By Jeff Jarvis
February 10, 1986 12:00 PM

CBS (Tues., Feb. 11, 9 p.m. ET)


Hollywood may be ill-equipped to handle global issues like terrorism, but it is experienced at smaller-scale troubles like drugs and disease. Too experienced, in fact. What we have here—pardon my yawn—is yet another serious, well-intentioned movie about” a serious problem. Make that problems. Hollywood, like Phil Donahue, seems to have decided that one issue isn’t enough to carry a show anymore. You can’t just have divorced parents on your talk show; you have to have divorced parents who’ve had sex changes. You can’t just have a movie about alcoholism; we had one of those, Shattered Spirits, only five weeks ago. No, you have to load up your movie with both alcoholism and drug addiction, and not among mere mortals but among doctors. I don’t mean to belittle the issues; they are urgent. Nor do I mean to say that this is a bad movie; it isn’t. Ed Asner as an alcoholic surgeon and Gary (Fatal Vision) Cole as his son, the drugged-out doctor, are engrossing together. Kate (Kane & Abel) McNeil as Cole’s wife, the only sane and sober soul around, proves herself to be an impressive talent. The production, directed by Stuart (Rooster Cogburn) Millar, is plain elegant. But Vital Signs still ends up looking like all the other traumavision flicks. Ed seems normal; then Ed’s drunk. Cole seems okay; then Cole shoots up morphine. They get quickly worse, almost running over a child while driving drunk or killing a patient while operating on drugs. They yell a lot. Then a fellow doc delivers the standard-issue movie lecture filled with good sense and statistics. Finally a sufferer reaches out for help. The problem is that in such an overdose of predictable treatment, the issues lose their urgency. So these movies try harder to shock you. Vital Signs does that with a too-graphic suicide scene. (So add suicide to the dirty laundry list of issues.) In Hollywood, they wonder why sitcoms are suddenly popular again. It’s because we all need a good laugh.