Where's Chevy Chase? Monday's special episode of "The Closer" has just about everything you'd expect from a holiday comedy but him.
And it isn't like Chase isn't available -- he surfaced Sunday in a sweet role as Sally Field's first love and new love interest on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters." But this episode of the highest-rated cable series in Western New York, airing at 8 p.m. Monday on TNT, is more bloated than Santa Claus.
It includes an RV trip, a considerable amount of car damage and a good deal of forced humor. And, oh, yeah, there are also a couple of murderers on the loose.
Here's the preposterous set-up: Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), who now is a big crime solver in Los Angeles, takes a trip back home to Atlanta to look for a criminal who has headed to his home there without the teenage brother he is raising in California.
I know what you're thinking. Road trip.
Brenda, who isn't in any hurry to sell her own L.A. home before she and her long-suffering FBI love Fritz (Jon Tenney) find a new one, sees the case as an opportunity to visit her parents.
They're so excited they cancel a planned trip to Florida to spend the holidays with the daughter who usually has the least time for them. It doesn't take long for the parents, wonderfully played by Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen, to figure out dear Brenda has something else in mind besides playing crossword puzzles with them and listening to her dad's Perry Como holiday CDs.
Detective Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) and Lt. Andy Flynn (Tony Denison) are also along to bring holiday cheer and laughs on a long RV ride. Meanwhile, the rest of Brenda's crew is back in Los Angeles trying to help her pull off a scheme to get the misguided, creative criminal with a heart to lead her to his accomplices.
The change-of-pace episode has a tough time balancing silly humor, family bonding, sappy speeches and serious crime-solving. At times, it comes closer to being just ridiculous than being ridiculously entertaining.
Fortunately, the actors playing Brenda's parents help overcome the episode's excesses, and the script comes through with a few decent twists at the end.
Still, it is hard to believe Brenda's parents didn't immediately figure out their daughter's motives and didn't know she had to become a terrific liar to become a terrific detective.
Undoubtedly, the episode will be highly rated here. But I won't lie to you. Perhaps because I didn't enjoy seeing my childhood singing hero, Mr. C., being insulted, this extended holiday episode of "The Closer" hardly seemed to be much of a dramatic or comedic gift.
You pretty much know what to expect from the Hallmark Hall of Fame, which this Sunday features its 231st presentation, "Pictures of Hollis Woods." As usual, there's an all-star cast, a lesson about the importance of family and friendship and a final 15 minutes where tissues should be handy.
Sissy Spacek, Alfre Woodard, Judith Ivey and James Tupper ("Men in Trees") are the big names in the film about a damaged, artistic child who was abandoned as a baby and named after an intersection in Queens, Hollis Woods (Jodelle Ferland of "Tideland"). Hollis eventually bonds with a damaged artist and a damaged family.
Woodard stars as a social worker, Edna Reilly, who brings Hollis to the home of a retired art teacher who lives in the country, Josie Cahill (Spacek), after the young girl's latest trip to a foster home failed. As usual, Spacek is a revelation as Josie, whose mental skills are noticeably diminishing to the point that Hollis becomes her caretaker rather than the other way around.
Before meeting Josie, Hollis' other enjoyable foster home experience with a family of three ended badly for reasons that aren't revealed until near the end of the film. Tupper is almost unrecognizable as John Regan, a caring foster father who wishes things with Hollis had ended much differently. Julie Ann Emery plays his wife, Izzy, who is still recovering emotionally from the loss of a second child. Finally, Ridge Canipe almost steals the show as the Regans' risk-taking son, Steven.
This being a Hallmark movie, it shouldn't be surprising that things work out for the best and even Hollis learns that family life isn't always picture perfect.
Based on the novel by Patricia Reilly Griff, it's a sweet, well-acted film that takes a long time to get moving. However, eventually it is very moving.
8 p.m. Monday, TNT
Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
"Pictures of Hollis Woods"
9 p.m. Sunday, Channel 4
Review: Two stars