Medusa’s Child

The world's about to go to hell in a handbasket, and only Gail O'Grady stands between us and Armageddon in this two-nighter about an airliner infiltrated by a live nuclear warhead and the love that blossoms amidst the plutonium. As we all know, nothing will turn you on like a potential vaporization hanging over your head. But at least "Medusa's Child" tends to make up in suspense what it lacks in brain matter. But here's the real doomsday scenario for ABC: It has scheduled the second installment for Thursday, opposite NBC's "Seinfeld" and "ER." Talk about Ground Zero. Based on the bestselling novel by John J. Nance --- whose last miniseries dramatization for NBC, "Pandora's Clock," dealt with a live virus on board an aircraft, rather than a live bomb --- "Medusa's Child" manages to gather momentum as it moves along, making it a rarity in the four-hour genre. It even succeeds in keeping you riveted despite its preposterousness, until the open-heart surgery. (More on that in a moment.)

With:
Cast: Vincent Spano, Lori Loughlin, Gail O'Grady, Kevin Dillon, Jack Coleman, Christopher Noth, Martin Sheen, John Glover, Daniel Kamin, Vyto Ruginis, Ian Tracey, Bob Morrisey, Robert Wisden, David Kaye, Tom Butler, Kevin McNulty.

Potboiler stars O’Grady as Vivian Henry, a woman recently divorced from mad scientist Rogers Henry (a nifty diabolical turn by John Glover). Rogers is a former nuclear geek whose work on a top-secret thermonuclear device code-named Medusa was abruptly halted by the Pentagon. As his dying wish, the warped Rogers asks Viv to deliver this little project he’s been working up in his garage to the Pentagon.

For reasons known only to her and her therapist, Viv — no nuclear scientist herself — agrees to load this mysterious cargo onto a plane. Only when she has the thing safely on board and airborne does she realize that, whoops, it’s a fully armed warhead programmed to detonate in a few hours. And Viv can’t move away from it, since the bomb is rigged to explode whenever she and her pacemaker move more than 15 feet away.

And to think that a terminally ill, embittered, insane, vengeful genius could do such a thing. It just can’t be!To make matters worse, heroic pilot Scott Nash (a nice turn by Vincent Spano), co-pilot Doc (Daniel Kamin) and petulant, angst-ridden flight engineer Jerry Carnell (Kevin Dillon) are flying smack into the level-five Hurricane Sigrid (proving that we’re beginning to scrape the barrel on those “S” names).

Once we learn all of this, the subsequent three hours of Ellen Weston’s hypercooked thriller surround everyone’s attempts to get out of this mess once the FBI becomes involved. As ultra-cool agent Tony DiStefano, Christopher Noth brings a touch of class and calm to the largely frantic proceedings under Larry Shaw’s direction. He supplies an effective counterpoint to Martin Sheen’s temples-about-to-explode performance as the president of the United States.

It takes something away from the sense of realism that most of the special effects flight exteriors (under the supervision of Lee Wilson) appear to have been lifted straight out of a flight-simulator computer program. One sees more realistic flight footage coming out of Hanna-Barbera.

Then there is the heart surgery, performed by Lori Loughlin on O’Grady, removing Viv’s pacemaker in a procedure that makes the days of primitive whiskey-and-bullets medicine seem positively civilized. Given that Viv had already gotten everyone into this fix, tossing her out the door with the bomb would have seemed the more logical solution.

If you need to ask how “Medusa’s Child” turns out, then you probably haven’t been watching enough primetime melodrama. Trust that the anxiety remains at a fever pitch clear to the end. And before the final credits roll, we see a rickety marriage surviving, a dinner date being finalized and a robusto getting lit.

Who said that one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day? In “Medusa’s Child,” it makes everyone’s day come gloriously alive.

Medusa's Child

Sun. (16), Thurs. (20), 9-11 p.m., ABC

Production: Filmed in Vancouver, B.C., by the Comsky Group and Mandalay Television in association with Columbia TriStar TV. Executive producer, Tom Patricia; co-executive producers, David Comsky, Cynthia Comsky; producer, George Perkins; director, Larry Shaw; writer, Ellen Weston;

Crew: camera, Kees Van Oostrum; editor, Gary Karr; music, Louis Febre; visual effects, Lee Wilson; casting, Gary Zuckerbrod, Coreen Mayrs.

Cast: Cast: Vincent Spano, Lori Loughlin, Gail O'Grady, Kevin Dillon, Jack Coleman, Christopher Noth, Martin Sheen, John Glover, Daniel Kamin, Vyto Ruginis, Ian Tracey, Bob Morrisey, Robert Wisden, David Kaye, Tom Butler, Kevin McNulty.

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