`Grosse' parody of teen-age dramas

Review: The WB may be on to something with a series that pokes fun at the `90210' genre.

September 22, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Grosse Pointe" is one of the few new series of the coming season that has generated any buzz.

While that might have a lot to say about what a sorry crop of new series the networks have produced, there are plenty of things to like about this parody of the teen drama genre from creator Darren Star ("Sex and the City"). As the new fall series go, this is definitely one of the funnier, smarter and more skillfully crafted.

Star, who created both "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place" for Aaron Spelling's production company, pretty much invented the genre as we know it today. So who better to mock it with a cynical, backstage sitcom?

The specific target in "Grosse Pointe" is "Beverly Hills, 90210," which ended its long run in May. Just as Beverly Hills is an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, so is Grosse Pointe an upscale suburb of Detroit. And just as "90210" featured an ensemble cast centered on a brother and sister, so does the fictitious teen drama "Grosse Pointe," the show within the sitcom "Grosse Pointe."

By the standards of most WB sitcoms, the show-within-a-show concept alone is rocket science.

The sitcom follows five young stars and one wannabe buddy of a star as they deal with life as instant celebrities thanks to their roles on the fictitious "Grosse Pointe." All but one are in their early 20s, although they play high school students in the teen drama. Older yet is Quentin King (played by Kolh Sudduth), who portrays a loner-rebel on the sitcom (think Luke Perry playing Dylan McKay on "90210"). King is desperate to keep his already well-receded hairline a secret from his 13-year-old fans.

Tonight, a wheelchair-bound boy suffering from a fatal disease is allowed to visit the set of the teen drama as part of a program that fulfills fantasies for such children and accidentally discovers King's hair problem. The boy uses it to blackmail King and the producers (played by William Ragsdale and Joely Fisher) into giving him a speaking part in the episode.

I suspect some viewers will be offended by that story line, but "Grosse Pointe" is clearly not intended for them.

That is not to say "Grosse Pointe" is mean-spirited. In fact, Star came under fire during the summer press tour in July for not being wicked enough in his satire as it related to the character of Marcy Sternfeld (played by Lindsay Sloan).

Sternfeld is meant to remind viewers of Tori Spelling, the daughter of Aaron Spelling, who sent millions of teen-age viewers of "90210" to the dictionary to look up the word "nepotism" when she joined the cast.

The script and some early scenes shot for the pilot depicted Marcy as a desperate, no-talent wreck. They were softened to offer a more flattering depiction of Marcy after Aaron Spelling invited Star over to his mansion to meet with him and Tori.

"It's not my intention to go out and hurt anybody's feelings," Star said at the press conference in answer to questions about the meeting.

"Obviously, Aaron Spelling and Tori Spelling were upset, and they are people who I have great relationships with. And what we are talking about is such a small part of the show that it wasn't something that was a great concern for me to change if it meant making them feel better. So, that's sort of what we did."

It does make you wonder, though, if Star would find a child in a wheelchair with a fatal disease funny if one of Aaron Spelling's kids was so afflicted.

Satire for mass-audience, mainstream television is a tricky business. For it to work at all it has to have teeth. But, if it bites too hard, we are quick to seize the high ground and moralize against it. How well Star walks that tightrope will ultimately determine whether the series is a hit or a miss.

From "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to "The Larry Sanders Show," baby boomers have been treated to 30 years of television shows mocking television shows. "Grosse Pointe" is closer in its sex and cynicism to Sanders than it is to Moore, as it brings that tradition to another generation - one that came of age with "Beverly Hills, 90210" and is now old enough to laugh about it.

Tonight's TV

What "Grosse Pointe."

When 8:30 tonight.

Where WNUV (Channel 54).

In brief Savvy satire of teen soap opera from Darren Star.

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