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The Fire Next Time (1993)

Miniseries have a tendency to come and go, especially those of yesteryear. Until a friend of mine mentioned this on a Facebook comment a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of the 1993 CBS miniseries The Fire Next Time let alone seen it. Having been intrigued by its premise and seeing some familiar names in the cast, it seemed worthwhile to seek it out.

The premise of The Fire Next Time is intriguing given that it was first broadcast nearly twenty-five years ago as I write these words. Set in 2017, the series focuses on the Morgan family led by Drew (the ever reliable Craig T. Nelson) and his estranged wife Suzanne (Bonnie Bedelia) living on the Louisiana gulf coast with mother nature going crazy thanks to climate change. As a result, parts of it were to be quite prophetic ranging from a Katrina like hurricane, immigration issues on the Mexican border, wildfires in California, droughts across the country, businessmen profiting off tragedies, and even something similar to proposed carbon taxes. The three hours or so that this runs for include something neat pieces of world building with details being thrown in here and there on the over all world situation and things within the United States.

The production is largely solid as well. Craig T. Nelson is his ever reliable self as the head of the family, perfectly suited to the role as a man fighting to keep his business running and family together in a world going mad. Bonnie Bedelia does well as his wife and the rest of the cast does well with the material they're handed with Richard Farnsworth as Drew's ailing father coming across the best. The supporting cast is large with characters coming and going though there are some standouts including Jurgen Prochnow as Drew's former business partner Larry Richter, Charles Haid as the unscrupulous Uncle Buddy, Sal Lopez as a Mexican migrant, and a young Paul Rudd in a supporting role. The production values are strong all things considered including a version of 2017 that isn't our own but plausible under the circumstances laid out, the occasional nice directorial flourish from Tom McLoughlin and a score from Laurence Rosenthal centered around a memorable theme. All of which helps the miniseries.

Because despite everything in its favor, The Fire Next Time often tends to be more melodramatic than anything else. Despite the prophetic nature of its plot and some nice pieces of world-building, the script from James S. Henerson never quite lives up to its promise. Henerson more often than not gives into cliches to bring the story to life which rather undermines the strong ideas and solid production values. It also doesn't help that the good first half eventually gives way to a wheel-spinning second half that is devoid of drama for the most part. Indeed, if this had been a single ninety minute TV movie based on the first half it would have been considerably better but instead it is a three hour miniseries that is too long for its own good.

What can be said for The Fire Next Time then? It is a surprisingly prophetic miniseries that filled with solid performances and production values but which suffers from a cliched script that never manages to create a gripping drama despite all those things. Perhaps it is a curiosity from a bygone age but as a curiosity it's worth a watch.


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