24 February 2002 | petershelleyau
HBO on the 1960's Romper Room scandal
Sissy Spacek plays real life Sherri Finkbine in Phoenix Arizona in 1962, Miss Sherri on television's Romper Room. She finds that by having taken thalidomide tranquilisers, she has endangered her unborn baby, and she must decide whether to abort, as there is a strong chance that the child will be severly deformed. The law on abortion in Arizona is that it can only be done when the birth presents a risk to the mother's life, and the sentence for an illegal abortion is 2 - 5 years in jail. The teleplay by William Nicholson initally presents Sherri as a progressive woman, working against the wishes of her husband (Aiden Quinn), though we might think the cost of feeding their 4 children would demand both parents be employed. However as the narrative enfolds and the stress of the situation impacts on the couple, we observe the weaknesses in the base relationship. Her mother (Estelle Parsons) praises Sherri as a "good girl", someone who has been selfless, but Sherri reveals that this has been something she has created to conceal her true rebellious nature. Sherri also feels disempowered by the patriarchal system of husband and doctors and judges who want to control what she does with her body. Nicholson uses the Finkbone husband and wife to reinforce stereotypes of men as unemotional and rational, and women as the opposite. He also repeats Quinn's line "Do we have to do this now", as "We don't have to do this now" in variation, which still doesn't free it from being false dialogue, on the level of "We can get beat this thing". Director Joan Micklin Silver's approach seems to determined not to sensationalise that she overdoes the 60's kitsch, opening with When I Fall in Love, giving the women unflattering hairstyles, using a banal music score by James Newton Howard, and even hackneyed slow motion as Sherri battles through crowds so we can see how heroic/tragic she is. Apart from Spacek's bursts of edgy anger, and the use of a glove puppet called Krazy Cat which allows her to use a different speaking and singing voice, the only unexpected thing is a girl children fight. The best scene is when Spacek baits Quinn in frustration, screaming in their backyard at 3am, calling him a coward and taunting him to hit her, even if Silver resolves the argument in dull sentimentality. Watch for William H Macy in one scene, here billed as WH Macy, funny as a psychiatrist assessing Spacek.