Like most TV movies inspired by recent news stories, NBC’s “The Long Island Incident” suffers next to the fresh memory of its source material. Perhaps, too, the full story is too wide-ranging to be accommodated in one TV movie. McCarthy’s world was ripped apart on Dec. 7, 1993, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded commuter train, killing six people, her husband of almost 30 years among them, and wounding 19 people, including her 26-year-old son, Kevin. The creative team behind the film shows admirable restraint by not re-creating the attack or dwelling on the gory aftermath.
The horrors of that night and the events that followed forced Carolyn McCarthy out of her quiet suburban existence and into multiple roles — nurse to her son, an outspoken media personality, a tireless crusader for assault-weapon control, a political candidate and, ultimately, the congressional representative from the fourth district of New York.
In life and on the small screen, this story contains an almost overwhelming mix of disparate elements, including glimpses into the mind of a mass murderer and the voracious appetite of the media and its ability to instantly transform an ordinary citizen into a person of influence.
“Incident” moves at a quick clip, without the luxury of thoroughly fleshing out the enormous emotional complexity of it all.
The McCarthys are as unbelievably wholesome as a ’50s sitcom family. Mom is involved with the community center. Dad is leading his son into business. Kevin lives happily at home and is only beginning to enter the grown-up working world. We don’t get to know them well enough here to truly feel their pain.
That the busy film resonates at all is a tribute to Laurie Metcalf, whose sturdy, carefully modulated portrayal of Carolyn might come as a surprise to those who know her only as Roseanne’s frantic sister on “Roseanne” or the murderous caricature of “Scream 2.” It’s nice to see a new actress step up to the telepic forefront, in a role that Joanna Kearns or Judith Light would have had a lock on a few years ago.
As a purely dramatic piece, “Incident” would have benefited by further exploring the dark world and unknown past of gunman Colin Ferguson, whose random actions brought about sweeping changes in the life of an unassuming suburban housewife. Sadly, there is no separating these two people, or their experiences, at least within the context of this story.