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Archive for Saturday, August 22, 2009

‘Acceptance’ fails to make the grade

August 22, 2009

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Not even the presence of two fine actresses can save “Acceptance” (8 p.m., today, Lifetime) from a trite script and its confusing shifts in tone.

Mae Whitman has been a delight to watch since she appeared in the old Pax Network series “State of Grace” as a precocious child. Viewers may recall how she held her own with Andre Braugher in the short FX series “Thief.” And she fit right in with the absurd comedy “Arrested Development.”

In “Acceptance,” she portrays Taylor Rockefeller, a confused and conflicted teen pressured by her status-obsessed mother Nina (Joan Cusack, “Working Girl”) to devote her life to getting into Yale, or a similarly excellent school.

Nina is consumed by her fancy last name, even though she has no real connection to the scions of Standard Oil or their fortune.

Oppressed by her mother, Taylor turns to her father, Wilson (Mark Moses, “Mad Men”), only to discover that he, too, is in flight from Nina’s delusional social-climbing. The wonderful comic actress Cusack is wasted here playing a one-dimensional snob too destructive to pass as a comic figure and too stereotypical and shallow to take seriously.

“Acceptance” suffers from similar confusion. Is it tragedy or farce? The pressure cooker atmosphere of elite college applicants spawns scenes of illicit teacher-student liaisons, attempted suicide and self-mutilation followed by light fantasy montages set to whimsical music. It’s a little difficult to tell who or what we should care about, and, after watching “Acceptance” flounder for a half-hour or so, it’s easier to just stop trying.

• The bonds of responsibility between aging parents and their adult children, and the misunderstanding and resentment that can arise from generational role reversal, was a rich part of the memorable first season of “The Sopranos.”

The theme continues on “Mad Men” (9 p.m., Sunday, AMC), created by “Sopranos” writer Matthew Weiner, as Betty (January Jones) continues to worry about her father’s mental and physical decline.

The early 1960s setting of “Mad Men” reminds us that parents were not always “helicoptering” over their kids, micromanaging their every move. In a rather famous scene in the first season, Betty admonishes her daughter for playing with a dry cleaning bag. She’s not at all concerned with safety and suffocation, but with keeping her clothes clean and wrinkle-free. Martinizing was expensive!

• Who would have imagined that the Miss America pageant would wither away to a point at which it has become a vagabond of basic cable while the “Miss Universe Pageant” (8 p.m., Sunday, NBC) has survived, thrived and remained a network phenomenon?

The sheer endurance of “Universe” and the Miss USA pageant must have something to do with the tenacity of their owner and chief hawker Donald Trump.

Although these guilty-pleasure contests have not yet gone the way of once-proud institutions like Miss America, Pontiac and Yugoslavia, they have never approached the cultural resonance of the Atlantic City beauty contest in its high-rated heyday. How many people can name a former Miss Universe, or more than a handful of Miss USA winners? Like the buildings and casinos associated with Trump, these festivities are glitzy, flashy and utterly forgettable.

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