tek's rating:

The Fire Next Time, on CBS
IMDb; Sonar Entertainment; TV Tango; Wikipedia

Caution: spoilers.

Okay, I guess this first aired in 1993, and I must have watched it at the time. Now I'm watching it for a second time in 2013, on DVD. Twenty years later. I don't really remember much of anything from the first time I watched it, except that Bonnie Bedelia was in it. It's kind of funny now to find that Craig T. Nelson was in it, playing the husband of Bedelia's character... which I probably should have remembered. It's funny because I'm now used to them playing a married couple on Parenthood. (And because in both this miniseries and that show, I feel like Bedelia looks considerably younger than Nelson, when in fact I guess she's only about four years younger.) Anyway, the miniseries is sort of science fiction, since it's set in 2017, but I don't really see it as such, because... well, it's not that far in the future, and there's nothing really science fictiony about it. (Hell, it may be set 24 years after it was made, and still four years in the future as I write this, but I'd say it seems almost more primitive than I remember the 90s being... for crying out loud, no one even uses a cell phone!) Incidentally, I get the year from the DVD case (and IMDb), though the movie itself doesn't seem to give the year. It just says "sometime soon."

It's basically a cautionary tale about global warming. Aside from being really hot in 2017, there are numerous serious problems caused by climate change. For one thing, there don't seem to be as many shrimp around as there used to, which we care about because the main character, Drew Morgan (Nelson), is a Louisiana shrimp fisherman. So he's fallen on hard times, to some extent. However, he stubbornly refuses to accept the truth about just how bad the environment has gotten, and has no intention on ever giving up on his home or his occupation. Meanwhile, there are bugs around that make diseases like malaria and cholera a major concern. And there are apparently more hurricanes (or "canes") than ever before. And there's a serious shortage of water (as well as gasoline). And there are constantly tons of fires burning out of control in California. And Mexicans are heading north, trying to find cooler weather. (And apparently American farmers have been using all the water that was supposed to be shared with Mexico.) Um... so anyway, I may be too sheltered up here in northern Maine, but I feel like global warming hasn't made things quite as bad in reality as they are in this old miniseries, but it's still a concern, and it can be a bit disturbing to see plot points that turned out to be at least somewhat accurate predictions. (Aside from all the natural disasters, it seems electric cars are quite common in the movie).

Anyway, Drew has been separated from his science teacher wife, Suzanne, for I guess about nine months now. They have a 17-year-old son named Paul (played by Justin Whalin, who later played Jimmy Olsen on Lois & Clark). They also have a teenage daughter named Linnie and a young son named Jake (played by Shawn Toovey, who around the same time started playing Brian Cooper on Dr. Quinn). Linnie and Jake both live with their mom; Drew has been living on his boat since he and Suzanne separated. Oh, and Drew's father, Frank (played by Richard Farnsworth, whom I know from Anne of Green Gables) has been living in a rest home for awhile. He seems to only intermittently be fully aware of reality. Meanwhile, Paul has been living for some time now in California, with Drew's sister Jill and her rich husband Buddy. Drew goes to California to bring Paul back to Louisiana, planning to make a road trip of it. It's complicated because Paul seems to like Buddy and dislike his own father, and doesn't want to go back to Louisiana; and Drew definitely dislikes Buddy. While Drew's away, Suzanne and her kids are visited by Larry Richter, Drew's former business partner. Drew holds a grudge against him for quitting, though that really seems like it was a perfectly reasonable decision. Anyway, Larry warns Suzanne that she and her family should leave the area before it's too late.

Along the way home, Paul ditches his dad, and tries to make his way back to California. He meets a Mexican named Valdez, and... they end up in some trouble, through no fault of their own. But eventually Drew finds them and helps them out, and father and son reconcile. And Paul realizes Buddy's not a good guy, after all. They get back to Louisiana just in time for a major hurricane, which destroys their home and pretty much the whole area. Luckily they at least survive, and Drew, Suzanne, Paul, Linnie, Jake, and Frank join many other refugees on a barge that's heading north. (One of the refugees sings an old spiritual that contains the lyric "no more water but fire next time.") Thus ends part one.

In part two, we see a bit of life on the barge (I'm not sure exactly how much time is spent there, but I'd guess maybe a few weeks). Linnie meets a guy named David (played by Paul Rudd, whose big break would come a couple years later in Clueless). He's part of a group of people who believe the Earth (Rea, they call her) is a living organism that's causing all these natural disasters to eradicate humanity, in order to preserve herself, since we'd polluted her so badly. Linnie doesn't like this theory right away, but she and David soon fall in love, and she comes to share the beliefs of the "Rea Rules" group. Meanwhile, Paul meets some guys who are part of a group of "eco-survivalists." Sometime later, Frank suffers a stroke, so the family has to leave the barge to take him to the hospital. Coincidentally, that happens to be in the area where David's group have a commune or whatever, and Linnie runs away from her family to join them. The rest of the Morgans obtain a beat up old car somehow, and continue driving on their way to an idyllic small town called Golden, New York, where Larry Richter lives. He says he can get work thereabouts for Drew; Drew, of course, is not wild about this idea, but he doesn't have much choice.

The town of Golden is cool and comfortable and rather old-fashioned, and has a lot of rules. Drew doesn't like rules, and he doesn't trust Larry, but he agrees to stay for his family's sake. However, it turns out he can't get work there, after all, so they all head to Canada, instead. But the borders are closed, due to the many people who've been trying to get in there for years now. So Paul takes his family to meet the eco-survivalists, who have a camp nearby. The person in charge is a woman called Sarge (played by Louise Fletcher, whom I would soon get to know as Winn on Deep Space Nine). For a price, she agrees to help get the Morgans into Canada illegally. That... doesn't go so well, and Drew gets separated from the others. He stays in Ontario for a little while with a couple named Seth and Sarah (who I guess are Amish or something). Well, I reckon I've said far too much already, but I might as well let you know that the whole family is eventually reunited, in Nova Scotia. Hurrah for happy endings! Except, you know... the world's still in a downward spiral and probably the Reaists will turn out to be right, in the end. But for now, a happy ending. For one of the countless refugee families, anyway.

The moral of the story, of course, is that it's fun to watch old shows and movies to spot actors you got to know later in other stuff. Oh yeah, and try to emit less carbon, or something. I guess.

Oh yeah, and speaking of "Parenthood"... Nelson's character on that show is named Zeek. His youngest kid in this miniseries had a pet goose named Zeke. And Zeek (on Parenthood) has a grandson named Drew, whose parents are named... Sarah and Seth. What do you think about that?

miniseries index