ABC (Monday, August 13, 8 p.m. ET)
The opening of ABC’s limited run series, Call to Glory, is sleek and stirring: A jet—one so clean of line that you’d think it was designed by Calvin Klein—takes off and quietly soars over purple mountain majesties and all that. It is meant to be inspiring, and it is: What Glory tries to do is glorify the military. Craig T Nelson stars as a tough Air Force colonel and loving family man who commands the U-2 fliers spying on Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis. The premiere follows Nelson and his family through the crisis, and the series will take them through the early ’60s. It is a faithful portrait of the decade. “I still think Jackie Kennedy has style,” sighs Nelson’s wife, Cindy Pickett. “Yeah,” argues her daughter, Elisabeth Shue, “but that pillbox hat!” It is faithful, too, in its evocation of the missile crisis tension: air-raid drills in schools and families gathered around the TV to watch the news (with real clips of John Kennedy declaring the Cuban naval blockade). “Mom, is there going to be a war?” the daughter asks. “I don’t know, honey,” somber Mom replies. But then Glory turns manipulative. At the center of its tear-jerking is Nelson’s 8-year-old son, R.H. (Gabriel Damon), who decides to stop talking because he’s afraid for his daddy’s life. “We gotta teach R.H. to handle his fears like a man,” says Nelson. “He’s an 8-year-old child!” protests Pickett. Dad sits the kid down in a jet hangar and practically plays The Star-Spangled Banner on his heartstrings. “I fly like you breathe,” he says to the kid. “It’s my job. My country needs me, and I’ll never turn my back on my country.” Bring on the fireworks. At the end of the opener Cuba shoots down a U-2, killing one of Nelson’s pilots. At the dead pilot’s funeral a general announces the end of the crisis, and young R.H. finally talks; he says, “I love you, Daddy,” and brings his little hand up in a salute to some jets flying above. Shades of John John Kennedy. Glory starts with a beautiful production, some nice, nostalgic writing and good acting, but in the end, it uses a little kid for its propaganda. And propaganda, no matter which side it sells, is never good drama. Other less heavy-handed attempts to sanctify the military have failed recently: For Love and Honor and Emerald Point N.A.S. didn’t last long on the tube. Hollywood, it seems, has forgotten the dark painful memories of Vietnam, but its ’80s audience has not.