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Tv Reviews : 'Arrest' Trivializes Book-banning

January 27, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

Good intentions do not necessarily result in good drama.

"The Day They Came to Arrest the Book" falls under the former category, a "CBS Schoolbreak Special" (at 3 p.m. today on Channels 2 and 8) that attempts to illustrate the perils of censorship and instead illustrates the perils of talking down to kids.

Based on a Nat Hentoff novel, the Melvin Van Peebles script concerns a high school where book-banning has become an issue. A public hearing is called to discuss demands by a black youth and his father that Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" be withdrawn from the curriculum because of its use of the word nigger and other bigoted racial references common to the author's times.

Meanwhile, a white youth is lauded by the principal for his courageous anti-censorship editorial in the school newspaper, but is forbidden to write about a school librarian who, as it turns out, has refused to go along with demands that even more books be taken off her shelves.

Directed by Gilbert Moses and produced by Eda Godel Hallinan, the story's intent is honorable, but the execution is heavy-handed and some of the key characters are almost comically overdrawn.

While simplistically touching on the evils of censorship, moreover, the hour never really confronts the broader issue of parental responsibility. Where is the line to be drawn between censorship and legitimate parental concern?

That question is not addressed in "The Day They Came to Arrest the Book," which underestimates its target young audience. In the public hearing, for example, the librarian, played by Anne Meara, reveals that she was ordered to remove "Great Expectations" from the shelves.

"Are you talking about Charles Dickens?" someone asks. No, Murray Dickens.

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