Ken Tucker
April 06, 1990 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Forbidden Nights

type
TV Show
Current Status
In Season
performer
Melissa Gilbert, Robin Shou
broadcaster
CBS
genre
Drama

We gave it a D

The week’s most offensive television is to be found here: CBS has taken the 1989 Chinese student revolt and used it as a hook for a drippy love story starring Melissa Gilbert.

How’d they do it? Well, Gilbert plays an American teacher who gets a two-year job in China in 1979. She’s supposed to be teaching English composition, but, well, you know how it is when you’re an attractive young woman in a bad TV movie — the first thing you know, you’re telling your students, ”Next time, we’ll talk about Freud and Darwin and Einstein!” and then you’re hitting the straw mat with a handsome but revolution-minded Chinese student (Robin Shou).

Forbidden Nights trades shamelessly on the tragedy of last year’s government crackdown on student protest. The movie is framed by shots of Gilbert watching TV news footage of the recent suppression, and in a voice-over narration she tells us, ”In a very personal way, my heart was in Tiananmen Square.” Then in flashback, we watch her woeful romance unfold. When this pair pitches woo, they murmur things like ”If anyone found out I’d been to your room, they would send me to a labor camp!”

Who’d have thought those Chinese students made the sacrifices they did so that a child star of Little House on the Prairie could try for an acting-career ”stretch”? D

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