Anyone who has watched Married…With Children for more than 10 minutes — not as easy as it sounds — has probably recognized that Ed O’Neill, that show’s bumbling Al Bundy, is a good actor. He’s funny, and he’s also capable of investing his character with subtler shades of personality than the writers provide. So it’s not all that surprising that O’Neill is excellent in a dramatic role in The Whereabouts of Jenny, an otherwise routine man-against-the-system TV movie.
O’Neill plays a San Francisco bar owner whose ex-wife (Eve Gordon) starts dating a drug dealer (Michael Crabtree). The dealer is caught and, offered immunity, agrees to rat on his suppliers. He’s put in the Federal Witness Relocation Program — he’s given a different name and moved to an undisclosed place. But so are O’Neill’s ex-wife and his young daughter, Jenny (Cassy Friel), which means that O’Neill, who has visitation rights, won’t be able to see Jenny anymore.
O’Neill spends the movie arguing with the villain of this piece, a U.S. district attorney (M*A*S*H’s Mike Farrell) who doesn’t care about O’Neill’s love for his daughter. (Farrell carries the cold-fish bit too far; he’s so stiff and inexpressive he’s more like a frozen fish stick.) After a while, O’Neill hires a private detective (Equal Justice’s Debrah Farentino) to find his wife and daughter. The sleekly gorgeous Farentino falls in love with the frowsy O’Neill, and in this production’s most improbable plot turn, O’Neill doesn’t even notice until the movie’s almost over.
Although the circumstances of Jenny’s disappearance and her father’s agony are based on similar real-life cases, The Whereabouts of Jenny is fiction, so there’s no excuse for its unsatisfying ending. The movie is structured around the suspense of does-he-get-Jenny-back-or-not, but John Miglis’ script leaves you hanging — or, more accurately, swinging back and forth: He does, he doesn’t, he does, he doesn’t . If it weren’t for the solid performances of O’Neill, Farentino, and Dan Hedaya as O’Neill’s lawyer, Whereabouts would be simply an annoyance. C-