Article 103

'Thorn Birds': From sizzle to fizzle

One-hot romance can't be rekindled.

Some things are better left alone.

And "The Thorn Birds" is one of them.

The original "Thorn Birds" helped define the miniseries experience when it aired on ABC in 1983, sizzling faithfully off the pages of Colleen McCollough's pulpy bestseller about variations on forbidden love and other deadly sins in an Australian Eden.

When Father Ralph de Bricassart and Meggie O'Neil gave a whole new meaning to wet kisses, a collective sigh was heard from women across the country.

Not so CBS's "The Missing Years," which doesn't have McCollough's pot-boiler as a bible or Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown as the mismatched Meggie and Luke. So hot was their chemistry that Ward and Brown got married in real life.

The lone holdout from the original "Thorn Birds" is Richard Chamberlain, whose Ralph de Bricassart is now an archbishop. But the late-World War II "Years" is not kind to him as an object of Meggie's forbidden love.

Amanda Donohoe is no Meggie and Simone Westaway is no Luke, and if Chamberlain is no longer believable as a matinee idol, at least his wardrobe is not one the costume designers can render spectacularly unattractive.

Donohoe, on the other hand, should sue. She's a candidate for Mr. Blackwell's Hall of Drab. No wonder Ralph is able to resist - for three hours - the urge to bed Meggie once again.

When he finally does, the passion is only passable and it's no surprise Meggie sends him back to his good books.

Ralph is only there because the Church disapproves of his spending some of the wealth left to the Church by the late Mary Carson, who had wanted Ralph for herself.

He's been ordered back to Drogheda - the home of his continuing temptation - and arrives just after Luke drops back into Meggie's life.

Luke has come to claim 10-year-old Dane (Zach English), the son neither he nor Ralph recognize as Ralph's, in spite of Dane's determination to become a priest.

The four hours basically revolve around the battle for Dane, and Ralph's faith.

Largely overlooked by the meagre, talky plot - as well as her father - is the frequently accent less Justine (Olivia Burnette of "The Torkelsons").

No wonder she was so churlish when we met her as a young adult in the original "Thorn Birds," which wisely fast-forwarded through the years when Ralph was climbing the papal ladder in Rome and Meggie was struggling to keep Drogheda going.

For all Meggie's hard work, Drogheda looks like a cutesy condo landscaped just before the first prospective owners arrived.

And ABC looks smart for having sat out "The Missing Years."