June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

CBS (Fri., July 4, 8 p.m. ET)

C

The title of this Independence Day special led us to expect an hour of patriotic chest-thumping accompanied by Sousa marches. In fact, it’s a half-hour of heavy-handed, cautionary drama followed by a half hour of uplifting American profiles.

The drama (host Patrick Duffy assures us it’s “pure fiction,” lest he set off a War of the Worlds panic) stars Timothy Busfield as a citizen returning to the United States with his wife (Jeanine Jackson) and two children after seven years of isolation in New Guinea. Imagine their surprise to find that the Bill of Rights has been shredded, women are now classified as the property of men, and mere boys are being snatched off the street and forced into military service. Busfield’s 12-year-old son (Ryan Merriman) ventures out on his bike and winds up in boot camp. His teenage daughter (Amy Danles), presumably emboldened by reports that rebel forces hold several enlightened college towns, mounts the hood of a police car and shouts, “Live free or die!” Hooked in spite of ourselves, we’re left hanging when Duffy reappears to introduce four real-life individuals who embody “what’s right with America.” It’s nice to meet them, but we were right in the middle of something.

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