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The role that suits her best

TELEVISION REVIEW

March 31, 2006|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

I don't know Tori Spelling, or even that much about Tori Spelling, beyond what I read in the tabloids, and in the chat rooms, and the fan club newsletter. I haven't even seen her act that much, except for when I used to religiously watch "Beverly Hills, 90210" in reruns every afternoon for a while -- I was in some sort of crisis, I guess -- although there are some who might say that even having seen Tori Spelling act, you haven't seen her act that much.

And yet, as little as I know about Tori Spelling, I like her. There is something deeply likable about her, which is oddly inseparable from the fact that she's been immensely over-privileged -- because for all her advantages, she is not ... beautiful. Oh, she has the usual number of eyes and ears, mouth and nose in the usual places. But she is not the hot patootie that her enormous wealth and public profile demand she ought to be -- that is, Paris Hilton -- or to quash the widespread impression that her career has been entirely based on nepotism. One feels, against all logic, sorry for her.

That is the ball that "So NoTORIous" picks up, and runs with, and scores. Premiering Sunday night on VH1, this bright new sitcom stars Spelling as herself, hauling all that baggage around. And while this sort of thing has been done before -- "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on the high end of Hollywood self-referentiality, and the nasty, brutish and short-lived "Fat Actress" with Kirstie Alley on the low -- it has been done here exceedingly well. (As Hollywood fables go, it beats "Entourage" as well.)

This is more than just being a "good sport." It's taking everything that's been tossed at you and making it yours. Spelling was already parodied on TV, as the reputed model for a character on Darren Star's funny but unsuccessful "Grosse Pointe" several years ago; now she's lampooning herself and leaving no stone unthrown.

"I live off my own money," she insists to her friends, adding quickly, "that I earned from being on my daddy's TV show." She frets that if she's seen going to the bathroom in a restaurant, it will be assumed she's on her way to throw up. ("Nobody thinks you have an eating disorder," says a friend. "They just think your head weighs more than the rest of your body.") And her old nanny (Cleo King) refuses to believe that her breasts are real. "These are mine," says Spelling, to which King answers sagely, "That's right -- you pay for something, it's yours."

Spelling's post-"90210" career, which has largely played out in cable TV movies, is also acknowledged as she goes into a new Lifetime-style film in which she plays "a plucky melanoma survivor who solves crimes while battling hypoglycemia and sex addiction." No one at the studio thinks to provide her with a parking pass. She even needs to show ID when she visits her parents' famously sprawling estate.

Father Aaron Spelling is represented Charlie-like only as a voice on a speakerphone (he calls Tori "Angel"), and is continually offering her work. ("There's always room for another witch on 'Charmed.' ") Her mother is played by Loni Anderson, who has taken on the hard, plastic sheen of a Barbie doll, as a woman in a world of her own, wrapping gifts for therapy (in her gift-wrapping room) and selling off Tori's childhood possessions on EBay (in her EBay auction room).

Her friends are her old friends, so they are her real friends. James Carpinello is her slacker roommate, Brennan Hesser her intense best friend, and Zachary Quinto her other best friend. (He's "gay, Iranian and Muslim -- all my identities hate each other.") They are all excellent. Farrah Fawcett and Tori's own pug play themselves, convincingly.

Like a lot of children who are groomed by a successful parent for a certain thing, Spelling spent some time traveling down the wrong road. She is a comedian, not a starlet, and if she is made for no other comedies than this one, she has landed for now in the exact right place. Little Tori, happy at last.

*

`So NoTORIous'

Where: VH1

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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