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It's annoying that the four-hour NBC miniseries Rosemary's Baby—the first half of which aired on Sunday night—is forcing my hand. And it's not the supernatural stuff. There's a Parisian cult that impregnates unwitting women with the Devil’s spawn? That's great! I'm on board. At the same time, though, there are fundamental human behaviors and reactions to certain situations we expect characters to exhibit, and in their absence we're left pooh-poohing the whole stupid thing and then hating ourselves for it. That said, if a person running upstairs when they should be running out the door is frustrating, Rosemary's Baby is enough to make you pull your face-skin off. A clever allegory about the horror of pregnancy—the female body being hijacked by what's not that unlike a little demon—is now a cheesy, anachronistic babe-in-the-woods tale, except that the "babe" is an adult woman who just seems like a kind of a doof.
Basically, what they've done is turn one of the best horror movies of all time into an excessively long Lifetime movie.
In this updated story, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana and Patrick J. Adams) relocate to France after a devastating miscarriage. Guy is an aspiring novelist who gets a job as an English professor at the Sorbonne. Rosemary is . . . I don't know what she is, but they do show her in a cooking class at one point. After a series of small disasters—one of them an electrical explosion that Guy escapes unscathed—an extremely helpful couple, the Castevets, invite Guy and Rosemary to move into a spare apartment they own. Prior to this the Castevets have had them chauffeured to a party where they demanded everyone speak English on the younger couple's account and presented them with a cat (black, naturally) before the adoring crowd. The apartment is stocked with beautiful, tailored clothing for the pair, and Roman Castevet (Jason Isaacs) happens to have enough pull to get Guy an interview for head of the university's English department. You know, normal stuff people who are practically strangers do for one another.
When Guy suggests that he and Rosemary try to have another baby—after having a conversation with Roman about the advantages of fatherhood, i.e., selling your wife's body to become a vessel for Satan's seed—no one's more overjoyed than the Castevets. As in the original, then comes the tannis root charm and the vile-tasting fertility soups and teas.
Rosemary has already been spending her otherwise empty days pounding the pavement to get to the bottom of what's fishy about their apartment and, potentially, their new landlords. She finds a photograph of the young couple who lived in the apartment before them. Instantly troubled by it, she discovers that the female half of the couple died. Then she follows a lead to a Coptic Christian church where a helpful priest gives her more reason to suspect something foul is afoot at their address—a detailed story about an eccentric, Satan-worshipping millionaire who once lived in the building and who once ate a prostitute's heart in the street. (He even has a Forbes article handy about the guy! Not that it mentions anything about the heart-eating incident.) The priest doesn't live long after his meeting with Rosemary, and she's made aware that he was found hanged. But I guess, jeeze, shit happens. Maybe it's not even that weird to find a closet filled with baby stuff behind an armoire in the bedroom. (Keep in mind she's not pregnant yet.) Set me up with another shot of that tannis root tea! cries Rosemary. This is not the naive, sheltered woman from the original film, so her openness to suggestion doesn't follow.
But the miniseries isn't completely without value. For instance, the scenes that attempt to be scary are pretty fun(ny). At one point when Rosemary enters the apartment, already tense because the door was ajar, she's charged by a man who gallops on all fours like an ape. He's the building's handyman, born without a tongue, but with the ability to walk on two legs—he leaves the apartment a biped, so he only introduced himself that way to give us a scare. Or rather, a laugh. Even better is the scene in which the other candidate for Guy's dream job gores herself with a letter opener during her job interview.
The real horror here is the replacement of the original's old, quirky Minnie Castevet—played by the obviously incomparable Ruth Gordon—with the younger, sexier Margeaux Castevet in the reimagining. She and Rosemary share a lingering kiss or two, and it feels forced, especially given Carole Bouquet's wooden performance. Jason Isaacs makes a decent villain, especially when he wears an earring.
Two exhausting hours in, Rosemary is finally pregnant with the titular baby. Only an entire gestational period to go . . .
Rosemary's Baby, NBC, 8 PM, Sunday