Forever – or a Day?
Tom Hartman is so broken up over being abandoned by Mary that he has taken to living in his station wagon. Daughter Heather is trying to score points at her new parochial school by claiming to have seen a divine vision. Country singer Loretta Haggers has quit her road tour after awakening in bed next to – Good land of the living! – a male groupie. Meanwhile, schlumpy George Shumway had to undergo head-to-toe plastic surgery after falling into a vat of Rust-Oleum at his plant. George has emerged looking exactly like Tab Hunter – in fact, Tab now plays him – but to wife Martha (Dody Goodman), he has all the appeal of a reconstituted Fig Newton. “Why can’t you wear a little bag over your head?” she asks, before collapsing in another faint.
Alas, “Forever Fernwood” reads funnier than it plays. Norman Lear’s syndicated sequel to “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” arrived on TV last week, not only without Louise Lasser’s Mary but largely devoid of its predecessor’s angst-ridden subtlety. The charm of the original flowed from its skill at meshing soap-opera satire with poignantly vulnerable characters. The second time around, the denizens of Fernwood have sold out their humanity for all-out parody. Lear’s split-level soap now reflects not recognizable neuroses but lunatic posturings.
Clownish: To freshen things up, Lear has taken the money he used to pay Lasser and invested it in guest stars. Whether they can make up for the missing Mary, or help soften the show’s clownish new tone, seems as dubious as whether “Forever Fernwood” will survive its 26-week trial run. Of the more than 100 stations that carried “Mary Hartman,” only 33 have signed up for its sequel.
The good news is that Lear has decided to bestow life after death on “Fernwood 2-Night,” which bowed out after serving as “Mary Hartman’s” summer replacement. The wackily inventive talk-show spoof will resume tapings by the end of the year and should return in early 1978. Perhaps Lear should now consider melding the best of both series into a single production. After all, how long has it been since Tab Hunter got a shot at a talk show?