Compelling and convincing performances by its leads sell this two-hour telefilm, which treads familiar ground concerning spousal abuse and the dearth of legal protection for battered women.
The hook here concerns attempts at passing legislation that would allow evidence of spousal abuse to be heard in family law proceedings, including custody hearings. Some states bar such info from being introduced.
Kerns, as battered mom Maryanne Walker-Tate, looks believably haggard and hapless in her role as the subservient wife to paranoid and at times maniacal hubby Daniel, ably played by Tim Matheson. Kerns strays far from her former “Growing Pains” persona as Disney-mom Maggie Seaver, and delivers an Emmy-quality reading in this fact-based drama.
Backdropped by the blissful suburban lives of neighbors, Daniel terrorizes his wife and two kids at every turn. The abuse scenes may be uncomfortable for some to watch, and have prompted ABC to offer a parental advisory before and during the show warning viewers of the program’s graphic nature.
Scripter Stephanie Liss uses the time wisely to tell the tale, never laboring any one aspect of the plight of a battered woman, yet stopping long enough to get the gist before moving on. But she also raises many more questions — among them why the cops are never called and why everyone can tell it’s abuse except the abused woman — and asks the viewers to presume a great deal.
Perfs by Kerns and Matheson are top-notch. Justin Isfeld also is first-rate as the couple’s wise-beyond-his-years son.
Program’s end is unsatisfying. Closing with the court allowing Maryanne to take the witness stand in a custody hearing, the telepic implies the abuse will be uncovered and she will be awarded sole custody of the kids. It’s another presumption that may leave some viewers cold.