“Incidentally, which one of you bitches is my mother?” has become an iconic piece of television history, especially to anyone who grew up in the 1980s. This infamous line of dialogue—spat, rather than spoken, by Phoebe Cates—from the 1984 TV miniseries Lace, is hardly the most ridiculous thing that takes place during one of the most notorious television miniseries.
The heyday of the miniseries was the 1970s and 1980s, with the most famous example in the genre, 1977′s Roots, remaining one of the most culturally significant as well as lengthy. However, at eight episodes, it’s still shorter than 1981′s British production of Brideshead Revisited, which spanned eleven episodes. By the mid-eighties, the miniseries was usually down to four episodes (The Thorn Birds), or in the case of Lace, a mere two parts.
That’s hardly a series, even by today’s cable television series standards, like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or even The Walking Dead. Fear not, however, there is plenty packed into Lace‘s 240 minutes. By this point in time, the miniseries had become increasingly more salacious (remember 1983′s Princess Daisy?) and Lace was no exception.
Lace has a fairly simple, if far-fetched plot: Three boarding school chums lose their virginity with three different men. One gets pregnant, but all “share” the burden of the pregnancy by refusing to admit which one of them is actually pregnant. They also decide to send the baby off to foster parents until one of them is “on her feet” (interesting choice of words) and financially able to support the child. After an “accident” kills the foster parents, the female child is presumed dead but as it turns out, she is not. Twenty-four years have passed since her ignominious birth and she is now “Lili” No-Last-Name, international movie star. Bitter despite her success, she seeks revenge on the mother who abandoned her but can only discern that there are three candidates. The viewers, ever on the edges of our seats, do not even learn the true mother’s identity until the very end.
I watched Lace when it originally aired and even then I found it hilariously awful. Part of the problem is that we first meet the Feminist Three Musketeers in 1960 when they are at boarding school, when all the actresses are clearly much older than 16 or 17. Although Arielle Dombasle, who plays Maxine, was 26 at the time of filming Lace, Bess Armstrong (“Judy”) was 31 and Brooke Adams (“Pagan,” née “Jennifer Trelawney”) was 35.
They also don’t act like teenagers, but more like somewhat younger versions of the Sex and the City cast, sex obsessed in a fairly pathetic way and making allusions to the various “perversions” at the school (which are not actually revealed, but more on that later).
As such it’s nearly impossible to take any of their antics seriously, especially when the infamous pregnancy is discovered and Judy exclaims, “What right does a society have to dictate what a woman does with her own body? Especially a society run by men?” It’s a little too pat, especially for a teenager in 1960. One doubts between classes at L’Hirondelle and penning her future bestseller (a steamy novel whose main character is named “Lucinda Lace”) Judy had much time to parse Simone de Beauvoir’s 800-page The Second Sex.
Even more unbelievable is Phoebe Cates as Lili, who plays almost every scene as if she’s on the verge of a tantrum, MTV’s Real World-style. Despite the fact that her motives for revenge are completely understandable, her barely controlled rage distracts from the actual plot, and more than a few times I found myself having to remind myself what she was so worked up about.
The dialogue is so clichéd as to be laughable and could easily comprise the instruction manual for “How To Make A Cheesy Miniseries.” Lili confronts Maxine’s Aunt Hortense (Angela Landsbury with a bad French accent) with an angry, “They sent me to hell. I’ll teach them what I learned there.” She also alludes to some important future business by telling another character that, “it’s the biggest scene I will ever play.” She even taunts Pagan with stories from “the year I learned how to make money out of making love” explaining that “much of my behavior is from having to appear in pornographic films.” Pagan, who married and is now known as “Lady Swann” is even greeted with a “Lady Swann, I presume” from Lili.
Other characters get to share in the cheesy one-liners. Judy goes on to work at a newspaper, which prompts a scene where her male editor runs out of his office shouting, “Jimmy! Get in here!” Later, she tells her co-worker/future business partner and lover Tom, “Y’know, someday I’m gonna have a magazine of my own.” Down the line she gets an important assignment to cover the war in Vietnam (!) and fends off the sexual advances of soldiers, prompting one to blurt, “Rape in a foxhole; I like it!” If that wasn’t gross enough, she ends up using that as the title of her first book. Later, she does have her own magazine, and calls it, yep, Lace.
Lace‘s first half is practically unbearable to watch because it’s all just so much preposterousness disguised as intrigue. Only when we get glimpses into what happened to Judy, Maxine, and Pagan after Lili’s birth, does anything even remotely plausible and interesting happen.
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