Showtimes Common Ground Too Common

There are Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winners behind the
scenes and an all-star cast in front of the camera for Showtime's gay-themed Common
, yet the trilogy fails to move into any unfamiliar territory.

A homosexual ostracized by the military, a confused teen
battered at school -- it's been done before. One held higher hopes for the likes of
playwright Paula Vogel and Terrence McNally. The vignettes they contribute here are out of
a kit.

The tales are tied together by the literal common grounds
of Homer and the narration of Eric Stoltz, the flag-raiser on the green.

First up is the story "Homer's Own Wave,"
set in the 1950s. The only twist on this story line, by Vogel, is that it's a lesbian
who gets drummed out of the military.

Dorothy Nelson (Brittany Murphy) questions her lack of
desire for men and is intrigued when she witnesses erotic behavior between women. Her
downfall comes when she visits a gay club with a fellow gay serviceman (Jason Priestley).

Murphy has little to do but weep and mope until she meets
up with a closeted gay woman in her hometown (Helen Shaver), who's a link in a sort
of gay Underground Railroad, passing Dorothy enough cash to get her to somewhere safe --
New York.

The 70s bring the dilemma of Toby Anderson: bright,
athletic, confused. The student (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) tries to come out to a teacher
who's rumored to be homosexual. Gil Roberts (Steven Weber) rebuffs him rather than
coming out himself and jeopardizing his job.

The final vignette is the most in-your-face initially,
identifiable as the work of playwright Harvey Fierstein. It starts out in a blaze, with
guests at a gay wedding anticipating a horde of protestors, organized by the father of one
of the grooms (Ed Asner).

But in this true fantasy, the son and hawkish military
father are forced into hiding together just long enough for a contretemps. When he
realizes his son has pre-wedding jitters, just like a straight man, the father finds their
"common ground."

But most troubling, the double standard still remains.
Women are depicted romping in bed, kissing lasciviously. The men lie separately in bed or
kiss, sanctified, at the marriage altar. It seems that at the root -- sexual love -- the
filmmakers shied away from the common ground.

Common Ground will debut on Showtime Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.
with repeats Jan. 31 and Feb. 10.