March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

NBC (Sat., March 16, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

No viewer with a heart or a conscience can be unmoved by the story of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student brutally murdered by gay-bashers in 1998. Though marred by a disjointed flashback structure, this well-acted TV movie reminds us how a crime that provoked outrage also promoted understanding.

As Judy and Dennis Shepard (Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston) agonize over whether the death penalty should be imposed on their son’s principal assailant, the film attempts to show how Matthew (Shane Meier) came to grips with his sexuality and struggled to communicate with his parents. The script sometimes seems to resist clarity for no reason, but Law & Order‘s Waterston delivers Dennis’s courtroom speech with a heart-swelling mixture of grief, anger and nobility.

(For a different perspective on the Shepard case, HBO offers The Laramie Project, an adaptation of the 2000 Off-Broadway play about the Wyoming city’s reaction to the murder. The film premieres March 9 at 8 p.m. and has repeat showings March 12 and March 17.)

Bottom Line: Flawed but worthy storytelling

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