisha Hart; director, Craig R. Baxley.
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Corin Nemec, Josh Hopkins, Lisa Dean Ryan, Peter MacNicol, James McDaniel, Josh Hopkins, Lochlyn Munro, Teryl Rothery, Garry Chalk, Colin Laurence, Susan Hogan, Emily Hart, Kevin McNulty, Bob Morrisey.
Writer, Steven Johnson; camera, Joao Fernandes; production design, Ian Thomas; editor, Sonny Baskin; music, Gary Chang; sound Eric Batut; casting, Holly Powell.
Data provided by:Nielsen Media Research (Preliminary Results)