Ray Bradbury, an author who's long had his head in the stars, is a perfect choice with which to launch the third season of public television's "Wonderworks" series of family programming. He speaks to that child in all of us who still ponders and dreams about the wonders of the universe.
The dreamer in "Walking on Air," which airs tonight at 7 on Channels 50 and 15 and at 8 p.m. on Channel 28, is Danny (Jordan Marder), a wheelchair-bound boy at war with gravity.
"I guess some of us get a little tired of being held down," he tells a sympathetic teacher (Lynn Redgrave).
Danny encourages his disabled friends to join him in trying to become astronauts so they can travel to outer space--"the only place where we might have a chance to feel free."
Written and directed by Ed Kaplan, who also did the touching adaptation of Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" for the first season of "Wonderworks," "Walking on Air" is quintessential Bradbury--fantasy infused with hope, optimism and a keen, unbridled appreciation of the good things life has to offer (to most of us, anyway) if only we'd pay attention.
The hourlong program, produced for KCET by Ricki Franklin at KCET, repeats Sunday at 6 p.m. on Channel 28.
ABC, meanwhile, is getting metaphysical this weekend.
"Out on a Limb," Shirley MacLaine's account of her quest for spiritual fulfillment, which ranged from mediums to extraterrestrials and out-of-body experiences, begins a two-night run Sunday at 8 p.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42. It concludes Monday at 9 p.m.
But first there is "Ohara," an unintentionally silly new police series that relegates Pat Morita of "The Karate Kid" to yet another stereotypical incarnation of Charlie Chan. It debuts tonight at 9, also on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42.
Ohara is of Oriental heritage, so it naturally follows (at least on network TV) that he meditates, is proficient at the martial arts and is forever spouting Confusius-like words of wisdom: "On a narrow bridge, it's better when everyone goes in the same direction"; "The ox without a cart to pull is only good for slaughter"; "Only a fool argues with a hurricane."
"You've got the makings of a head case," another character tells him.
Possibly. But, hey, the guy is one smart cop. He seems to have an almost mystical power to know what criminals are going to do even before they do. "After 20 years as a cop, you learn to expect the unexpected," he explains.
TV viewers learn to expect the expected, however, and "Ohara" delivers.
Morita is unable to rise above the material. You get the feeling the producers would have been satisfied with Keye Luke in the role. But he's already busy, delivering fortune-cookie epigrams to his karate-kicking grandson on another ABC Saturday-night series, "Sidekicks," just as he once did for David Carradine on "Kung Fu," which also ran on ABC.
Perhaps ABC's interest in the metaphysical is a desperation appeal to Higher Powers for deliverance from its persistent ratings doldrums. Who could blame the network for trying? As Ohara observes, "The winter is cold, yet the robin has a song to sing."