Grosse Pointe is the name of both the show and the show-within-a-show, a low-rent 90210 knock-off on the WB that's constantly hovering around the lower rungs of the Nielsen ratings. Show-runner Rob Fields (William Ragsdale) not only has to throw together the scripts for each episode -- someone's gotta write the clunky dialogue, thinly veiled excuses for catfights, and figuring out who's banging who this week -- but struggle with network politics and the egos of his clean-scrubbed cast. Hunter Fallow (Irene Malloy) plays the squeaky-clean slice of apple pie next door but is a conniving, manipulative bitch off-screen. Her character's dating Stone Anders, a misunderstood rebel with a voice two octaves too low, a high schooler played by just-about-thirtysomething actor Quentin King (Kohl Sudduth). When he's not nailing extras or tanning outside his trailer, former underwear model-slash-dimwitted lech Johnny Bishop (Al Santos) does the whole network-TV-friendly heartthrob thing. Johnny's smitten with Courtney Scott (Bonnie Summerville), the busty new girl to Hollywood who's too naive and idealistic for the world of teensploitation. Neurotic, insecure Marcy Sternfeld (Lindsay Sloane) is Johnny's on-screen girlfriend but can't get the time of day from him when the cameras aren't rolling. The rest of the not-a-show-within-a-show's cast includes Dave (Kyle Howard), who's tossed a token gig as Johnny's stand-in in the hopes of eventually landing a real role, and awkward, underappreciated P.A. Kevin (Nat Faxon).
I started scribbling down a long list of reasons I love Grosse Pointe: an endearing cast who can take mostly narcissistic, self-serving characters and make them seem surprisingly likeable without being cloying or manipulative, the hysterical jabs at teen soaps from the show-within-a-show, unrelentingly poking fun at the WB in the same way The Simpsons ribbed Fox, and how deftly the romantic subplots were woven into the series, never feeling too soapy or becoming a Studio 60-grade distraction. It's just that the best thing about Grosse Pointe is its razor-sharp dialogue, and it's the type of show that needs to be quoted more than it needs to be reviewed.
Picture the Grosse Pointe equivalent of Shannon Doherty flipping out that they're writing in a fling between her on-screen boyfriend and a naive ingenue, so she smacks the balding, thirty year old actor playing her high school-aged sweetheart in the face with a basketball and spreads the word that the thing on his lip is his herpes flaring up.
"You know, you're not very pretty when you're desperate, Hunter."...or this promotional stunt the network engineers:
"This 'Kim in a coma' thing -- it's amazing! I mean, it is testing through the roof. Everyone at the network love, love, loves it."And how did it go?
"Did you see the numbers from last night? The 'Kim dies' episode was the highest rated show ever, and I mean ever!"My favorite line from the show comes from an episode where Hunter is up for a part in an Oliver Stone flick about Monica Lewinsky (arrestingly titled Lewinsky). To prove she'd be willing to gain 40 lbs. for the role, Hunter decides to pork up for the screen test, wolfing down platefuls of chili fries and barrel drums of chocolate shakes. She quickly becomes sweet and cheerful, a side of her the cast and crew of Grosse Pointe had never seen, prompting producer Hope Lustig to quip "Huh. All this time, I thought Hunter was a bitch. Turns out she was just hungry."
A few other stand-outs have a poop-tainted romance with Kristin Davis, Hunter filing a restraining order against her on-screen boyfriend, and the WB shoving stuntcasting down the throat of the show's producer and (kinda) winding up with a sapphic stint by Sarah Michelle Gellar. A list of all of my favorites would read like an episode guide, so I'll spare you that.
I was kinda crushed when the WB pulled the rug out from under Grosse Pointe, but even though the show didn't get the kind of shot on TV that it deserved, a DVD set with at least a few extras is a decent consolation prize. I have no idea if I'm doing the show any justice with this review, but it's great. Promise.
Video: Grosse Pointe looks alright on DVD, if not as spiffed-up as the "remastered in high definition" tag on the flipside of the box had me expecting. The pilot looks noticeably rougher than the other sixteen episodes, as if the producers had grabbed an armful of the noisy, low contrast 16mm stock Buffy was using in its first couple of seasons to pitch Grosse Point to the network. The rest of the set has slightly punchier colors and is a bit crisper and clearer. It's not eye-popping or anything -- the show still has a lower budget, grainy, slightly soft look to it -- but it's fine. All seventeen episodes are presented as they originally aired at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Audio: Encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is maybe a marginal step or two up from broadcast quality. "Sounds okay" pretty much covers it. No dubs in other languages. No subtitles. Closed captioned.
Supplements: Creator/producer/high sheriff Darren Star gabs over four of the episodes on this DVD set, joined in three of 'em by executive producer/writer Robin Schiff. Star goes it alone on the pilot, delving into his experiences on 90210 that inspired the show and pointing out what changed from script to screen. Star and Schiff comment on which plot points from the other episodes with commentary -- "Devil in a Blue Dress", "Satisfaction", and "Secrets and Lies" -- were lifted from their lives and the sets of other shows they've worked on, from a years-delayed first orgasm, craft service-raiding producers, the discomfort in telling an actress to drop a few pounds, and Jewish actors sweeping their faith under the rug. Both Star and Schiff frequently fall into the trap of watching these episodes instead of talking about 'em, and it's kind of a drag that they couldn't dig up one or two other people involved with the show just to keep the discussion flowing a little better. There are a lot of neat notes, though, such as an unintended, less-than-hetero crush that Television without Pity picked up on and was written into the show, dealing with notes from the network, and Star's surprise at how much he got away with on Grosse Point.
Darren Star also chimes in with a 22 minute interview. Along with some of the same background details from the pilot commentary, Star chats about having wanted to bring in a slew of 90210 folks to be in on the joke, runs through each character and actor (or, um, the actor playing the character of an actor who plays another character entirely), points out some of his favorite episodes, and comments on the show's premature cancellation.
Although there isn't a chapter selection menu for each episode, they've all been chopped up into a couple chapters a piece in case you want to skip around. For whatever reason, the full "Sex Bomb" intro is only used on the first episode of each disc. The stickler in me wishes Sony had popped it onto every episode, but then again, I'd have just skipped past it if they had, making it a kinda pointless gripe. The two disc set comes packaged in a pair of transparent slimline cases with plot summaries occasionally confusing Marcy and Hunter on the back.
Conclusion: Brilliant but cancelled, if you missed Grosse Pointe durings its painfully brief run on the WB (and judging by the ratings, you probably did), it's worth discovering on DVD. Great show. At least a few extras to up the value a bit. Highly Recommended.