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TV Review: Actor's death hits home in fine 'Judging Amy'

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Actress Tyne Daly has always been the reason to watch "Judging Amy," and she gets to take the sad spotlight in tonight's episode, "Requiem," dealing with the death of her character's fiance, played by the late Richard Crenna.

When the veteran actor died of pancreatic cancer in January, the CBS drama was left without a resolution to the romance and planned wedding between Daly's social worker Maxine Gray and Crenna's globe-trotting financier, Jared Duff. The relationship of these television stalwarts -- a half-dozen Emmys and another 11 nominations between them -- was a welcome, mature union.

In recent weeks, the show dealt with Crenna's death by sending Jared back to China on business. It tried, not very successfully, to milk laughs out of daughter-in-law Jillian's runaway wedding plans for Maxine. It was bittersweet, at best, to see the blue bridesmaids' gowns Jillian selected or hear how the small ceremony Maxine envisioned had swelled to a grand church event for hundreds, if not thousands.

As tonight's episode opens, Maxine is on the telephone with Jared as daughter Amy (Amy Brenneman) is considering playing hooky from her job as a family court judge to go camping with her boyfriend.

Even if we didn't know tragedy was lurking around the corner, we might suspect something was up. "I will be OK with everything because very soon, I am getting married to the man I love," says Maxine, who seems to be hovering above the ground with happiness.

When the news comes that Jared has died, members of the Gray and Duff families, plus assorted friends, demonstrate the range of emotions often associated with grief. Some rage with anger and become short-tempered. Others try to be solicitous. Still others turn to food or drink or are clueless as they walk into an emotional minefield.

"Judging Amy" often has trouble with episodes that mix lighthearted moments with dramatic elements. Once it jettisons the camping story line and dispenses with the annoying bickering between Maxine and Jared's sons, the hourlong show turns heartfelt and gives Daly a showcase for her talents.

Although the episode celebrates Jared, it doubles as a memorial for Crenna, shown in photos large and small. A former child radio actor whose TV career spanned the past half-century, Crenna had been a wonderful addition to the cast, and the writers would have angered fans if a never-seen Jared had inexplicably broken off his engagement. It had to end this way.

The CBS drama often tries to wrench tears from viewers with falsely inflated moments. This is not one of them. If this show doesn't get Daly an Emmy for "Judging Amy," nothing will. She could not be finer.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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