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`DOING TIME ON MAPLE DRIVE' PAINTS PORTRAIT OF A DISINTEGRATING FAMILY

From the outside, the Carter family in the TV movie "Doing Time On Maple Drive" looks like a '90s version of the Cleavers.

Immaculate suburban home. Upstanding, successful, wise father and supportive homemaker mother. Three attractive children, now young adults.All enshrined on "The Wall," a collection of pictures, awards and trophies in the Carter home.

And all a facade.

As "Maple Drive" begins, a celebration is at hand. Younger son Matt (William McNamara), the golden child who's attending Yale, comes home with his bride-to-be, Alicen (Lori Laughlin of "Full House"). It's against this pseudo-happiness that the family's secrets and tragedies begin to unfold.

Father Phil (James B. Sikking) is a demanding, authoritative parent who dominates, subjugates and represses his children. Mother Lisa (Bibi Besch) is so convinced that she has raised the perfect children that she blinds herself to the truth about her family.

And that truth isn't pretty. Elder son Tim (James Carrey of "In Living Color") is an alcoholic who, unable to live up to his father's expectations, has quit trying. Married daughter Karen (Jayne Brook) is so consumed with pleasing her parents that she considers abortion because Mom and Dad don't think she's ready to be a parent herself.

Son-in-law Tom (David Byron) doesn't live up to his father-in-law's standards. He's a photographer and artist who's not obsessed with the outward signs of success.

The blow that finally shatters the family is the revelation that Matt is getting married only to fulfill his parents' expectations. He shouldn't be getting married at all - he's gay.

Like so many American families, this one strives to be the classic American family. To emulate the images presented by TV's Cleavers and Andersons and Nelsons.

And their failure has left each of them alone in their despair, drifting through life attempting to keep up appearances and fulfill expectations.

The acting is superb. Carrey and Laughlin are revelations, breaking out of the comedy molds they fill in weekly series.

Sikking and Besch paint portraits of woefully inadequate parents who nonetheless, even at their worst moments, obviously love their children and are attempting to do the best they can.

And McNamara creates a moving young man crushed under the weight of his parents' vision of what his life should be and his own denial of who he really is.

The point here is not so much that he's gay, but that he's different from the person his parents wanted him to be.

Much of the credit for the success of "Maple Drive" goes to director Ken Olin, who starred as the sensitive Michael Steadman in "thirtysomething."

There are similarities between this movie (the first Olin directed, although ABC's "The Broken Cord" aired several weeks ago) and that acclaimed series - similarities in that both create believable characters the viewer grows to care about despite their faults.

And Olin opts for several intriguing camera angles and unusual set-ups, which are used to good effect.

This is by far the finest made-for-television movie in Fox's short history. (It airs tonight at 7 p.m. on Ch. 13.)

What makes "Doing Time On Maple Drive" all the more poignant is that the characters are so familiar. Don't be surprised if you see resonances of someone you know.THOSE SECRETS: At the other end of the TV movie spectrum, there's NBC "Those Secrets" (8 p.m., Ch. 2).

There's no character development here, no insight - just an awful lot of sleaze masquerading as entertainment.

Quite quickly, you find out what "Those Secrets" are. High-powered sports attorney Simon (Arliss Howard) meets, sleeps with and marries Neille (Blair Brown of "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd"), seemingly in a matter of minutes.

But while still a honeymooner, Simon has an affair, which he tearfully confesses to new bride. In response, Neille quickly returns to her former profession. She's a prostitute.

This movie is so sleazy it almost oozes across the screen. In addition to tastelessness and vulgarity, there's no lack of bad dialogue and ludicrous plotting.

Don't bother.