"RAGE OF ANGELS: THE STORY CONTINUES," 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday (4)(36)(39)--Today's topic is TV melodrama as comedy.
Every story has a key line. The one in "Rage of Angels: The Story Continues" is delivered by Angela Lansbury as she gazes at Italian television and wearily concludes: "You watch nothing, you get nothing."
That perfectly sums up this four-hour sequel to NBC's 1983 version of Sidney Sheldon's pop art "Rage of Angels." Most trashy miniseries take awhile to hit their full comic stride, but "Rage II" is funny almost immediately. It's a four-hour punch line without a joke.
For one thing, it returns Jaclyn Smith (should this be renamed "Rage of Charlie's Angel"?) as weepy, tragedy-prone attorney Jennifer Parker. As an actress, the gleaming Smith has a range of emotions from "A" to "A," occasionally reaching "B" only with a big stretch, on her tippytoes.
For another thing, Robert Joseph's baggy script and Paul Wendkos' direction are creme de la corn.
The unwed Jennifer lives in New York with her young son, whose unhappily married father Adam Warner (Ken Howard) is now vice president of the United States and the object of a blackmail scheme by mobster/philosopher James Moretti (Michael Nouri), whose staff hit-man is a twisted, slimy toad named Seymour (Brad Dourif).
"I like blackmail, Mr. Moretti," Seymour drools. "For a guy like me, it's a day off." Right, Seymour. Now back in your box.
Meanwhile, Jennifer discovers that the Marchesa Allabrandi (Lansbury) is her mother, and after years of separation, the vanilla Adam phones Jennifer to renew their romance because, after all, what else has a vice president to do?
"There were no years," Adam tells Jennifer, "only you." Think of Adam as George Bush and you really have something funny.
"You're still astonishingly beautiful," the revved-up Adam later tells Jennifer as he shifts into foreplay. "Please, don't hurt me," she replies. Is this memorable or what?
"Rage II" is full of stereotyped, despicable characters, many of whom spend their time either boozing or snarling. It's Moretti's job, for example, to look cool and menacing while punctuating each threat to that crybaby Jennifer with a kiss.
The story winds its way from New York to Washington to Rome, leaving a trail of dead characters and deadly dialogue. And there are times that poor Jennifer wants to pack it in.
"What's left after tears?" she asks. The answer: runny mascara.