King Fans Will Find `Tommyknockers' Tantalizing

"The Tommyknockers," ABC miniseries, 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Channel 4. ------------------------------------------------------------------- One of the neat things about being Stephen King, in addition to all that money he gets, is never having to be bound by the laws of logic. For some reason, King can do anything he wants in his scare-fi (as opposed to sci-fi) novels and his fans never complain that none of it makes any sense, that it defies any reason.

He's at it again in "The Tommyknockers," which has been turned into a two-part, four-hour TV movie.

Like many of King's stories, it is set in one of those fictional New England villages where everyone knows everyone (and everyone else's business), the kind of place where you feel the leaves turn color in the fall on cue. In short, from the opening bucolic scenes, in fictional Haven, Maine, you know you're in King country (even though the film was shot in New Zealand) - especially when one of the leading characters, while running through the woods in what appears to be a dream sequence, meets a pretty girl who glows green and has especially penetrating eyes.

Once we've been tantalized with that scene, however, King (and scripter Lawrence Cohen) concentrate on introducing an interesting mix of local characters.

First there's Bobbi Anderson, who writes children's books (although she's temporarily experiencing writer's block), lives in a big rambling house at the edge of a dark and mysterious wood, has a big, lovable shaggy dog and a big, lovable boyfriend, Gard, who is a poet as well as an alcoholic.

Then there's Joe, the local postman, who is having a hot affair with Nancy, the local postmistress - accurate description! - while Joe's wife, Becka, spends her evenings alone watching TV game shows and her days assisting the local sheriff, Ruth. Bryant runs the local cafe, has two children and a wife and must put up with his wife's aging father, who believes in magic.

The casting is nicely off-beat and eclectic. Marg Helgenberger is appealing as Bobbi and Jimmy Smits gives his best performance to date as Gard, the poet with a penchant for the bottle. Cliff DeYoung is the postman captivated by Nancy, played almost over the edge by Traci Lords, while Allyce Beasley ("Moonlighting") is wonderful as Becka, his neglected wife (who gives new meaning to the concept of "interactive TV"). Joanna Cassidy is a delight as always as the sheriff, and Robert Carradine is properly harried as the cafe owner and E. G. Marshall is on target as the old man who tells his grandson that only children and old people believe in magic.

And while the milieu and the characters are getting established, King never misses a chance to insert a tiny unsettling sign, just a hint, that all is not quite right.

Ruth is showing off her doll collection to school children and suddenly one of the dolls speaks to one of the children. And what to make of Bobbi's dog, usually so friendly, now taking to snarling at people?

Things really come to a head when one of Bryant's sons, in a birthday- party magic exhibition, makes his brother disappear - and can't bring him back! By this time we already know Bobbi has discovered a buried something-or-other in the woods that emits a green glow and which puts Bobbi in a state of euphoria and allows her to do things like fix the hot water heater and invent a book-writing machine.

Soon everyone in Haven begins to have sunken eyes, trouble with their teeth and start inventing strange machines they hope will make them rich. Meanwhile, Bobbi keeps digging to see if she can find the rest of whatever it is that's buried in the woods until she has unearthed what looks like a badly-designed plaza, with sculptures, for a nonexistent building.

It's also about here that King throws caution and sense to the winds and just goes berserk. By the end of the story he obviously (and correctly) believes that anyone still with him has long given up trying to make any sense of it all and will just let it happen - which it does, in flamboyant detail. And it's only later, like when you're trying to describe what happened, that you begin to realize there are big gaps in King's story, that almost nothing makes sense nor is there any point to any of it.

At one point, I thought possibly King was trying to do a parable about how the world came to believe nuclear power was the savior of the modern age, only to be greatly disillusioned, but I think that's giving him too much credit. It's just mindless nonsense so "The Tommyknockers" is recommended only to dyed-in-the-wool King fans. Other viewers would be wise to turn elsewhere. ------------------------------------------------------------------- MOTHER'S DAY FEATURE

"Labor of Love: The Arlette Schweitzer Story," "CBS Sunday Movie," 9 p.m., Channel 7. ------------------------------------------------------------------- CBS clearly believes this is the perfect Mother's Day movie, dealing as it does with the first woman in the U.S. to bear her daughter's children through the process of in vitro fertilization.

Yes, we're back in docudrama country here with Ann Julian playing Arlette Schweitzer, the South Dakota woman who, when she discovered her daughter was physically incapable of delivering children, volunteered to carry her daughter's child to term.

Susan Baskin did her best to try to create a script out of this that would hold everyone's attention, even those not particularly interested in the technical aspects of this problem. So we get a lot of domestic fluff that's extraneous, including scenes with Arlette's flaky sister, played by Diana Scarwid, while Frances Sternhagen is very funny as Arlette's mother who doesn't believe what she's hearing most of the time. Bill Smitrovich plays Arlette's husband and Tracey Gold portrays Arlette's daughter.

Under Jerry London's direction, everyone overacts a little too much and eventually even Jillian's upbeat take on Arlette gets a bit hard to handle. This is one of those two-hour TV movies that would have been better as an hour-long documentary with the real people. ------------------------------------------------------------------- YOU'LL LIKE THIS `DOCTOR'

"Doctor Finlay," PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre," 9 p.m. Sunday, Channel 9. ------------------------------------------------------------------- A.J. Cronin, author perhaps best known for medical novels like "The Citadel" and "Keys of the Kingdom," is the creator of the characters in "Doctor Finlay," a new six-part series set in a small Scottish village immediately following the end of World War II.

Several authors wrote the scripts, which were influenced by "Doctor Finlay's Casebook," a series that racked up more than 200 episodes in the 1960s.

This new series, based on characters Cronin created for the earlier series, is in the best British tradition and "Doctor Finlay," a Scottish TV production, is rich in characters and local color. (American viewers may be bemused by the series' on-going argument over the creation of Britain's socialized medicine program that began after the war.)

David Rintoul is outstanding as Dr. Finlay, the stern young hero/doctor who has survived the war and who returns to the village of Tannochbrae to find that Dr. Cameron, with whom he had a practice before World War II, wants to retire and has imported a brash young newcomer, Dr. Neil.

Ian Bannen is perfect as the older doctor and Jason Flemyng just right as the younger doctor. And since we're talking about the yesterdays when doctors made house calls, it was also a time when a devoted housekeeper was an essential part of life and here she's played by the wonderful Annette Crosbie.

Cronin's Tannochbrae may be no more realistic, by today's standards, than is Stephen King's Haven - but the former is a whole lot more entertaining.