×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

On Golden Pond

For all its promising elements -- a live presentation as a glorious homage to early television, a reunion of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer 37 years after "The Sound of Music" -- Craig Anderson's production has a frenetic, unsettled quality. The two stars, despite their previous experience together, seem oddly mismatched and much too youthful and vigorous to be playing an elderly couple contemplating death.

With:
Ethel Thayer - Julie Andrews Norman Thayer - Christopher Plummer Chelsea Thayer - Glenne Headly Bill Ray - Sam Robards Charlie - Brett Cullen Billy Ray - Will Rothhaar

For all its promising elements –a live presentation as a glorious homage to early television, a reunion of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer 37 years after “The Sound of Music” –Craig Anderson’s production has a frenetic, unsettled quality. It lurches from crisis to crisis without any sense of reality, and the two stars, despite their previous experience together, seem oddly mismatched and much too youthful and vigorous to be playing an elderly couple contemplating death.

A major problem is the omission of what Plummer has called the “gooey, mawkish” tone of the award-winning 1981 film version with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. The new approach subtracts pathos without gaining power. Andrews and Plummer collide like irritable loons and peck constantly at each other, but the confrontations lack edge and bite. There’s an occasional risque gesture or remark that is meant to portray the sexual connection of the characters, but we don’t feel sexual connection between them — only a sense of proficient performers following a blueprint and going through the motions.

Andrews and Plummer play Ethel and Norman Thayer. Ethel is nearing 70, and Norman, a retired college professor, is about to celebrate his 80th birthday. Both are spending what they fear may be their final summer vacation at their summer home in Maine. Norman can’t ignore his weak heart and failing memory, although Ethel tries, with relentless optimism, to talk him out of fixating on mortality. Tensions increase when their daughter Chelsea (a neurotic, self-pitying Glenne Headly) shows up with new fiance Bill (Sam Robards) and his son Billy (Will Rothhaar). Norman and Chelsea are mutually antagonistic, but Chelsea is determined to win the fatherly love she’s always been denied.

Critical, crotchety Norman makes life hell for everybody, acting rude to Bill, nasty to his daughter and surly to 14-year-old Billy. But Billy is a tough little hombre; he can dish it out as capably as Norman, and they form a bond that eventually softens Norman and reveals his hidden heart of gold.

Plummer has the hardest acting challenge, taking an impossible, hard-headed character and humanizing him. He accomplishes this cleverly by not becoming frail, vulnerable or teary-eyed. Even when he’s supposed to demonstrate a long-suppressed affection for his daughter, the affection comes through with rigid reluctance and a clenched jaw.

Andrews is charming when she relates to her new son-in-law and his rebellious teenager. But her line readings in general are overstated. She’s either dogmatic and imperious or sentimental, and neither approach feels entirely convincing. She also races about nervously, placating her husband without evidencing awareness that he’s a querulous, demanding tyrant. When the unloved Chelsea wails to her mother, “You always took his part,” you can’t help wondering why she did. The most Ethel can admit is that “he’s not always kind.” Andrews attacks her emotional outbursts with full force, but her most memorable moments are tender ones.

Not operating in a self-conscious Great Actor mode, Robards is relaxed and able to infuse life into such lines as “We have a proactive relationship — terrific synergy” as well as to project solid, admirable strength. He holds his own with his nightmarish future father-in-law. Young Rothhaar conveys believable rebellion as Billy. As Charlie, the postman who has always yearned to marry Chelsea, Brett Cullen is effectively likable and dense at the same time.

Some of the staging by Ernest Thompson is almost bizarre, particularly a scene when Norman collapses in pain and Andrews, in her panic, doesn’t think to call a doctor. She finally does, and while waiting for a response on the phone, Norman inexplicably regains his strength, rises to his feet and asks her to dance. The events flash by with no logic, and it seems as though Norman is, after all, a perfectly healthy specimen who simply likes to complain.

Score by Anthony Marinelli sounds tacked on, since the cues, once begun, never vary or establish nuances that match mood or action. The Thayer home is beautiful, but seems too candy-colored and elaborate to be a New England cottage, and the lush flowers in Ethel’s garden dominate to the extent that they appear to be posing for a magazine layout.

On Golden Pond

CBS; Sun. April 29, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed at CBS Television City, Stage 46, by Craig Anderson Prods. in association with CBS Prods. Executive producer and producer, Craig Anderson; director, Ernest Thompson; live broadcast director, Marty Pasetta Jr.; writer, Thompson.

Crew: Director of photography, Victor Kemper; production design, Eugene Lee; sound mixer, Ed Greene; music, Anthony Marinelli; casting, Mary Jo Slater. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Ethel Thayer - Julie Andrews Norman Thayer - Christopher Plummer Chelsea Thayer - Glenne Headly Bill Ray - Sam Robards Charlie - Brett Cullen Billy Ray - Will Rothhaar

More TV

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

  • Neilsons Measurment Problems TV Digital

    WarnerMedia Pulls Out of Audience-Targeting Alliance Open A.P.

    WarnerMedia is going its own way when it comes to helping advertisers find specific groups of TV-watchers. The company, a founding member of the audience-targeting media alliance known as Open A.P., said Friday it would withdraw from the group, citing its desire to pursue its own strategy under owner AT&T. AT&T purchased Time Warner in [...]

  • BLESS THIS MESS - "The Chicken

    Listen: Lake Bell, Dax Shepard on Returning to Broadcast TV With 'Bless This Mess'

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s installment, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, chats with Lake Bell and Dax Shepard, stars of ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” which debuted on Monday. The show centers around a newly married couple, played by Bell and Shepard, who decide to ditch their shoebox New York City [...]

  • superstore renewed season 3

    'Superstore' Showrunner Justin Spitzer Steps Down as He, Gabe Miller, Jonathan Green Renew Overall Deals at UTV

    “Superstore” executive producers Justin Spitzer, Gabe Miller and Jonathan Green have all renewed their overall deals with Universal Television. In addition, Miller and Green will take over showrunner duties on “Superstore” while Spitzer — who also created the series — will shift to develop new projects for the studio beginning with the 2019-2020 season. “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content