Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsHumanism

Television Reviews : The New Fall Tv Season : 'We The People'

September 22, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

There's nothing really wrong with PBS' "We the People," a four-part study of the continuing effect the U.S. Constitution has on our daily lives.

Host Peter Jennings of ABC is his usual solid self. The program is well written and produced by KQED in San Francisco. And over its four hours, the series engagingly presents a rich variety of Americans from Maine to Mobile to Oakland as they wage constitutional warfare against one another and against their own governments over such divisive issues as school busing and affirmative action.

Part 1, "Free to Believe" (tonight at 9 on Channels 28, 15, 24), takes on the First Amendment issues of freedom of religion and speech. Future programs cover the subjects of equality under the law, police power under the Constitution and the separation of powers in a system of government set up 200 years ago.

Tonight's segment examines a political confrontation between opponents and supporters of the Nicaraguan contras. But most of the time, it's in the middle of the fundamentalist furnace of Mobile, Ala., where Christians who want God and prayer back in their public schools go to court with the argument that secular humanism is a "religion" and is being taught in schools, despite First Amendment prohibitions.

Jennings supplies the historic perspective and traces the court case that made national headlines before it was overturned. There's lots of fire from all sides. Judges, ministers, Christians, humanists, teachers, students, parents and education officials all get their say--some of it disturbingly illiberal,some of it hearteningly sensible.

All sides are represented fairly--which is a flaw that permeates the series: the producers, ironically, are a little too democratic and too objective. They expend too much time letting Ordinary Joes spout their often embarrassing simplicities and tend to give all arguments equal validity--which they often do not deserve.

As good as the four episodes are in vividly demonstrating the push-and-shove and give-and-take of our constitutionally bound political system, "We the People" could have used a stronger dose of intellectualism. Also, it would have been refreshing to see a shade more cynicism about the coercive nature of government and a less high-school civics-class naivete about the power of the people to actually control it through the ballot box.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|