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TV REVIEWS : 'Memory' Tops All-Christmas Lineup on ABC

December 16, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

It's "fruitcake weather" again, as a character says in Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory"--and that means it's also time to enjoy, among other delights of the season, a "return engagement" of this multiple-Emmy winner.

This year, though, the repeat showing isn't on PBS but back on ABC, where the Frank Perry-directed hour was first aired in 1966. It's the cherry on top of the network's all-Christmas lineup tonight (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

The schedule begins at 8 p.m. with "A Muppet Family Christmas," a fresh offering from Jim Henson's fun factory, followed by another new special, "Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas" at 9 p.m., then "A Christmas Memory" at 10 p.m.

If you like opening your presents in the order of good gift, bad gift, great gift, you'll like the arrangement here.

"A Muppet Family Christmas" starts off a bit slowly, looking as if it's going to be a slightly below-par successor to Henson's previous prime-time specials. But after Kermit et al. arrive at Fozzie Bear's mom's house, disrupting her plans to spend Christmas in Malibu and her renter's hope for a quiet yule, things grow as warm and witty as you might expect.

The fun even includes some self-kidding when the "Sesame Street" gang shows up, obsessed as usual with letters and numbers. At the end of the hour is a lengthy medley of traditional Christmas songs by the whole crew (even some Fraggles from "Fraggle Rock") that's made even more enjoyable by the inclusion of some lesser-known carols.

On the other hand, it's poor song selection, more than anything else, that sinks the Julie Andrews special. Since the hour is almost wall-to-wall music--performed by Andrews and guests John Denver, Placido Domingo and the King's Singers--the result is a consistently dull tone. If the cold weather hasn't numbed you yet, this show will.

The raison d'etre for it seems to have been an attempt to reestablish the star's "Sound of Music" persona through a return to wintry Austria. The city of Salzburg, in fact, turns out to be the real star of the program--but the loveliness of its sights cannot overcome the lackluster sound of "The Sound of Christmas." This isn't even good schmaltz; for that, wait until Friday when the original movie, "The Sound of Music," airs on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39) at 8 p.m.

So unless you're an Andrews fanatic, it might be a good idea to tune in for the Muppets, get in an hour of tree decorating, and then settle in for a re-viewing (or a first viewing) of "A Christmas Memory."

The Capote story is based on his own childhood, when the future author's best friend was a sweetly kooky cousin. Together, child and older woman celebrate Christmastime by preparing--with the most meager resources--fruitcakes to give to friends and strangers.

The center of this moving film is a marvelous performance by the late Geraldine Page, though Donnie Melvin is also quite good as the boy. And isn't that a very young Spuds MacKenzie as the puppy?

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