The Way We (Maybe) Were

Against conventional network wisdom, three new shows hark back to the warm, fuzzy glow of the past

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At its best, which is very good, Brooklyn Bridge rings with fresh and funny childhood observations. Alan's grandmother forces him to choose his dinner from frozen foods in the refrigerator even before he finishes breakfast. A school hood, taunting Alan and his friends in the rest room, demands to know if they are Jewish. "Not if you don't want us to be," one replies. Sentimentality gets the upper hand only in the show's "big" scenes: when Alan's nine-year-old brother (Matthew Siegel) meets his Dodger hero, Gil Hodges, or when Alan has to choose between a popular club and his dorky best friend. Grandma, the Robert Young of this series, is a bit too refined and understanding, and Alan is too much of an obvious winner. Leave it to a TV writer to remember himself as the cutest kid in class.

The memories are equally warm and fuzzy in Homefront. In this postwar soap opera set in a small Ohio town, mothers greet their returning soldier boys with "your favorite pie" and chide their kids with quaint cliches like, "You move as slow as molasses in January." Not that there isn't trouble in this paradise. One veteran comes home to a sweetheart who has fallen in love with his brother. There are stirrings of race and sex discrimination as well. A black veteran applies for work at the local factory but is told the only opening is for a janitor. A widowed mother is fired from her factory job to make room for the returning vets. Her boss's advice: "Find yourself a husband."

Homefront is a slick, satisfyingly busy soap opera, which suffers mainly by comparison with the show it has replaced on ABC's schedule: thirtysomething. Next to that complex and very contemporary drama, Homefront seems a throwback in more ways than one. The characters are drawn in primary colors and the confrontations hyped for melodramatic effect. This is the sort of TV drama where a girl puts on her wedding dress, races to the train station to greet her returning beau and meets -- who else? -- the war bride he has brought home but never told her about.

Where Homefront is loud and brassy, I'll Fly Away is quiet and relentlessly sober. Sam Waterston, with his somber mien and drooping shoulders, plays Forrest Bedford, a liberal-minded prosecutor in a small Southern town who is raising three children on his own. (His wife has been hospitalized after a nervous breakdown; Forrest, meanwhile, is growing friendly with a rival lawyer, played by Kathryn Harrold.) The family has just hired a new maid, Lily (Regina Taylor), who becomes the focus for an exploration of changing race relations at a crucial historical time.

The echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Member of the Wedding are hard to miss, and the show's two-hour pilot moves as slowly as, well, molasses in January. Yet producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey (St. Elsewhere, Northern Exposure) have created a drama of rich texture, few tricks and much truth. The racial issues are sketched in deft, understated strokes, from the way Lily quietly eats her dinner separately from the family she has just served to her six-year-old charge's innocent questions after a bus ride ("How come me and you had to change our seats?").

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