Destroying Los Angeles tipped the Nielsen scales for NBC’s tremulous “10.5,” so CBS predictably follows with the miniseries after “The Day After Tomorrow,” which puts Chicago and Las Vegas through the natural-disaster ringer. Yet, apparently, cataclysmic climatology isn’t enough, inspiring the producers to throw in an extra degree of difficulty, as the power grid goes kablooey right before the super-storm hits. Characters keep saying the wacky weather is “off the charts,” which describes the silliness quotient of this soapy confection, though it’s never wise to underestimate the power of Mother Nature as a sweeps stunt.
Indeed, “Category 6” is so rife with side plots involving recognizable faces in cameo roles and former sitcom stars (Thomas Gibson! Nancy McKeon!) that it’s almost as if producers cast it first and concocted a script later. When Randy Quaid pops up basically aping his part in “Independence Day” as a “Twister”-like storm chaser, you get a sense no stone was left unturned, or for that matter, no creative contributor un-stoned.
Trying to recreate the plot is virtually pointless, except to say that Chicago’s terrible heat wave suddenly gives way to two massive storm systems destined to converge over the city. Meanwhile, an intrepid reporter (McKeon) tries to expose corruption involving an Enron-like company that’s endangering the power supply, while the local public utilities chief (Gibson) frets about the problem but still finds time to carry on an affair with said company’s corporate PR chief (Chandra West).
Adding heft to the proceedings is the ever-reliable Brian Dennehy as the outgoing czar at the Severe Weather Center in Oklahoma, saddled with blustery lines like, “From now on, if a dog farts in Duluth, I expect somebody in this office to know about it!”
The peripheral characters thrust into harm’s way include McKeon’s pregnant sister-in-law, Gibson’s family and some truly unlucky bastard trying to have a one-night stand in a Vegas hotel.
“Category 6” is so replete with cliches it’s hard not to admire the earnestness and conviction that director Dick Lowry and his outsized cast bring to it. The production sputters most, in fact, when it fleetingly tries to be important. That includes waving cautionary flags about the U.S.’ third-rate power supply (with Dianne Wiest as the secretary of energy), vague global warming threats, emphasis on corporate corruption, and even criticism of local broadcast news for cowardice in exposing big scandals.
In short, it’s a Reese’s peanut butter cup approach, with two or more disastrous taste treats providing a very loud macro backdrop to the micro tales that play out involving the characters.
Because CBS enjoys such ratings strength with its 10 p.m. crime shows, this two-parter is relegated to a rather odd broadcast pattern, starting at 9 p.m. on Sunday and wrapping up at 8 p.m. Wednesday. It’s probably a long shot to blow away the competition, but if history is any judge, the genre alone ought to sweep more than a few suckers into the tent.