In `Hometown,' hippies turn Yuppie

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After 13 years together and two children, Ben Abbott decides it is time he and Mary, two holdovers from the flower-child generation of the 1960s, got married. When she demurs because it is too much the conventional thing to do, he offers to get Ravi Shankar to play the sitar at the wedding as an inducement.

``Only if you promise to wear a Nehru jacket,'' she laughs.

When they tell the children, the only response is: ``It's about time!''

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After coping with the surprise of friends, relatives, neighbors, and the postman, who all assumed the Abbotts were already married, the wedding takes place. It is a traditional one with all the trimmings -- tiered wedding cake, flower girls, and last-minute doubts. Unusual only are the guests -- old friends from the activist days of the 1960s, those who had been determined never to allow traditional values mold them into traditional social patterns. Now, according to one of them, ``We have it all -- vac ations in Maui, IRS audits, everything.''

Hometown (CBS, Thursdays, 10-11 p.m., starting Aug. 22) is all like that. So were the recent films ``The Return of the Secaucus 7'' and ``The Big Chill'' -- only the films did it a bit better and with less manufactured conflict. All of them are amusing on the surface level, just a bit disturbing on the sociological level. There is little recognition that there was ever anything wrong with the '60s values -- it is only, it seems, that people always act like people in the long run.

``Hometown,'' directed by Gene Reynolds, created by Julie and Dinah Kirgo, is acted impeccably by a cast of unfamiliar faces. Jane Kaczmarek and Franc Luz as the Abbotts are especially believable in this premi`ere episode of what is obviously a pilot for a series to stretch into the rest of the summer, fall, and winter. It may do it, since it is a kind of hippie-turned-Yuppie soap opera.

But it'll be difficult for ``Hometown'' to accomplish, because the premise seems to be just about all there is, and this episode uses up most of the Remember When gags. After this, there is little to do but deteriorate into latter-day soap opera, something the premi`ere was constantly on the edge of doing . . . but managed to resist with an introspective chuckle now and then.

The 1960s generation seems to be convinced that it was the only generation that eventually followed in the social footsteps of its parents despite its initial break with parental mores and its own frantic efforts to be somehow different. But isn't that why parents through the ages have learned that their best weapon is patience? Our society seems to fall back on marriage, family, steady jobs, and long-term commitments generation after generation, after temporary breaks with these traditions. TV's contin uing-drama society seems to fall back on these traditions, too, after playing dangerous games with promiscuity and infidelity.

``Hometown'' is no exception in this respect. It is sparklingly slick, but still a summer-weight, baby-boom ``Dallas,'' attempting to bring soap opera into its version of contemporary life. Or is it vice versa?

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