If you've ever wanted to see Howard Cunningham as founding father, scholar and inventor Benjamin Franklin, if you've ever wanted to hear Jerry the Dentist from the "Bob Newhart Show" lecture on Rousseau in a lousy French accent, if you've ever wanted to watch Patricia Neal die midway through a monologue . . . well, find yourself a DVD of this goofy mini-series based the first installment of John Jakes' pulpy historical epic. It's odd, really, that in the post-bicentennial, pre-Reaganite buzz of jingoism lingering in the late 70's that one of the Big 3 Networks didn't pick up the option on Jakes' potboiler and make it into a much better, glitzier miniseries. Instead, this 8th-grade pageant of B-listers, has-beens and never-weres wound up in syndication, a chilling forbearer of the crud that would appear on the early Fox and WB networks ten or twenty years later.
"The Bastard" is the story of Phillip Kent, born Phillipe Charbonneau, the illegitimate (i.e. bastard) son of an English nobleman and Patricia Neal. Little Phillipe's transformation from French peasant to American patriot would test a talented actor, but "The Bastard" stars Andrew Stevens -- Stella's boy, and the future Mr. Kate Jackson. Stevens doesn't bring much to his role except for a pleasant smile and a Keith Partridge haircut, but at least his blandness is offset by the cheesy sideshow that is the rest of the cast. The buck-toothed kid from those horrible "Witch Mountain" movies plays the Marquis de Lafayette, and that's just the start of it. Beginning with the aforementioned Marquis, Phillip keeps encountering the most famous people of his age in random places -- "hi, Mr. Franklin, what are you doing here in Philadelphia?" -- and the absurdity is exacerbated by the fact that these legendary figures are essayed by "Hollywood Squares" refugees in silly costumes (wait 'til you see Tom Bosley in the Bozo wig he puts on to play Franklin). William Shatner as Paul Revere. Need I say more? The other improbability is that every nubile young woman in the film goes wild for young Phillip when they get within sniffing distance of his hairspray and are willing to risk life, limb and social status just for a quick roll in the hay with this soap opera cast-off. ("I want you, Phillip. If only for tonight.") Not historically accurate, not dramatically compelling, hilarious for all the wrong reasons, "The Bastard" makes for some good, trashy fun you shouldn't miss.