When you get a chance to do a ride-along with Cicely Tyson, you should jump at it. That opportunity comes Saturday via Lifetime's deeply affecting film adaptation of "The Trip to Bountiful."

The irrepressible Tyson won a Tony Award for her work in the recent Broadway revival of Horton Foote's beloved play. Now she has put the performance on film for all to enjoy, and don't be surprised if there's an Emmy somewhere with her name on it.

In "The Trip to Bountiful," Tyson plays Carrie Watts, an elderly widow who begrudgingly shares a cramped Houston apartment with her overprotective son, Ludie (Blair Underwood), and his obnoxious, self-centered wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams, also reprising her Broadway role). The women engage in constant turf wars and verbal spats, with Ludie caught in the middle.

LIFETIME CHANNELBlair Underwood and Cicely Tyson star in "The Trip to Bountiful," premiereing Saturday on the Lifetime Channel.
LIFETIME CHANNEL Blair Underwood and Cicely Tyson star in "The Trip to Bountiful," premiereing Saturday on the Lifetime Channel. ( Bob Mahoney )

For Carrie, this place has become a soulless prison. She yearns to make a road trip to her long-lost rural hometown of Bountiful, where she can regain some "peace and dignity" before she dies. Only, she can't drive, and Ludie forbids her to travel alone.

With her frustrations mounting, a proud and defiant Carrie hatches an escape plan that takes her to the local bus station. There, she befriends a young military wife named Thelma (Keke Palmer), who becomes enamored with the old lady's relentless, hymn-humming gumption. Thelma eventually helps Carrie find her way to a town that no longer resembles the one sealed in her memory.


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This Lifetime production represents a TV homecoming of sorts for "Bountiful." Foote originally wrote it for NBC in 1953, and the story made its Broadway debut the following year. In 1985, it became a big-screen film starring Geraldine Page, who won an Oscar for best actress. The 2013 Broadway revival garnered four Tony nominations, including the best actress honor for Tyson.

"Bountiful" is a simple narrative journey that avoids hairpin plot turns and has no need for speed. Instead, it's all about mood and contemplation and the human spirit. This lack of "wow" factor places added pressure on its lead star to hold our attention, and Tyson absolutely does.

She emanates a lived-in wisdom, while finding layers of poignancy, humor and nuance in every moment. And, oh, those eloquent eyes! Capable of conveying so much just on their own, they simply light up the screen.

"Bountiful" is yet another reminder that we can't take our elders for granted, and one more testament to the national-treasure status of Cicely Tyson. It all adds up to a trip that's well worth taking.

SUITING UP: On a more positive note, Thursday also brings a fresh episode of "Suits" (9 p.m., USA), which finally returns from a six-month hiatus. "Suits" centers on a top-tier Manhattan law firm led by hotshot lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), who has been hiding the fact that his main associate, Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), never went to law school.

When the midseason finale left off, fellow lawyer Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) was inching closer to discovering the truth about Mike. During the recent TV critics press tour, "Suits" creator Aaron Korsh said Thursday's episode, which includes a cameo by swim star Michael Phelps, will address the potentially show-altering threat.

"Harvey and Mike made the decision to bring a fraud into the law firm. It will take a couple of episodes to get through (it), and it will have ramifications," he hinted.

"Suits," by the way, has already been renewed for a fourth season.

THE FORCE IS WITH NETFLIX: "Star Wars" nerds, rejoice. The final season of "The Clone Wars" makes its exclusive debut on the streaming service Friday, and judging from the preview episodes made available to us, they're a real blast.

In addition to the 13 final episodes that never aired on Cartoon network (dubbed "The Lost Missions"), the previous five seasons of "Clone Wars" will be available on Netflix. Also in the package is the "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" feature film.

These offerings represent the first "Star Wars" content to be made available on Netflix.

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.

'The trip to bountiful'

* * * ½

When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lifetime