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TV REVIEW : ABC's 'Hothouse': Therapy for Viewers' Summer Blahs

June 30, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

Change is usually a dirty word in television. So new ideas have less to do with elevating the quality of prime time than do old ones that are executed in superior fashion.

ABC's "Hothouse," which begins a six-week tryout at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, is an old one--formula, derivative TV, but applied with purpose and intelligence.

NBC's "St. Elsewhere" added about 50 I.Q. points to medical series a la "Dr. Kildare" and "Ben Casey." Now comes a New York production from Jay Presson Allen that is potentially "St. Elsewhere" with a psychiatric twist.

Realizing that potential is another matter, evidenced by the flaws in this two-hour premiere (subsequent episodes will air Thursdays at 10 p.m.).

The "Hothouse" is Garrison Center, a family-run psychiatric hospital that is lower on finances than melodrama. The inevitable father figure is administrator Sam Garrison (Josef Sommer), whose daughter (Katherine Borowitz) and her husband (Bob Gunton) are on the medical staff, and whose son (Tony Soper) is financial director.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ved Lahari (Art Malik) and Dr. Marie Teller (Michael Learned) are having an affair, Dr. Art Makter (Michael Jeter) seems oddly melancholy and Sam's life is complicated by the reappearance of his ex-wife Lily (Alexis Smith). What's more, Sam has his hands full with a freaked-out psychiatric worker and a woman whose shoplifting threatens her marriage.

The Garrison Center doctors analyze each other almost as much as their patients, and their diagnoses and treatment, accelerated for TV purposes, at times seem almost facile. But Nina Shengold's otherwise worthy script generates appealing characters, humor and honest emotion (the older woman/younger man relationship of Teller and Lahari is refreshingly unselfconscious), and the cast of interesting actors delivers excellent performances.

This could be good therapy for the summer viewing blahs.

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