TV Reviews: Blondes? Not so fun

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'so noTORIous'
When: 10 tonight, VH1.
Starring: Tori Spelling.
'Pepper Dennis'
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, The WB.
Starring: Rebecca Romijin.    

Talk about the blond leading the bland. Both VH1's "so noTORIous" and The WB's "Pepper Dennis" cast beautiful, fair-haired actresses in leading roles, but neither series demands a second viewing.

"Pepper" (9 p.m. Tuesday, WCWB), created by Franklin Park native Gretchen Berg and writing partner Aaron Harberts, begins with a scene that would be funnier if viewers didn't already know (from previews, reviews, etc.) that Pepper (Rebecca Romijin) is a TV news reporter.

The opening scene plays like a cop stakeout with Pepper charging after a woman in curlers who's fetching her morning paper. "Are you aware it's illegal to operate a day-care center without a permit?" she says, sticking a mike in the woman's face for a "gotcha"-style local news report.

Pepper is a bit of a split personality. One minute she's a calculating news reporter striving to earn her way to an anchor desk job. The next, she's falling in puddles, crashing into tables and running into glass windows (and that's just in the pilot). She's a more ambitious (and less vulnerable) Ally McBeal ? a professional woman who's more lucky in her career than in love.

These two aspects of her personality don't sit well together, particularly not in the form of Romijin, who's too cold and aloof to play the lead in a show that sometimes wants to be a romantic comedy.

Pepper pulls a Meredith Grey and sleeps with a man who turns out to be her station's new anchor, Charlie Babcock (Josh Hopkins). He gets the job she wanted, but she's still attracted to him. Sparks fly when they're on the air together; then she drops an f-bomb on live TV.

Much better than Romijin, who is not a natural comedian, is Brooke Burns ("North Shore") as Pepper's conservative sister, Kathy. Believably naive, former blonde Burns steals every scene she's in from Romijin, which turns out to be a lot once she gets a job as WEIE's receptionist.

"Pepper" is easily the better blonde show, but it's only because brunette Burns makes some scenes worthwhile.

'so noTORIous'

Originally shot as a pilot for NBC last spring (the peacock network passed), Tori Spelling plays a slightly fictionalized version of herself in the years after "Beverly Hills, 90210."

The challenges of fictionalizing a real person are numerous: "so noTORIous" (10 tonight, VH1) often feels like a campaign to make over Spelling's image. She may be the daughter of a multimillionaire, the show tells us, but she's misunderstood and just wants a normal guy to love her. And maybe that's true, but VH1's series can't help but feel a little too much like a public relations gambit.

Additionally, creators Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler may be hewing a little too closely to Spelling's real life. She may really have a gay Iranian-Muslim best friend, a girlfriend and a horndog guy friend who's her roommate, but in the show, only the gay friend makes an impression. The other two are extraneous.

The biggest problem with "so noTORIous" is that the laughs, when they come, are few and far between (and if you don't follow Hollywood gossip, you'll laugh even less). When there's nothing to make you laugh, the show is oddly still, which may be a byproduct of poor pacing.

In the manic first episode, Tori throws a party, gay friend Sasan (Zachary Quinto) comes out to his parents, and Farrah Fawcett stops by to borrow a potato.

Tori also visits her family's mansion where her brittle, withholding mother (Loni Anderson) doesn't listen to Tori, which could lead to some awkwardness the next time there's a Spelling family dinner. Her father, Aaron, is not portrayed but is heard over a speaker offering her work. "There's always room for another witch on 'Charmed,' " says a voice actor playing the eldest Spelling.

A spoof on Scientology in tonight's second episode (10:30 p.m.) is toothless and just contributes to the impression that "so noTORIous" is a humdrum show punctuated by a few funny moments.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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