With its burnished brown glow and big-band music burbling in the background, Homefront is a soap opera for nostalgists — especially for nostalgist wannabes who weren’t around in the years immediately after the end of World War II. Homefront radiates a warm, fuzzy revisionism. Sure, this series says, the postwar era was tough; sure, it was no picnic for women or blacks; but it was also a time of limit-less ambition and hope, when families were still strong social units, when you could live better than you do now on less money, when they really knew how to make good cars and write tuneful songs. Not for nothing is the show’s theme song an instrumental version of ”Accentuate the Positive.”
But at its best, Homefront has just enough truth at its core of dreamy premise to make this show a lulling comfort — to the boomers who used to be entranced by the show it (sob) replaced, thirtysomething, and, perhaps, to the viewers who really lived through these times.
Before it debuted, co-executive producer David Jacobs said that the series isn’t a soap opera. But Jacobs, the man who helped create the ultra evening soap, Knots Landing, must have been pulling our legs. With its large cast of good-looking young people tussling with romance, heartbreak, overbearing parents, and the high price of silk stockings, Homefront is a nighttime soap for sure.
So far, the best thing about the show is that no single subplot has taken precedence over another — in keeping with the spirit of the times it depicts, it’s a truly democratic series. Homefront rambles through the Norman Rockwellish small town of River Run, Ohio, for its story lines: The only girl Hank Metcalf (David Newsom) thought about while he was fighting in Europe was sweet, earnest Sarah Brewer (Alexandra Wilson). While Hank was away, however, Sarah fell in love with Hank’s younger but equally hunky brother, Jeff (Kyle Chandler) — what’s a girl to do?
The town’s most prominent citizens, factory owner Mike Sloan (Ken Jen-kins) and his wife, Ruth (Mimi Kennedy), lost their son, Mike Jr., in the war in Italy, but shortly before he was killed he married an Italian girl (Giuliana Santini), who has arrived in River Run to a very cold reception — Ruth Sloan thinks the young woman is a low-class sponge. What’s a pregnant immigrant girl to do?
We also follow the travails of the black family that works for the Sloans: Abe Davis (Dick Anthony Williams), the Sloans’ chauffeur; his wife, Gloria (Hattie Winston), the Sloans’ housekeeper; and their son, Robert (Sterling Macer Jr.), who enjoyed his stint in the Army but comes back home to find racial discrimination alive and well when he goes out to find a job in the Sloan factory.
So far, Homefront’s most intriguing couple is Charlie Hailey (Harry O’Reilly), a big blond lunk of a fellow, and his British war bride, Caroline, played by Sammi Davis-Voss, one of the series’ few semifamiliar faces (for her role in the 1987 John Boorman film Hope and Glory). Caroline is what all good soaps require — an ambitious shrew whose selfishness and spite enable us to loathe her as a proper villain. Nice dumb Charlie just wants to settle down to his low-level factory job and raise a family; Caroline wants to use birth control and badgers Charlie to make more money-in soap terms, these are no-nos just begging for punishment.
Much of the time, Homefront relies on cornball dialogue we’ve heard in too many old war movies (”Billy Edwards made it back, but his legs didn’t”), and a number of the show’s dramatic conflicts are drearily predictable. If Abe Davis is seen in his chauffeur’s uniform polishing his boss’ car, you can be sure it will lead to a scene in which young Rob-ert accuses his dad of being an Uncle Tom, yelling, ”I got my hide shot at all over Europe, and I didn’t come home to put up with what you’re willing to put up with!” Well, Robert, for the purposes of this show, I’m afraid that’s exactly what you did.
One of the reasons Jacobs’ Knots has been such an enduring success is that it has a playful side to its melodrama, but so far, Homefront is resolutely humorless. It doesn’t help, either, that the male actors are all so twinkly-eyed and granite-jawed that it’s difficult to tell them apart.
But the acting is uniformly solid, with the women especially strong. Davis-Voss makes hatefulness seem effortless. And Kennedy turns our malicious Mrs. Sloan into a much more complicated char-acter than her lines suggest. Kennedy has done tons of epi-sodic TV work — you probably recognize her long, sharp-eyed face — and recently served as a story editor for Knots. She makes Ruth Sloan a hard and brittle character, a woman who has lived her life ^ through her husband’s achievements and who in middle age has come to despise herself for that.
As a period drama, this series can’t approach the subtlety of I’ll Fly Away, but as the weeks go by, the soapy appeal of Homefront gets stronger all the time. B