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Weekend Tv : 'Washington' Sequel Due Sunday

September 20, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

CBS goofed when it elected "George Washington" to a second term.

The first miniseries, shown two years ago, had the Revolutionary War as its backdrop. That was a conflict commercial television could sink its teeth into.

In "George Washington: The Forging of a Nation," the four-hour sequel that begins Sunday at 8 p.m. (Channels 2 and 8), the main conflicts are economics and foreign policy. They don't exactly grab you.

They don't grab Washington (Barry Bostwick) much, either. Most of the bickering is between his two esteemed Cabinet members, Alexander Hamilton (Richard Bekins) and Thomas Jefferson (Jeffrey Jones). Particularly in the first two-hour installment, he's a supporting character in his own biography, and a passive one at that.

One scene has him standing by patiently in his own home while Hamilton and Jefferson argue the merits of federal power versus states rights. Washington isn't moved by them but his granddaughter in the next room is. Angry at the interruption, she stops playing the piano.

Maybe it's a metaphor for national harmony.

One tries to have sympathy for writer-producer Richard Fielder, who faced a difficult task in dramatizing the national issues that faced Washington as President, which is the period covered by the miniseries. But he tries to load so much exposition into his dialogue that it becomes laughably ponderous.

Here's Hamilton complaining to Jefferson: "Why should I be denounced by your friend and protege Madison as the great corrupter of my country when the truth is I've saved the United States by restoring its credit and breathing new life into its floundering economy?"

Jefferson has his own gripe in part two: "I really do not relish the role of the lonely champion fighting pro-British reactionaries."

Who does?

Part of the problem is that these attempts to explain political positions clash with the rest of the production's style, which, under the direction of William A. Graham, is pure melodrama.

The rivalry of Hamilton and Jefferson, two of the young nation's most brilliant men, is played with all the sophistication of the Carrington brothers battling one another on "Dynasty," with Hamilton as the self-righteous Steven and Jefferson as the scheming, disreputable Adam.

And when Hamilton seeks to extract himself from an adulterous affair, the woman protests. "I want you; I need you," she says. "No, no. It must end," he insists.

It doesn't. He tries again later. "I can't live without you," the woman says.

"You don't mean that. It's not true," he replies.

"It is, it is!"

What that has to do with George Washington is anyone's guess, but it is more dramatic than his activities. He spends his time tending to his garden and grandchildren, conferring with Martha (Patty Duke) about whether to free their slaves and agonizing over the personal attacks he must suffer as chief executive.

"The country would be lost without you," a friend tells him. That may be true historically, but you couldn't prove it by this lethargic film.

Competing against "George Washington" for viewers' attention Sunday night on NBC (8 p.m., Channels 4, 36 and 39) will be the 38th annual Emmy Awards, honoring last season's top performers and shows in nighttime programming. David Letterman and Shelley Long host.

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