The holiday season tends to bring out the "family" in family programming. Several shows and special movies this week emphasize the importance of family - and the need to face and remedy dysfunction wherever it raises its ugly head.
Check out Hallmark Hall of Fame's "The Lost Child," starring Mercedes Ruehl. Or "Love Lessons," starring Patty Duke, as you labor over stuffing and pie-making.
Fans of the new seriocomic series "Ed" may appreciate a single man's attempt to construct a family out of a ragtag assortment of friends.
The most thoughtful of the family shows this week may be an episode of "Once and Again." These latter two have overt Thanksgiving themes, but all four programs explore new definitions of family and the challenges they present.
The Lost Child, CBS, Sunday, Nov. 19, 9-11 p.m.
It was not our finest hour. In the past, native-American babies were sometimes kidnapped from their parents and adopted by white couples who weren't told the baby's origins.
When these babies grew up, many sought their birth parents. In discovering their roots, they found a new family and traditions. A large native-American cast is given the rare chance to play contemporary roles in this film based on true stories.
Ms. Ruehl plays Rebecca, one of a pair of twins taken as newborns from their Navajo birth parents while in the hospital. Rebecca is raised by a Jewish couple who know nothing of her background, and her adoptive mother dies when she's a young teenager. When her father remarries, she is sent away to boarding school by her new stepmother.
After she marries and has two daughters of her own, she discovers via the Internet that she has a large family residing on the Navajo reservation.
And though her husband and two daughters reluctantly join her on the "res," each member of the family has sufficient compassion for the others to make a difficult transition work.
The film may be sentimental and simplistic, but it doesn't shirk the hard issues - such as reverse racism that the white husband faces or the intimidation in school that the little girls face.
Love Lessons, CBS, Nov. 22, 9-11 p.m.
A 50-year-old couple discovers they are expecting a baby. But while the wife welcomes the newcomer joyfully, her husband doesn't want the child. The story is straightforward, predictable, and a little sentimental. And yet there is something rich and warm about it. As a love story about a mature married couple, it is different enough. In intimating that life can hold mysterious surprises, even though the surprises may thwart one's fondest wishes, it becomes somehow endearing.
Once and Again: Feast or Famine, ABC, Nov. 21, 10-11 p.m.
When the children and mothers of Lily (Sela Ward) and Rick (Billy Campbell) come together for their first Thanksgiving as a new family, Rick must face his lifelong distress with the season. Fortunately, his mom (the wonderful Barbara Barrie) helps him to see both his own strengths, and the weaknesses that endanger his children.
"I think the basis of the episode is to try to talk about a subtle but powerful phenomenon having to do with parents' difficulty in staying connected with their children," says executive producer Marshall Herskovitz. "He is a very good man, a good father. He loves and cares for his children.
"The episode explores these themes. His mother is our eyes and ears - she knows he needs to wake up to what his children are experiencing."
The writing in this episode is moving because it is real and specific - and ultimately honest. Most parents experience some sort of awakening while they raise their children, however conscientious they are. It's refreshing to see the subject approached skillfully.
Ed, NBC, Nov. 19, 8-9 p.m.
In this episode Ed (Thomas Cavanagh) tries his best to fill the gap in his heart where his wife used to be. He decides to throw a Thanksgiving party at the bowling alley and change all the traditions - meat loaf instead of turkey, no pumpkin pie.
Of course, what he learns is that tradition cannot be disposed of quite so easily when so many are involved. And also that a dear friend is already part of one's family.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society