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TV Reviews : Mediocrity Controls Teen Caught in Sci-Fi 'Bergeron'

August 12, 1995|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Can there be any merit in a Big Brotherly society that mandates mediocrity for its citizens--forcing them even to wear metal headbands that abort superior thought--as a way of instigating total equality and avoiding the turmoil and messy problems caused by envy?

Although the answer is obvious, Showtime's "Harrison Bergeron" poses the question with occasional wit. All too occasional, however; the satire of this futuristic drama, which is based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, is fragmentary and largely undermined by the familiar, predictable, low-voltage plot that drives it.

Young Harrison Bergeron (Sean Astin) is a U.S. teen-ager in the year 2053, constantly being admonished at school for being smart even as he dutifully aspires to averageness, his brain being too strong for dulling by the short-circuitry headgear he's required to wear. Just as it appears that Harrison's high IQ will earn him a state-ordered lobotomy, though, Arthur Crimm's teleplay makes makes a hairpin turn, having its hero join an underground group of elite citizens who secretly run the country and its figurehead president (naturally a mediocrity) by virtue of their own extraordinary abilities.

This ruling elite includes Chief Administrator John Klaxon (Christopher Plummer) and the mysterious Phillipa (Miranda De Pencier), a young woman with whom Harrison gets romantically involved.

For such a bright, promising guy, Harrison seems pretty thick. A few darts of wicked humor intervene when he is assigned to the state-controlled arts department that "dumbs down" movie and TV scripts, tailoring them to relatively dim minds. It's a jolt of 1995 reality, for the results strikingly resemble some of the actual network TV series headed for American homes in the coming Fall season.

This levity and the story's other wry amusements are all too fleeting, though, as this Bruce Pittman-directed story lumbers toward a no-brainer finale that even a sleeping audience will be able to see coming. In other words, as if produced by the system it ridicules, "Harrison Bergeron" is mediocre.

* "Harrison Bergeron" airs Sunday at 8 p.m on Showtime.

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