Blu-ray Review: Primetime Panic 2 [Fun City Editions] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 9th, 2023  

Primetime Panic 2

Studio: Fun City Editions

Oct 10, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Primetime Panic 2 collects three made-for-TV movies from producer Michael Jaffe, each newly restored and paired with bonus materials that provide context around their productions and those involved with them.

In The Seduction of Gina (1984), our heroine gambles away her inheritance and marriage in pursuit of something that brings excitement into her life. Only 20 years old, Gina Breslin (Valerie Bertinelli) left all of her friends behind and transferred to a university in San Francisco so that she could be closer to her new husband, David (Frederic Lehne), a busy medical intern. As weeks go by and Gina fails to feel at home with her mostly-single social circle, David’s long hours at the hospital leave her feeling especially lonely. One day she finds a thrill in making a throw-away bet on a pony race and winning big. This moment of exhilaration quickly snowballs, and Gina finds herself sneaking away to Tahoe while her husband works late, and cashing out her trust fund to feed her gambling addiction.

One of several things that The Seduction of Gina does so well is plant the seeds that inevitably leave to its heroine’s downfall. In a lesser movie, Gina may easily be buried under the film’s moral messaging: a character meant merely to be judged in a cautionary tale. Bertinelli’s Gina, however, comes from a very sympathetic place, having essentially been abandoned by her husband and treated as an afterthought by her family. (The men in her life are painted in a worse light than she is: cold, crass, condescending.) When she falls into the arms of a slimy casino employee—the first person to pay her any real attention—it’s understandable. When she loses everything while chasing the only stimulation she’s managed to find in her situation, it’s tragic.

The Seduction of Gina is a slick-looking production, shot by Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense), who weaves in and out of crowds and finds interesting backdrops on the San Francisco streets and Lake Tahoe casino floors. Some of the synthesizer cues in the movie come courtesy of Eddie Van Halen, Bertinelli’s then-husband.

The Death of Richie (1977) opens during a graveside eulogy for seventeen-year-old Richie Werner (Robby Benson), whose friends and shell-shocked parents weep over his untimely passing. (If the title doesn’t clue you in enough, the introduction lets you know right away that this film will be a downer.) The story leaps backward to a happier, more carefree time when teenage Richie falls in with the wrong crowd, and starts getting in trouble and abusing drugs. Despite a few half-efforts to stay on the straight and narrow, Richie can’t seem to catch a break: he’s laid off from his fast food job, strikes out with his crush, and gets narc’d on by his parents even when he isn’t using. His mom and dad (Eileen Brennan and Ben Gazzara) want him to get better, but not enough to actually commit themselves to the treatment he needs. His issues rapidly spiral out of control after Richie gets hooked on his rage pills, and the movie barrels toward a conclusion that’s far more tragic than you could ever see coming.

With its grim tone and frequent emphasis on authority figures (judges, therapists, school faculty) giving stiff guidance on how this situation should be handled, The Death of Richie most screams “TV movie” out of the three included in this set. It’s extremely effective, however, thanks to performances that render it quite harrowing. Benson, in particular, is fantastic: his Richie goes from shy, awkward kid to barking, frothing monster at the drop of a hat. He’s not just another looped-out hippie, but someone with real problems and no answers. You like him, and it hurts to see him fail (and be failed) at every turn. Gazzara, too, is excellent—a “strict” father with all the rigidity of a wet cardboard box. There’s a reason why The Death of Richie is so well remembered among those who saw it on NBC, or were shown it in school, and it’s thanks to the drama that these actors instill in the material.

Finally, Eileen Brennan is back again in Incident at Crestridge (1981), this time to run troublemakers out of a small Wyoming mining town. On their way into Crestridge after her husband accepts a position at the local hospital, Sara (Brennan) and her husband Robert (Sandy McPeak) witness a violent attack on a massage parlor on the outskirts of town. The local sheriff doesn’t arrive for hours, and the mayor (Bonanaza’s Pernell Roberts) doesn’t seem at all eager to help the displaced sex workers whose home and place of business were just burned down by arsonists. As she settles in and finds the town’s authorities totally ineffective, Sara tosses her hat in the ring and runs for sheriff—and wins.

Sara sets her sights on the town’s corrupt officials, inadvertently starting a war with a local gangster who runs the area’s competing brothels. She has little support among the police force under her command: a bunch of good ol’ boys with little interest in enforcing the law. Worse yet, her opponents turn to cheap, sexist tactics—pushing newspaper headlines about how ill-equipped she is for her job, being a woman and all—in an effort to turn the good people of Crestridge against her. But she doesn’t back down, even against threats to her life and her husband’s.

Incident at Crestridge
feels a lot like a Western set in the late ‘70s, with Brennan as the stranger who rides into a two-horse town to take down the local gang who’ve been making the citizenry’s lives a living hell. Brennan plays her heroine with confidence and some occasional swagger, and it’s fun to see her show up Crestridge’s band of chauvinist goons. There aren’t a ton of surprises in this tale, but it’s well-made and the sort of comfort food you can’t help but enjoy as a movie-of-the-week.

Fun City Editions have restored all three films from the best materials available, and present them in the viewers’ choice of 4:3 or widescreen. (Obviously, the former will better match the movies’ original airings on CRT televisions.) Seduction and Crestridge both look excellent. Death of Richie is prefaced with a note that explains how a rough 16mm version of the film was the best surviving copy, but it looks far better than such a warning might lead one to expect. It’s not pristine, but it’s a major upgrade from the versions you’re going to find on YouTube or Tubi. All three movies come with commentaries, with Samm Deighan tackling Richie, Dino Proserpio and Jonathan Hertzberg examining Crestridge, and preeminent TV movie scholar Amanda Reyes providing in-depth context for Gina and the people who worked on it.

Made-for-TV movies may not have the most prestigious reputation, but there are many out there like these ones, where skilled craftsmen and excellent performers came together to make engaging dramas that do far more than shove a moral down viewers’ throats. Because of the ephemeral nature of how they aired, it’s hard for a TV movie neophyte to know which ones are worth seeking out. That’s part of why it’s easy to appreciate the curation found in these Primetime Panic sets: these are worthwhile films that you’re unlikely to encounter if you didn’t catch them on TV back in the day. This level of preservation effort for an underappreciated genre of films is worth supporting, and this selection of movies is even better than those found in the first volume. All in all, Primetime Panic 2 is worth your attention.



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