ABC (Sun., Nov. 3, 9 p.m. ET)
This may sound rude, even crude, but it’s true: One thing about North and South stands out. Two things, actually: breasts. All the women in the cast are squeezed into costumes that push their chests up high enough to block their nostrils. The camera leers at every opportunity. The critics with whom I watched the show couldn’t help but leer, too. As one said, “There ought to be an Emmy for Best Supporting Bra.” In fact, what is probably the highlight of the entire miniseries comes as a sweet-faced, loose-laced Southern slut—played by Terri (Texas) Garber—holds a strawberry up to her own bursting bodice and does declare, “It is so ripe, Billy. Just look at it.” When cleavage is a co-star, you know what kind of show you have: trash. Which is just fine. ABC has higher pretensions, calling North and South “the television event of the year.” Ha! Executive producer David L. (Roots) Wolper blanches at calling his mini-series “camp.” Sorry, but that’s just what it is: high camp, high comedy, a fabulous fashion show with a scant script, a travelogue to TV’s tawdry Tara. As such, North and South can be a hilarious hoot. The only problem is slavery, war and wife beating aren’t exactly appropriate subjects for comedy. Well, I shouldn’t say that’s the only problem. Among others: As a look at history, this melodramatization of John Jakes’ pre-Civil War novel is insultingly simplistic. Call it Gone With the Mind. Even though the mini drawls on for 12 hours over six nights, this saga is only part one of two—or maybe three. Which means that North and South’s ending is as maddeningly incomplete as that of The Winds of War, leaving every plot line and character dangling until next spring—even the Civil War is just beginning. And if that doesn’t leave you feeling cheated, this will: The name stars the network is promoting—Liz Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Johnny Cash, Gene Kelly, Hal Holbrook—come and go quicker than Michael Jackson on a Pepsi commercial. As for the real cast, Patrick (Youngblood) Swayze and James (Lace II) Read have a lot of weight to carry as the Reb and Yank buddies at the center of the story, and they carry it well. Lesley-Anne Down makes a fetching belle. Georg Stanford Brown as a runaway slave is the one actor who gets to act. Kirstie Alley, as his white abolitionist wife, tries to act; she always looks ready to cry—and, unfortunately, she should. Wendy Kilbourne, as Read’s wife, is a delicately lovely discovery. But the real discovery of North and South is Garber, who is wonderfully wicked and superbly sly; Dallas and Dynasty should fight for the privilege of hiring her. She and David Carradine, as an evil plantation owner, are the only two players who really put ham on this mini’s menu; they’re the ones who make it fun. So lower your expectations and your brows and maybe you can join in.