Interviewer: What’s the best thing about being a Spelling?
Tori Spelling: Free bowling.
—Cast interviews, So NoTORIous
So NoTORIous, now available on DVD, asserts that Tori Spelling—daughter of Aaron Spelling, former star of Beverly Hills 90210, and tabloid princess—is just like you and me. “Her flaws make her fabulous,” says one costar. “I didn’t realize she was such a gentle woman,” says another. Notorious producers Mike Chessler and Chris Alberghini sum up Tori’s appeal: “She’s got a great sense of humor.”
True enough. But, try as they might to convince us otherwise, Tori Spelling is anything but normal. In So NoTORIous, Tori plays a fictionalized version of herself, struggling to be taken seriously as an actress while coming to terms with her celebrity. She loves her Nanny (played by Cleo King), her friends (Zachary Quinto as Sas, Brennan Hesser as Janey, and James Carpinello as Pete), and even her deluded mother, Kiki (Loni Anderson), who lives alone in the Spelling mansion with an eBay addiction and about 4,000 antique dolls.
By parodying herself—her oversized head, odd-shaped breasts, and bizarre childhood at the Spelling mansion—Tori promotes her own self-awareness and, yes, that great sense of humor. But even as Tori might “struggle” to find work, battle misconceptions, and fail miserably at finding her Mr. Right, but she’s still Tori Spelling with the tu-tu-wearing pug and $1,000 bags.
The jokes include images of Tori’s childhood, framed as flashbacks. Six-year-old Tori is dragged to “little people” stores so Kiki can find just the right pumps for her first Emmy appearance; she’s forced to sleep in a room with the dolls peering down at her with their dead doll eyes; and she’s left with an ugly girl complex after a Charlie’s Angels producer nixes her for the role of young Farrah in favor of a “prettier girl”. But you never feel sorry for her, despite such traumas. We tend to imagine our own childhoods would have been more tolerable in the company of Luke Perry and all those bathrooms. While we gain a sense of what Tori’s “been through” with all of this, it’s related to us humorously with the glamour and the sparkles left in.
The extra features, oddly enough, are much greater endorsements of Tori’s smarts than her scripted show. During the interviews section and the episode commentaries, Spelling is even more self-deprecating than her TV equivalent, and exhibits a sly wit the show barely evinces. In discussing the show’s advertising campaign during “Behind the Scenes,” Tori says she requested the eyes only billboard shots: “I couldn’t imagine my entire face up on a huge billboard. That would be frightening.” She discusses living next door to Farrah with the admiration and sarcasm of someone who understands the experience as equally cool and weird. And, in the commentary for the third episode, titled “Street”, Tori hints at some backstage shenanigans that suggest we’ll never quite see the “real” Tori. Turns out that Spelling is so in control of her image and herself to know what will impress on screen and what’s best to keep to herself. It’s warts and all, but selected warts, the laughable ones.
Spelling also appears to know that, try as she might to build a serious acting career, her legend is overwhelming. “It took me years to [get to this] place, years of people laughing at me, the remarks, the tabloids, the snickers from people. It took me years to come to a place where it all of a sudden just switched in my head.” The switch meant she finally gave up trying to prove she wasn’t so horrible as the tabloids wrote. She says she realized just why her career was stalling: no one, she admits, could believe Tori Spelling as the Mary Tyler Moore figure she played in sitcom pilots and TV movies. “People could see that you are struggling,” she says, “and see that it was funny, and that you’re funny. But they can’t get past you being Tori Spelling. I thought if they can’t get past that then I won’t get past that. Let’s just put me up there.”
It makes sense. So NoTORIous was part of a trend in comebacks sand confessions. Entourage, for example, makes cool people out of buttheads way more egocentric than Ms Spelling; Kirstie Alley’s Fat Actress exploited her life a tubby washout. Other series—The Comeback, Extras, and Curb Your Enthusiasm—found humor in exploiting the frailties of the creative and privileged. Just as Spelling has been washed up long enough to be cool again, generic sitcoms are just passé enough to be laughed at, too. Tori shouts at a Scientologist-type boyfriend who wants her to cleanse herself and “find her place,” “I don’t need to be relevant, I’m Tori Spelling!” But the joke’s on her—at this point in time, she couldn’t be more relevant.
The surprise is that the show didn’t draw viewers. This is disappointing. So NoTORIous is not just the Tori-is-normal show, it’s also an insightful look at how tabloid fodder types like Spelling go about their lives, despite the lies and the photos and the vitriol. And, really, who would have thought Tori Spelling, of all people, was as funny, perceptive, and interesting? This Tori is a performance. The real Tori is clearly is much cooler. Don’t you just hate her?