Here are two sprightly little TV tales for graduation season:
It's the future. The flies are taking over the planet and fat is considered sexy. A beautiful young woman named Hannah (that is, beautiful by our 2001 standards) is No. 1 in her class. And epidemiology is her field -- a very good thing, you would think, when flies are everywhere.
Nevertheless, on her birthday, the crazy dean decides to bounce her out of school and declare her a "potential workworm." Hannah, as far as he's concerned, has gone far enough. She's overstayed her welcome. He suggests that she do what so many people are doing -- get "adjusted." In other words, he suggests that she get electrodes planted in her head that will render her stupid and truly ready for the sort of tasks society needs -- like, for instance, standing on street corners catching flies.
If this isn't a nasty little allegory of the situation of so many recent graduates, what is?
It's the present. The richest and prettiest and smartest -- and also the most malicious -- girl in her high school almost runs over an impoverished bicycling classmate in her BMW convertible. It turns out he's a poor orphan who is a buddy of her best friend and boyfriend.
She's just a hop, skip and a few alumni schmoozes away from acceptance to Harvard. She comes home one day, though, to find Mom and Dad with stricken looks on their faces making frantic secret phone calls. It seems all the family's abundant money has gone kaput along with the family business. Gone. Forever. Actually, Dad's business has been tottering on the brink all year, he says. He only told her when it finally fell over.
Not only is her Harvard future in the soup, so is the future of her boyfriend, whose old man was in business with her father.
It's the weekend though. So she, her boyfriend, her rich old buddy and the impoverished orphan she almost ran over go off for a weekend in the woods. They play Trivial Pursuit while the resourceful orphan teen prepares them a fancy meal (she is slightly horrified that she's being asked to chop vegetables). Then, later, when time begins hanging heavy on their hands, the orphan kid goes into shock. He pulls a lottery ticket out of his wallet, compares it to something in the newspaper and announces to one and all that he just won the lottery -- $26 million worth.
So there they are in the deserted woods -- a poor orphan teen carrying a slip of paper worth $26 million and a smart, beautiful witch who has everything she might need to get into Harvard except the six-figure nestegg it would actually cost to graduate. She also has a suddenly penniless boyfriend as hard up for money as she is.
And did I mention they're deep in the deserted woods where there are lots of cliffs someone could be pushed off? You get the idea.
The first little tale for graduation season is called "Happy Birthday," and it's part of a trilogy of half-hour shorts called "On the Edge," which will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday on Showtime. The second little bundle of narrative joy for recent grads is a two-hour teen thriller called "Class Warfare" to be shown at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the USA Network.
Neither one of these numbers will be taking up much space in the trades at Emmy time with ads trumpeting "For Your Consideration."
"On the Edge," though, is lousy with pedigree. It marks the rare directorial gigs of actresses Helen Mirren (who did that "Happy Birthday" episode starring Sidney Poitier's beautiful daughter, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, as the suddenly disenfranchised student), Mary Stuart Masterson and Anne Heche.
Not surprisingly, Anne Heche's number called "Reaching Normal" is about sexual compulsion, boredom and confusion. Mirren's "Happy Birthday" has a top-flight cast obviously in it as a personal favor (John Goodman, Beverly D'Angelo, David Hyde-Pierce, Christopher Lloyd) and really isn't visualized at all. It's mostly just a haphazardly illustrated script. On the other hand, it may be the prototype for the world's first Orwellian sitcom. And it's reminiscent of some old "Twilight Zones" of yore.
The one part of the trilogy that really shows considerable promise is "The Other Side" and not just because it answers the question "what is Karen Sillas doing these days?" (If you're still waiting to find out if she died in the final episode of "Under Suspicion," lots of luck. The answer is blowing in the wind.) What's promising about it is that it wasn't just directed by Mary Stuart Masterson but written by her, too. Apparently, the actress recently canceled in "Kate Brasher" is a lot more talented than she's ever seemed to let on.
There is nothing even remotely pedigreed about the two-hour USA movie "Class Warfare." It's a pulpy teen thriller -- "Dawson's Creek" with arsenic in its Snapple -- where the acting isn't so hot but the trick ending is satisfying and the dose of class consciousness is, all in all, extremely interesting.
For those who have somehow missed the prime program on current cable, HBO's "Six Feet Under" will show all four of its first episodes back to back in a marathon at 9 p.m. Saturday.
It isn't as if HBO subscribers have had much of a chance to miss it, what with original episodes airing Sunday at 9:30 p.m. and twice more later in the week. But Alan Ball's mortuary black comedy deserves every bit of attention it can get, at the very least, for Rachel Griffith's continuing portrait of the most sophisticatedly attractive woman on television this side of "The West Wing."