Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Carol Burnett as Eunice
EUNICE (1982 telefilm/TV special).

"I told you if you married Ed Higgins you'd get freaks for kids, and that's just what you got." -- Mama referring to Eunice's boys.

The highlights of The Carol Burnett Show were "The Family" sketches which focused on the highly-dysfunctional Harper family, especially on the love-hate relationship between Eunice (Carol Burnett) and her mother (Vicki Lawrence). This 1982 special was the longest Family "sketch" of all, taped before a live audience, and consisting of four parts in different time periods: 1955, when Eunice is courted by future husband Ed (Harvey Korman), and brother Phil (Ken Berry) leaves for New York to become a writer; 1963, in which Phil has achieved some success and Eunice wants to go to New York with him to become an actress; 1973, in which Phil wins a Pulitzer but still has to deal with the jealousies, resentments and pressures of his weird family back home; and 1978, when Mama dies and old squabbles resurface between Eunice and her sister Ellen (Betty White of Advise and Consent), but the former finally plans to make her escape from her dismal small-town existence -- but will she? Sharply written by Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair, in its own comic [often only slightly exaggerated] way Eunice unveils the way in which family members can lacerate one another due to their own insecurities and frustrations; played differently it could have been a drama. While Burnett and her Eunice border on caricature, the comedienne manages the difficult feat of making the shrill, unlikable Eunice sympathetic, while Lawrence -- who received an Emmy nomination -- is just splendid as the grumpy if coldly realistic Mama, who has no patience with her daughter's fantastic plans and dreams. Korman, Berry, and White also score in their important supporting roles. This excellent (and highly-rated) telefilm unfortunately led into the sitcom Mama's Family, in which Burnett did not participate (but for a couple of guest appearances), stripping the whole project of its most important and funniest relationship.

Verdict: Funny and rather horrifying in equal measure. ***1/2.

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