“Safe Harbor” is being positioned as something of a “7th Heaven” wannabe, since it comes from “Heaven” creator/executive producer Brenda Hampton and follows that family drama in the WB’s Monday night lineup. But in truth, this new Aaron Spelling product appears to have slightly more in common with “The Twilight Zone.” It’s almost like a paranormal “My Three Sons” — not because the characters have “X-Files” moments, exactly, but because the show plays with such bizarre incongruity.
Gregory Harrison is a widowed father of three boys, except that it’s really four, since he’s also raising one of his sons’ best friends, who happens to be African-American. Oh wait: Make that five kids, since he also just took in a 15-year-old female runaway named Jamie (Chyler Leigh). Together, this eclectic brood lives with dad’s widowed mother, Rue McClanahan. Yes, Dr. Gonzo Gates from “Trapper John, M.D.” and Blanche Devereaux from “The Golden Girls,” together at last. On the WB, anything is possible.
Harrison’s John Loring is sheriff of the quaint little seaside Florida town where he lives — so quaint that it employs a genuine sheriff. His mom, known to all as Grandma (even to those to whom she is not related), supplied the dwelling where they all live: a converted beachfront motel.
But hold on. We haven’t even gotten to the weird part yet. Here’s the issue in the pilot that has everyone foaming at the mouth: the high school’s controversial new dress code that bars the wearing of shorts! You’d think they had just outlawed Pokemon to see the reaction of John’s defiant middle child Turner (Jeremy Lelliott) to this apparel outrage.
Meanwhile, eldest son Hayden (Christopher Khayman Lee) decides that, heck, he’s 16 now, and he’s going to drop out of school to live in a subcompact auto. And oh yeah, it just sort of pops out that one of John’s partners in law enforcement basically had John’s wife killed a year before to cover up his corrupt ways.
Therein lies the true beauty of “Safe Harbor.” It can toss fashion issues into the same pot with cold-blooded murder, stir, and emerge with an agreeably warped little stew. It’s a million miles from reality, but no one is likely to question it.
In Hampton’s quirky opening teleplay (directed by Burt Brinckerhoff), Harrison is so stubbornly rigid as to inspire rigor mortis, while McClanahan dances to the beat of her own southern drummer. The beachy visuals are exquisite, blending nicely with the tone-shifting storyline to create an unintentionally surrealistic ambience.
Enjoy the vista while you can. It may well be fleeting with “Safe Harbor” pitted against “Monday Night Football,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Ally McBeal,” not to mention the new Dick Wolf spinoff “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Hardly what one would call a safe harbor.