Ken Tucker
July 09, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Director Carl Franklin drew raves last year for his thriller One False Move, a genre movie that transcended the cliches of the form by mixing brutality and tenderness. In turning to television, Franklin has fashioned a TV film that transcends the family drama in a similar manner. Laurel Avenue (HBO, July 10, 10-11:30 p.m.; concludes July 11, same time) revolves around a large and disparate African-American family in St. Paul, led by Maggie and Jake Arnett (Mary Alice of I’ll Fly Away and Mel Winkler). Their children include the adult twin sisters Yolanda (Juanita Jennings), an ambitious cop, and Rolanda (Rhonda Stubbins White), an unemployed single % mother with a drug problem. Over the course of its three hours, Laurel Avenue falls prey to a certain amount of soap opera melodrama, but it also displays far more subtle characterizations than soap opera generally permits. Even if the plot developments are frequently predictable, Franklin’s subtle presentation of the Arnetts-the range of emotions explored with relentless thoroughness-is not, and that’s what makes this an important piece of work. Most black television actors are hemmed in by roles in rote sitcoms or action shows; it’s exhilarating to see this large cast work out the affectionate, complicated, often troubled relationships people form within families. A

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