Ken Tucker
May 09, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-sac

TV Show
Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B+

It was while grooving on the slam-bang, scrumpdiddlyumptious Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-De-Sac that it occurred to me why the new nighttime soap Pacific Palisades is such tedious tripe. It’s a matter of flair, of panache — of infusing a trash genre with heedless energy and imagination. During its 1979-93 run, Knots Landing was sold to viewers as a middle-class suburban alternative to rich-folk shows like Dynasty and Dallas (the series off which Knots was spun). Its two-car-garage neighborhood was filled with good-looking adults enduring all-too-believable extremes of suburban hellishness and bliss (marriages troubled or rock solid; businesses bankrupt or booming). By contrast, Pacific Palisades is loaded with age- indeterminate model types for whom emoting is distinctly uncool; these Melrose meltdowns are bed-hopping hipsters who don’t seem to care whether we care about them.

Such cavalier attitudinizing never occurred to Knots, the hardest-working cliff-hanger on television. The series’ two core couples were the Ewings — recovering-alcoholic Gary and quivering-neurotic Valene (Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark); and their next-door neighbors, the MacKenzies — tough-guy lawyer Mack and ebullient, coffee-lovin’ Karen (Kevin Dobson and Michele Lee). As the series proceeded, it made way for two great villains, blond minx Abby Fairgate (Donna Mills) and crocodile-grinning corporate mogul Greg Sumner (William Devane).

All are present for Back to the Cul-de-Sac, beautifully written by Ann Marcus, Lisa Seidman, and Julie Sayres, who are obviously steeped in Knots nuttiness. Millions of fans will appreciate a reunion that doesn’t waste time explaining the niceties to the unconverted. Warning: If you never watched before, this TV movie’s parade of personality quirks and in-jokes will be baffling, as will the presence of Brian Austin Green, who was Mills’ rarely seen son in the show’s first go-round. His Beverly Hills, 90210 fame results in a beefed-up role here, but, sharing a scene with Devane, the thick-tongued Green seems genuinely startled by the older actor’s quick-wittedness.

The plot? Val is suspected of murdering a screenwriter (he was drunk and pawed her, so he deserved it), while Abby and Greg cook up a million-dollar scheme to screw over some pro bono clients of Mack’s. But the story lines exist to showcase the talent. Devane offers a spectacular example of low-down, skunky TV-acting, murmuring his meanest threats and tossing off sarcastic asides that sound improvised. At the other extreme, Lee and Van Ark understand that you can play a good-souled person without being a saint or a doormat. B+

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