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On the Tube: ABC's 'Come on Get Happy' is a bizarre, guilty pleasure

Friday, November 12, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

No better than an "E! True Hollywood Story" in concept, "Come on Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story" sings its way onto the Saturday night schedule as the rarest of made-for-TV movies: a comedy.

Most of the time the humor is intended, but even when it's not, "Come on Get Happy" is the best bad movie of the year.

"Come on Get Happy" (tomorrow at 9 p.m. on ABC) chronicles the creation of the early 1970s ABC series about an unconventional family with a widowed mom as leader of a rock band.

The film will keep TV junkies glued to the tube as it goes for laughs with outrageous situations, including a scene where Shirley Jones (Eve Gordon) sends her TV son Danny Bonaduce (Shawn Pyfrom) to his nonexistent room on the set.

"I will not allow this show and my set to be held hostage by rejects from 'Sesame Street,' " Jones shouts before Bonaduce trudges up the stairs to nowhere.

Jones is depicted as an actress who believed in her TV family so completely she referred to the actors playing her children as if they really were her kids. She calls them "Partridges" when the cameras aren't rolling.

It's supremely bizarre, guilty pleasure viewing at its best.

"Come on Get Happy" is told from the point of view of Bonaduce (who served as a consultant on the film) and includes a peek inside his troubled home -- troubled due to his father's jealousy. Because of this, the movie's tone varies wildly from poor-little-child-actor drama to Hollywood behind-the-scenes comedy.

Bonaduce, a wiseacre both on and off camera, constantly calls David Cassidy (Rodney Scott) by his character's name, Keith, much to the consternation of super-serious Cassidy. Bonaduce does it both to be annoying and because his TV family sublimates his real family as the people he'd prefer to spend time with.

Aside from its dubious contributions to pop culture history, "Come on Get Happy" looks like it was filmed on the cheap, from the bad wigs on the actors to the scenes that go on far too long to pad the running time. But it's never boring.

"Come on Get Happy" starts out shaky, especially the introduction of Gordon as Jones, who looks at the TV family's dog and chirps, "Upstage me just once and there'll be a 'Partridge Family' episode [titled] 'Simone Gets Fixed.' " Maybe the line is supposed to be funny, but Gordon's delivery left me unsure what reaction the writers hoped to provoke.

Much of the intentional humor in "Come on Get Happy" derives from the producers/studio/network executives who create "The Partridge Family." They originally title the sitcom "The Family Business" and one suit suggests it be " 'The Monkees,' only less threatening."

The movie is especially harsh -- and hilarious -- in its depiction of Suzanne Crough, who played quiet, little Tracy Partridge. She looks like a lobotomized zombie in most of the scenes when the Partridges perform. Although there's no tambourine heard in their songs, producers give Tracy one to play because "it's the only instrument light enough for her to hold."

As a bigger fan of "The Brady Bunch" (actors playing the Bradys have a cameo), I can't say whether "Come on Get Happy" accurately recreates "The Partridge Family" TV show. And I certainly have no idea if David Cassidy ever stole the Partridge Family bus.

It may all be bunk, but it's thoroughly enjoyable bunk.

"Aftershock: Earthquake in New York"
(9 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, CBS)

As disaster movies go, this one registers significantly less cheesy on the rickety scale by which miniseries are judged. It's certainly better than NBC's "Asteroid" miniseries from a few years ago.

But it's still a disaster movie, and hasn't that revival run its course? With aliens attacking in "Independence Day" and killer asteroids falling from the sky in "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," the destruction of New York landmarks has lost its punch (although you may laugh, as I did, at the unintentionally silly scene where the Statue of Liberty does a face plant).

For viewers who still get a thrill out of falling Styrofoam debris, "Aftershock" quickly accommodates. Instead of holding out until the end of the first night, the earthquake hits within the first hour of this tedious four-hour miniseries.

A cross section of characters face various fates when the killer quake hits. The mayor (Charles S. Dutton) mobilizes rescue crews, including Tom Skerritt as the fire chief he's feuding with publicly. The mayor's mother (Cicely Tyson) gets buried under rubble in a church basement, while his daughter (Lisa Nicole Carson) is trapped in the subway with an acquitted murderer who quickly reveals he probably was guilty after all.

As fire chief Ahearn, Skerritt has to get New York unearthed while worrying about his own daughter, who is trapped inside a collapsed high school.

Jennifer Garner (Fox's "Time of Your Life") plays a privileged young dancer who falls for an immigrant cabbie while ducking out of the way of falling chunks of concrete.

Sharon Lawrence (CBS's "Ladies Man") worries her way through the role of a mom who already feels responsible for injuries her son sustained in a car accident. Now he's in danger again. What's a concerned and buff mom to do? Go rock climbing in rubble, of course!

Yes, it's ridiculous, but it looks pretty good. CBS seems to be spending more on production values than NBC in its miniseries this month. That sheen lends even the most inane tale a greater sense of reality. But if CBS would cough up the bucks for good writing and original stories, their miniseries wouldn't be quite so inane.

"Mary, Mother of Jesus"
(9 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

With this TV movie NBC tries to erase the ugly memory of its last Biblical effort, May's ridiculous "Noah's Ark" miniseries. Little poetic license has been taken in "Mary," but because there wasn't much written about her in the Bible, character development and drama are in short supply.

At the risk of being struck by lightning, "Mary, Mother of Jesus" is pretty boring.

Told from the viewpoint of Mary (Melinda Kinnaman and Pernilla August), the film chronicles her experience as the mom of Jesus Christ (Toby Bailiff and Christian Bale). But there's not much meat on "Mary's" bare-bones story. It mostly consists of re-creations of famous scenes from the Bible: Mary gives birth, Mary finds Jesus in the temple, Mary watches Jesus turn water into wine.

What comes across as sacred text in the Bible doesn't fare quite so well in what looks like a low-budget production. Only the most dramatic scenes -- the murder of John the Baptist, Christ's crucifixion -- have any heft to them.

August is perfectly cast as the older Mary. She's the embodiment of the empathetic mother, as evidenced in "Star Wars Episode 1" where she played the mom of Anakin Skywalker.

Bale, who pretty much stands around looking serious and well-meaning, is a cipher as Jesus. Then again, this telling isn't meant to be his story.

Well-meaning though it is, "Mary" adds little new to the Christ story as it depicts the most important -- heck, the only -- Biblical scenes from its lead character's life. Frankly, I'd rather go to church.


Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.



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