In the early '90s producers Aaron Spelling and Darren Star were the Obi-Wan and Luke of empty-calorie entertainment. They teamed on the teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210 and its spin-off Melrose Place, Spelling lending young Star his powerful name and expertise, Star supplying fresh ideas to the eminence glitz who gave us Dynasty and The Love Boat.
But like Adam Carrington on Dynasty, Star went prodigal. He struck out on his own, becoming a critical hit with Sex and the City, which classed up the Spelling formula: lusty stories of beautiful people--this time with brains. Now, in true soap-opera fashion, he has returned with a new series (cue ominous music) that has shaken the Spelling empire to its very foundations!
Grosse Pointe (the WB, Fridays starting Sept. 22, 8:30 p.m. E.T.) is a sitcom a clef: a behind-the-scenes satire of a teen soap that more than slightly resembles 90210. The pilot spares no one: not Star, whose clone on Pointe is a smarmy phony; not Shannen Doherty, whose reign of terror on the 90210 set is replicated eerily by Hunter Fallow (Irene Molloy). Nicely cast and smartly paced, it's a sassy, catty riot.
And you will never see it. At least, not exactly as Star meant you to. For the original pilot was also unsparing of 90210 star Tori Spelling, Aaron's daughter. Her pitch-perfect analogue is Marcy Sternfeld (Lindsay Sloane), a dramatically challenged actress who's had career help from various surgical upgrades and a big-shot "uncle" in the TV biz. The pilot wounded Tori's dad--who just happens to produce the WB's top-rated series, 7th Heaven--and the network sent Star back to the drawing board to make nice.
The changes--in a few, but crucial scenes--don't spare Tori so much as Daddy. Gone from the pilot is Marcy's uncle--and along with him, a layer of show-biz complexity and tension. But remaining is Sloane's Marcy/Tori, a brilliant comic creation down to her slightest tic, squeak and emotion-punctuating chest thrust. Marcy is really Pointe's most likable character, a good-hearted dim bulb made a nervous wreck by gossip and the stress of looking impossibly good. (A bulimia scene, also cut, was a cruel but apt picture of the flip side of TV's hot-body worship.) Star's using his past for laughs, yes, but not without heart.
Coincidentally, Spelling too is revisiting his past, but much differently, with NBC's Titans (Wednesdays starting Oct. 4, 8 p.m. E.T.), a Robin Leach-y soap apparently sealed in a Beverly Hills time capsule circa 1985. Richard Williams (Perry King), the aging lion of conglomerate Williams Global Enterprises, is taking a hot new wife (Baywatch's Yasmine Bleeth) who has designs on his dough--and a secret romantic history with his son (a constipated-seeming Casper Van Dien), a hotshot pilot newly returned from the Navy. Family chaos, and frequent barings of skin, ensues.