Monday, March 23, 2009

One Special Victory (1991) TV Movie

TV Weekend; John Larroquette Becomes Noble. Honestly.
Published: December 6, 1991

Like it or not, this is the time of year when heartwarming stories proliferate on television schedules. Choosing carefully becomes the chief line of defense against sugar poisoning. Pitifully few of television's new Christmas-theme movies are likely to lift holiday spirits, but there are exceptions. One can be found at 9 P.M. on Sunday on NBC: "One Special Victory," starring John Larroquette.

Mr. Larroquette has collected several Emmy Awards for his work in the NBC series "Night Court." Now, as both star and co-executive producer of "One Special Victory," he gets to play a similar character, a kind of rogue only millimeters away from being a slimeball. Kinky wit and perverse charm are Bo Arner's only saving graces. He's an incorrigible wheeler-dealer, overspending and hustling outrageously even as the bank machine refuses to return his card because of insufficient funds.

In a bitter divorce battle, Bo's wife wins possession of their house. Enraged, he trashes the place with a sledgehammer and gets arrested for drunkenness and disturbing the peace. The court slaps him with a fine and 50 hours of community service coaching a basketball team. The delighted Bo, a basketball fan, looks forward to working with hotshot inner-city youths. Instead, confronted with a rag-tag team of developmentally disabled adults in training for the Special Olympics, he storms out of the recreational center.

Well, television-movie buffs will have no difficulty figuring out where the plot goes from there. Bo will return to the center, of course, grumpily resigned. His players will indeed work against formidable odds: Ruthie (Christine Estabrook) has a habit of wetting herself; Joey (Dirk Blocker) can't bear to be touched by anyone; Bruce (Gregory Millar) insists on talking to a basketball that he carries everywhere; Daniel (Joe Pantoliano) is fiercely fussy and startlingly shrewd, and Spike (Joseph Asaro, an actual Special Olympian with cerebral palsy) is terrified of dentists and his overprotective mother.

Nagged by Ellen (Kathy Baker), an attractive and tough social worker, Bo gradually begins to appreciate that his players courageously try, as she puts it, "to be the best they can be" even as "they face rejection and prejudice every day." Mr. Larroquette takes Bo through this learning process with a remarkable absence of sentimentality. His education proceeds warily, rarely without a skeptical smirk. The obvious is never played obviously as coach and players come to truly love one another. Add neat bits of support from the veterans Ray Walston as the center's desk clerk and Beah Richards as its supremely self-possessed cleaning woman, and "One Special Victory" gives the concept of heartwarming the kind of holiday spin it should have.

One Special Victory Directed by Stuart Cooper; teleplay by Betty Goldberg; story by Clifford Campion, based on a book by Ron Jones; director of photography, Steve Yaconelli; editor, Edward Abroms; music by Billy Goldenberg; art director, Jack G. Taylor Jr.; produced by Port Street Films in association with NBC Productions; Susan Baerwald and John Larroquette, executive producers. Sunday night at 9 on NBC. WITH: John Larroquette, Kathy Baker, Christine Estabrok, Joe Pantoliano, Phil Hartman, Beah Richards and Ray Walston.

One Special Victory (1991) TV Movie
Cast: Angela Bassett, Christine Estabrook, Concetta Tomei, Dirk Blocker, John Larroquette, Kathy Baker, Phil Hartman, Ray Walston

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