Mark Twain abroad with his TV fellow travelers
Mark Twain was hardly an innocent. But his 1869 journal of a Grand Tour of Europe is filled with naive, sometimes maddeningly stereotypical observations and condescending comments by a group of wisecracking Americans.
The sophisticated Twain, sending back reports to his newspaper, was a kind of wisecracking tour leader who used irony and satire to bring his fellow travelers to a state of almost sublime appreciation of the Old World treasures to which they were being subjected.
The Innocents Abroad (PBS, Monday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) is a quaintly understated pictorial version of that literary tour.
If ''getting there'' is half the fun for today's tourists, ''being there'' is most of the fun for ''Innocents Abroad'' viewers. The delicate story line, told with little embellishment, fades into near-invisibility as the awesome landscapes overpower the slight film.
Through the courtesy of a self-consciously loose script by Dan Wakefield and the unselfconsciously faint directorial touch of Luciano Salce, ''Innocents'' affords viewers a cut-rate deal on a once-over-lightly tour of the high spots of Europe. You'll see a bit of France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Russia under the guidance of a series of familiar guides, always rather patronizingly called Ferguson.
Craig Wasson plays Twain as a kind of graceless outsider, without the caustic charm he must have possessed in reality. David Ogden Stiers is a refreshingly different, balding romantic lead, and heroine Brooke Adams is totally captivating as the before-her-time feminist journalist who manages to resist Twain's halting advances.
''Innocents'' is filled with stone-chipping, graffiti-writing, bromidic American tourists just as obnoxious as the stereotypical foreigners the film tends to depict. Viewers can be thankful that the tourists mature with the mileage.
Travel, one relievedly discovers, really does broaden one. In this case it comes a shade too close to boring one as well. Complex adaptation
Lanford Wilson's startling Broadway play about the many relationships in a family returns in a fine television adaptation as part of the ''American Playhouse'' series.
The Fifth of July (PBS, Tuesday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) is not easy TV viewing. Its casual acceptance of drugs, scatological language, sexual permissiveness, and a homosexual relationship may be offensive to many viewers. And certainly it is not a program for youngsters without parental supervision.
But ''The Fifth of July,'' directed with subtle skill by Marshall W. Mason and Kirk Browning and acted with superb craftsmanship by Richard Thomas, Swoosie Kurtz, and Jeff Daniels, has pungent things to say about the variety of human relationships in our society. Richard Thomas, in the role of a legless Vietnam veteran, gives a performance worthy of an Emmy, perhaps the best in his already auspicious TV acting career.
''The Fifth of July'' is a complex play which tries to come to grips with a wide range of emotions and human motivations. Whether or not viewers agree with its point of view or even with the decision of ''American Playhouse'' to expose it to a wide electronic audience, it's a play that cannot be ignored.