CBS's reputation as the Lawrence Welk of broadcast networks gets a makeover with the miniseries "Shake, Rattle & Roll" (9 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday). Yes, it's the tale of a 1950s rock band, but with all the hip gyrations, CBS patron saint Ed Sullivan would be aghast.
This exhilarating and nostalgic musical journey follows the ups and downs of the HartAches, a fictional rock group fronted by Tyler Hart (Brad Hawkins). "Shake" is easily the most enjoyable miniseries of November, even though it's pretty predictable.
The formula CBS used is perfect: Take "That Thing You Do!" and stretch it over four hours and add better character development.
What distinguishes "Shake" from so many other miniseries is an attention to detail by director Mike Robe, who also conceived the story and gets partial credit for the script. Whether it's the significance of a ring or a clever shot of tapping feet, Robe's camera is never static.
Though Tyler is the lead singer, Robe gives "Shake" a feminist twist. Lyne Danner (Bonnie Somerville) is the brains behind the group, writing the songs and acting as de facto manager. The miniseries is as much a love story between Tyler and Lyne as it is the history of a rock act that never was.
Like last year's "Temptations" miniseries, the music is the best part of the show. Songs for the Hart-Aches were written by Carole King, Lamont Dozier ("Stop! In the Name of Love"), Graham Nash and Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller ("Jailhouse Rock").
Many of the original tunes -- especially the HartAches' first hit, "Baby Here I Am" -- are toe tappers that may make you want to dance around the living room. When was the last time any CBS show had that effect?
The original songs are augmented by oldies of the era, including the song used as the miniseries' title, "Sh-Boom," "Only You" and "Long Tall Sally." Most of the songs are covered by contemporary artists, including Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge of the pop-punk band Blink 182 who appear in the miniseries and sing "Dead Man's Curve."
Unlike "The Temptations," which suffered from a need to adhere to real-life events, "Shake" has the freedom to invent, which makes for a more cohesive story. Some details fall by the wayside (viewers learn about several important changes in the lives of characters after they've happened off-screen), but "Shake" is remarkably easy to love.
Although the leads are pretty much unknowns (Hawkins is a rising country music star, but his singing in "Shake" was dubbed by someone else), several medium-wattage names have smaller roles. Kathy Baker and Gerald McRaney play Lyne's parents, James Coburn stars as record impresario Morris Gunn and Dana Delany slinks into the role of Gunn's unfaithful wife, Elaine, who has her eye on Tyler.
"Shake" explores the role of women in the music business through Lyne's struggle to achieve her goals and the Civil Rights era through Lyne's African-American best friend, Marsha (Samaria Graham). Though the latter story threatens to become a tacked-on afterthought, "Shake" is smooth enough to pull it off.
While nothing about this story will rattle viewers the way "North and South" or "The Thorn Birds" did in the '80s, "Shake, Rattle & Roll" is a rock 'n' roll treat in an era of miniseries more interested in special effects than storytelling.
"The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns"
(9 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Monday, NBC)
Though not as wretched as its title would lead you to expect, NBC's newest four-hour miniseries is still a big waste of time.
Another Hallmark Entertainment special effects-filled "event" from executive producer Robert Halmi Sr., "Leprechauns" bills itself as a fantasy, but lacks imagination. Instead it cribs from "Romeo & Juliet," "Riverdance" and even "Cliffhanger."
Randy Quaid is inexplicably cast as the romantic lead, Jack Woods, an American businessman who visits Ireland and gets drawn into a world of leprechauns led by Seamus Muldoon (Colm Meaney, who must be missing those space pajamas he wore on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" right about now).
All is not well in Leprechaun Land as Seamus' son Mickey (Daniel Betts) romances Princess Jessica (Caroline Carver). She's a Trooping Fairy, who are enemies of the leprechauns. The fairies appear to be the uppercrust snobs of this fantasy world with the leprechauns depicted as salt-of-the-earth types.
Back in the real world, Quaid romances a lass (Orla Brady) he first spies in an Irish spring. Eventually, the human lovebirds get drawn into the battle between the fairies and the leprechauns as the two factions go to war in scenes straight out of "Braveheart."
That should prompt some concern from parents. Although there's no bloodletting, many scenes depict little people beating one another senseless -- and in some cases to death -- with sticks.
If you think "Leprechauns" sounds bad, just wait until February when Halmi, Hallmark and NBC unveil a 10-hour fantasy miniseries titled "The 10th Kingdom." At that point, we might just be nostalgic for "Leprechauns." At least it's only a waste of four hours.
(9 p.m. Sunday, Fox)
When last we saw our intrepid FBI agents, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was going nuts in a padded cell and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) had waded into the ocean off the coast of West Africa to stand atop what appeared to be an alien spaceship.
Sunday's premiere doesn't advance the plot too much beyond that. Scully discovers some of the secrets of the buried spaceship and begins to believe in alien involvement despite her skeptical nature.
Mulder is still crazy, although the cause of his insanity becomes a little clearer with the reappearance of a character from a previous "X-Files" episode.
Scully's voice-over narration seems to hint at the Mulder-Scully kiss TV Guide reports will occur in the Nov. 28 episode (in the season premiere Scully says she's striving to cure "the haunting illness I saw consume your beautiful mind").
Since this is a "to be continued" transition episode, there's little to get excited about other than the nasty glares between FBI boss Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and witchy Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers).
With Fox in a ratings slump, there will be great temptation to eke out another season of "The X-Files" after this one, but that won't do the franchise any favors. With interest on the wane -- even from once die-hard fans like myself -- it's time to wrap up the series and give it a rest before moving on to a series of "X-Files" movies.