It was in April of 1991 that NBC rolled out a two-night miniseries entitled "Switched at Birth" that dramatized the true story of Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg, children who were unwittingly switched in a hospital nursery as infants and raised by the wrong parents for a full decade before the error was detected. The docudrama emerged as one of the year's highest-rated longforms. CBS, reasoning that what worked once should still be good 8-1/2 years later, has fashioned a second tale of maternal mixup, one that plays with noble enough candor.

It was in April of 1991 that NBC rolled out a two-night miniseries entitled “Switched at Birth” that dramatized the true story of Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg, children who were unwittingly switched in a hospital nursery as infants and raised by the wrong parents for a full decade before the error was detected. The docudrama emerged as one of the year’s highest-rated longforms. CBS, reasoning that what worked once should still be good 8-1/2 years later, has fashioned a second tale of maternal mixup, one that plays with noble enough candor.

Film stars Melissa Gilbert and Rosanna Arquette as new mothers Gail Barlow and Linda Wells, respectively. These women could not possibly be less alike. Gail is upper middle-class, pampered, rigid and married to the very essence of white-collar manhood itself in husband James (David Andrews). Linda is by contrast single, destitute, earthy and free-spirited.

Somehow, the hospital screws up their babies’ name tags, and the women wind up taking home one another’s sons. It is only when Linda’s n’er-do-well sometime boyfriend Darryl (James McCaffrey) openly disputes his being the kid’s daddy that the unconscionable flub is exposed via a DNA test. Seems both Linda and Darryl carry a 99% probability of not being the natural parent of son Luke.

Linda warns Gail and James to get tested themselves to gauge their own biological likelihood of being mom and dad to their son, Morgan, and what predictably follows leaves everyone devastated. Still, no one really knows quite what to do, given that their sons are now about 18 months old and fully bonded to their parents.

This is where “Two Babies” strikes its most resonant chords in the complex, heavy-duty teleplay from Alan Hines and co-executive producers Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leitchling.

The Barlows and Linda experience a realistic feeling-out process, going from wary to tentative to downright trusting. And no one pretends to have the situation figured out.

The third acts turns when medical trauma befalls one of the boys. Then the opportunistic Darryl, smelling a sweet financial settlement, comes back from nowhere to claim his father role anew and sending the movie into crisis overdrive as helmer Douglas Barr struggles to recover a balanced pace and style.

Regrettably, pic surrenders to stereotype and platitudes through the final half-hour, cheapening a story that had something more profound to say about love and connecting sometimes meaning more than biology when it comes to that elusive “best interests of the child.”

Both Gilbert and Arquette acquit themselves well in fairly demanding roles, with Arquette in particular allowing a surprising vulnerability to peek through. The underrated Andrews, too, supplies consistently fine support. And to the credit of the writers, at least “Two Babies” avoids two typical traps of these kinds of films: It neither demonizes the media nor bogs the proceedings down in legal ministrations. Amen.

Tech credits are sharp in every area.

Two Babies: Switched at Birth

CBS; Wed. Nov. 24, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Portland, Ore., by Alexander/Enright and Associates. Executive producers, Les Alexander, Don Enright; co-executive producers, Arlene Sarner, Jerry Leitchling; producer, Robert J. Wilson; director, Douglas Barr; writers, Alan Hines, Sarner, Leitchling

Crew

Camera, James Bartle; production designer, Sean Mannion; editor, Raul Davalos; music, Stewart Levin; sound, Doug Tourtelot; casting, Lisa Mionie, Eileen Stringer. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast

Sarah Barlow - Melissa Gilbert Linda Wells - Rosanna Arquette James Barlow - David Andrews Darryl - James McCaffrey Judy - Mary Mara Marie - Susan Barnes Bert - Ron Silver Dr. Lee - Lester B. Hanson Dr. Ullman - Peter Lohnes Joseph - Joe Ivy Michael - Bruce Burkhartsmeier

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