By
April 09, 1984 12:00 PM

CBS (Sunday, April 8, 8 p.m. ET)

George Washington, it seems, was the Walter Mondale of his day: nice and bright but a bit boring. Barry (Scruples) Bostwick does his most with the uninspiring title role. His George is far more dashing than the one in the paintings, but he also comes off as naive and kinda klutzy, a mama’s boy. “It’s a mother’s burden to suffer the neglect of ungrateful children,” Mom whines to the future father of the country. “And you haven’t touched one of my tarts!” George is ambitious; in the 40 years covered by the series (before his Presidency) he works his way up from surveyor to colonial colonel to commander in chief. The problem is there’s no drama to the tale—you know how it ends and, after eight hours, you begin to hope that it ends soon. After too many battles, too many verbose squabbles with politicians and too many travels to places that later would boast “George Washington slept here,” he wins the war. Surprise! The only time the series really shines—and shine it does—is when Jaclyn Smith is on the screen, playing George’s hands-off heartthrob, Sally Fairfax, the wife of his best friend. A juicy bit of history, eh? The woman Jaclyn plays is a mite too modern and forward for the 18th century—”I never expected such a handsome giant,” she pants when she meets our hero. But when she flirts with George, Jaclyn adds sparkle and fun to offset the tedium. And she looks wonderful in the period costumes. The cast of well-knowns is good enough: Patty Duke Astin offers a passable Martha, David Dukes is Jaclyn’s husband, Hal Holbrook is a pompous John Adams, James Mason adds his accent as a British general, and a landlocked Lloyd Bridges plays a terribly hairy frontiersman. But some of their lines are just too gushy. For instance: “Independence—just the word stirs my blood!” The series can be a bit boggling—it’s hard to keep track of time and of all the characters (there are 98 credited actors). But there are some fascinating historical tidbits about Washington’s early life, gleaned from James Thomas Flexner’s Pulitzer prize-winning, four-volume biography. Who would have guessed, for instance, that our first President had lust in his heart too? The production is slick and impressive, but all in all, George’s video bio suffers the chronic mini-series malady: It’s not mini enough. (Part Two airs Tuesday, Part Three, Wednesday.)

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