Just when I think there's no hope for new TV, something comes along as brilliant, pristine and poignant like The Hallmark Hall of Fame's The Russell Girl, which aired on CBS last night.
Starring the now-young adult Amber Tamblyn (late of the great Joan of Arcadia, and the daughter of West Side Story's Russ Tamblyn), the Russell special plays like such a piece of real life, I thought it was holodecked right into my living room.
Tamblyn portrays Sarah Russell, a young buyer for a clothier with aspirations of medical school. Suddenly, however, she's stricken with lukemia - life-altering news that sends her packing for home, which doesn't necessarily hold the comfort and support one would require at such a time. No, at least not from the Russell's neighbors from across the street. There's a serious issue involving the Morrisey family, guided by solid parental performances from Meryle-Streep-look-a-like Jennifer Ehle and Henry Czerny. Rounding out the graceful cast is Tim DeKay and an extremely vibrant Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Tamblyn's parents.
Without giving too much away (the film goes to DVD on February 1st), young Sarah's past holds much trauma. When coupled with the present tragic news of her failing health, the situation is metted to maudlin on a whole new level. And yet, that's just it, The Russell Girl is far from maudlin. The dialogue is so sparse and crisp then when spoken there's no need for silly background music which, more times than not, accompanies every frame in what turns out to be sappy TV shows and movies (i.e. 7th Heaven).
No need for such sophmoric ploys here. Instead, The Russell Girl (and everyone associated with it, behind and in front of the camera) - comes out smelling like a rose.