To appreciate The WB's splendid satire "Grosse Pointe," it helps to have at least some appreciation for bad television, particularly high school teen dramas.
Oh, who am I kidding. This isn't a spoof of a generic high school teen drama, it's a complete rip on "Beverly Hills, 90210" from the guy (Darren Star) who created "90210" and trading on the images and public personas of the "90210" cast. As such, "Grosse Pointe" is wicked fun.
Tonight's premiere episode (8:30 p.m. on WCWB) begins with a scene from the show within the show, also called "Grosse Pointe." In it, young lovebirds speed down the road drinking beer while discussing the teen-age girl's unplanned pregnancy.
"God Stone, how are you going to handle a baby when you couldn't even handle the 11th grade," Becky Thompson whines.
"I will handle it," Stone replies, sternly, "because I love you, man."
The Luke Perry-esque delivery is pitch perfect, as is the incongruous but affectionate "man" at the end. (Perry, you'll recall, played bad boy Dylan McKay on "90210.")
It's not just scenes from the fictional TV show "Grosse Pointe" that bring laughs, the behind-the-scenes stuff is just as funny. The actress who plays Becky, Hunter (played by real actress Irene Molloy), is the behind-the-scenes manipulative rhymes-with-witch (a k a the Shannen Doherty character).
Hunter pits nice-insecure Marcy (Lindsay Sloane, playing the Tori Spelling role) against new girl Courtney (Bonnie Somerville, playing someone too sincere to be based on anyone real).
With all these layers of reality and an inside look at Hollywood, "Grosse Pointe" is bound to be compared to last season's Fox flop "Action." Whereas "Action" was overly profane and operated solely as a spoof of the film industry, there's enough soap-style machinations to set "Grosse Pointe" apart. The movie "Soapdish" is probably a more apt comparison.
Just as Becky and Stone have an up-and-down relationship on the teen TV drama, there are all sorts of love triangles happening on the other side of the camera, too. Johnny (Al Santos) lusts after Courtney, while the actor who plays Johnny's dad on the TV show has the hots for his TV son.
Johnny also has a Kato Kaelin-like buddy, Dave the stand-in (Kyle Howard). Johnny and Dave studied acting together and made a pact to help each other land acting jobs. But Dave, reduced to scoring pot for Johnny, doesn't feel well compensated. Here's the back and forth in their discussion. I think you'll agree, they're a perfect pair:
"Dude, I did get you a job," Johnny says defensively.
"Dude, being a stand-in is not acting," counters Dave.
"Dude, I'm not the producer," Johnny says.
"Dude, you have pull. Come on, you are the star," Dave replies.
Dude, this is one seriously funny show.
"Grosse Pointe" premieres tonight at 8:30 on The WB.
"Sabrina, The Teenage Witch"
(8 p.m. on WCWB)
Just before "Grosse Pointe," "Sabrina" makes its debut on The WB, and the teen-age witch is in fine form. Contrary to the fears of some, Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) has not mutated into a nymphomaniac now that her show has moved to the "Dawson's Creek" network.
But she is stretching her wings, moving into an unconventional dorm after getting over her breakup with Harvey. At the dorm she meets her cynical roommate, Roxie (Soleil Moon Frye).
"You seem very nice," Roxie says. "I have no room in my life for people like that."
But there's still a welcome place for "Sabrina" on TV.
(9 p.m. today on WCWB)
The WB's comedy-drama "Popular" is always better as comedy than drama. Unfortunately, it starts the season in drama mode with a downer episode.
Coming after May's pull-out-all-the-stops cliffhanger with a wedding, pregnancy scare and sweeps stunts galore, this resolution is extremely disappointing.
I'm sure the producers thought the only way they could service the characters honestly was to show consequences of the season finale, but that's taking the show and its characters more seriously than they deserve.
Brooke (Leslie Bibb) and Sam (Carly Pope) find their newly-formed family fractured when Brooke's dad and Sam's mom go their separate ways after Brooke's long-gone mother (Peggy Lipton) returns to town.
Interspersed with these scenes of boring angst, there are a few funny moments, including the return of Miss Glass (Diane Delano), thought to be dead, but now back to torture her students yet again.
Evil cheerleader Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels) still gets the best lines, as in this exchange:
Nicole: "Hey Spam, I thought we were having tuna for lunch, but it's just you wafting through the halls again."
Sam: "Hey Satan. Nice implants."
It's that kind of lightning quick dialogue that makes "Popular" fun entertainment, not the heartfelt feelings of its characters.
(11:30 a.m. tomorrow on WPXI)
While we're on the topic of teen shows, it's worth noting the premiere of NBC's first Saturday morning single-camera series (think: "Malcolm in the Middle"-style filming).
This well-made dramedy for pre-teens benefits from a racially diverse cast as it tells the story of three high school students from different walks of life.
Dylan (Brian Skala) is a good athlete, but a lousy student, whose grades almost got him held back a grade. His best friend, Jermaine (Shedrack Anderson III), has brains, but not athletic skills. Ashley (Erika Thormahlen) enrolls in the school after the death of her father forced her mom to relocate for a job.
In tomorrow's premiere a sweet bond begins to develop when Ashley successfully tutors Dylan for a test. The show's title comes from a line Ashley has in a conversation with Dylan: "We all have stuff to deal with, so just deal."
So far, they're dealing pretty well. One character sacrifices his chance to play team sports so he can devote more time to his studies. That may not be entirely realistic, but it's not a bad example to set for kids watching Saturday morning TV.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.