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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » So NoTORIous - The Complete Series
So NoTORIous - The Complete Series
Paramount // Unrated // November 21, 2006
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted November 14, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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THE SHOW:

One of the traits I most admire in people is an ability to laugh at themselves. None of us are such big deals that we can't have a good giggle at our own expense. I'm also a bid fan of metafiction, material that obscures the distinction between the text and the environment it was created in. So, I was definitely inclined to like So NoTORIous, a basic cable sitcom that fudges fact and fiction to create a wickedly amusing show about the life of Tori Spelling.

I watched Beverly Hills 90210 until the bitter end, and though Tori's character, the virginal Donna Martin, was an integral component of the series' construction, no one would have really expected her to go on from that and do anything of interest. In a flash of self-awareness, this is the perception Tori has put at the center of this program. On So NoTORIous, Tori Spelling plays Tori Spelling, a television actress struggling to beat the rap of her famous family, her role on a famous television show, and the innumerable rumors and tabloid stories about her. This could have been a rather by-the-numbers exercise, but instead, Spelling and her production team, Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler (the guys behind "Reba" and "Whoopi"), have decided to go no-holds-barred. Nothing is off limits, no cows are sacred, everything is fodder for Tori Spelling's self-inflicted lampooning.

The result is a mix of Entourage and Lisa Kudrow's uncomfortably funny The Comeback. The series is built around Tori and her immediate circle of pals: the gay best friend Sasan (Zachary Quinto, "24"), the acid-tongued Janey (Brennan Hesser), and Tori's horndog roommate, Pete (James Carpinello, The Great Raid). This mix of personalities kicks off individual problems (Sasan's obsession with Tori's mother, Pete's trashy girlfriend taking over the apartment, Janey's participation in a "Li'l Sis" program) or converge for one big, sticky mess (episode 8, "Relaxed," where a gossipy masseuse turns the gang against one another). In the midst of this, they all take shots at Tori and the various rumors about her (plastic surgery, how she got the job on 90210, her pampered dog) and also at celebrity culture in general. Gutsy putdowns are zinged at other celebrities at all levels, from Kathie Griffin on up to Jennifer Aniston, and even the 90210 cast. In a memorable moment from episode 4, Tori crawls on the floor of a porn shop to escape Shannen Doherty. (Sadly, none of the cast members from that show actually show up on So NoTORIous--though other Aaron Spelling alums lend a hand. Farrah Fawcett makes a cameo appearance in episode 1 as Tori's neighbor, and Charo has a catfight with Janey). The dirt the group dishes is savagely bitchy, and for my money, the more scathing the better. How awesome is it to see a flashback to Tori's childhood when she's hanging out with a young, booze-swilling, cigarette-smoking Drew Barrymore?

Actually, all the episodes are littered with Tori Spelling flashbacks. The recurring gag is that every time Tori trips over another one of her hang-ups, we are slung back to the event in her life that caused her to be this way. Several of them go back to the days of 90210 (excellent wig and wardrobe work make these believable), but most of them dig into Tori's lavish childhood as part of the Spelling clan. In a genius casting stroke, Loni Anderson was brought on to play an exaggerated version of Tori's mother. Kiki Spelling lives in the massive Spelling mansion, and the show has fun with the excess Tori's real-life mother is alleged to indulge in, including rooms devoted to specific collectibles and one used exclusively for gift wrapping. Anderson plays Kiki as completely self-absorbed and oblivious to the world around her, and whenever she is onscreen, the rest of the characters run around trying to curry favor. Tori's late father Aaron only shows up as a voice over a portable speaker, an homage to his show "Charlie's Angels."

Of course, it's a little odd now seeing the dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter, given the real-life tabloid scandal that erupted in the wake of Aaron Spelling's death. There is even a joke about Kiki cutting Tori out of the will that slices a little close to the bone. This animosity is tempered by the calming force of the character Nanny (Cleo King, who played Aunt Lou on season 3 of Deadwood). Just as her name suggests, Nanny is the woman who really raised Tori, and her main function is to bridge the gap between whoever is feuding by tossing off some practical advice or kicking a butt or two.

All the cast is really talented. Given that the vicious humor and off-color sex talk is what works best on So NoTORIous, Quinto and Hesser steal most of the scenes and get all the best lines. The real surprise, however, is Tori herself. Spelling is a natural physical comedian with pretty good timing. So NoTORIous rides squarely on her shoulders, and she never shrugs the responsibility. The plots, on the other hand, are mainly of the stock sitcom variety. Though they generally get a new twist, sometimes they smack a little too much of the familiar (episode 7 is a good example of this). It's an imperfect production. Some moments are awkward and the jokes fall flat, making for uneven episodes. Ratio-wise I'd say about three of them are complete homeruns, and the rest are up and down, with only one dipping below the series average.

So NoTORIous has 10 episodes on two discs. The first 9 aired on VH-1, but the tenth was left off the initial run.

***DISC 1***

Episode #1: "Plucky": The pilot episode sets up all the characters, as well as Tori's struggle to be "normal." She meets a gaffer named Scott (Joe Manganiello, who is Flash Thompson in the Spider-Man flicks) on the set of a TV movie she's starring in, and after a disastrous night out at a comedy club where Tori becomes the butt of a comedian's jokes, she throws a party to try to prove to her regular beau that she's also a regular girl. Of course, Tori is anything but.

Episode #2: "Whole": Scott ends up not being so regular. He is part of a bizarre religious movement that tries to lure Tori in and make her "Whole." All of Tori's friends also get involved. Sasan and Pete see the church's attempts to straighten out gay boys as a way to get dates, and Janey, a real estate agent, sees rich suckers she can sell houses to. John Michael Higgins, a regular in the Christopher Guest movies, has a funny guest spot as the leader of the Wholes.

Episode #3: "Accommodating": Pete gets a new girlfriend who drives Tori out of their apartment, and she bounces from friend to friend, annoying them in turn. A highlight includes Pete and his skanky lady doing inappropriate things with Tori's 90210 doll.

Episode #4: "Street": In one of the funnier episodes of the series, Tori is determined to get a part in a new Steven Soderbergh movie. Her plans to ambush him at a premiere go wrong when she loses her phone at the porn shop and gets her Humvee limousine stuck in the drive-thru at Del Taco.

Episode #5: "Jealous": When Tori starts dating a plastic surgeon, tensions rise when he becomes the new best friend of Kiki. Both Tori is upset to lose her boyfriend to her mother and Sasan is boiling when the new guy cuts in on his Kiki action. (As a gay man, Sasan finds Kiki fabulous.)

Episode #6: "Cursed": Whoopi Goldberg guests as a Santeria priestess who aids Tori in removing a curse that Tori is convinced her mother has placed on her. Whoopi puts Tori through all sorts of torture, including rubbing her with mud and spitting gin in her face. Seeing Loni Anderson sprayed with chicken blood is something I can't believe the world has been deprived of this long.

Episode #7: "Soulful": This is my least favorite episode. On Mother's Day, Tori, Nanny, and Kiki go to Nanny's church. During the service, the problems between Tori's perception of her real mother and the woman she credits with raising her come to the fore. The show derails with clich├ę moments in the African American church, and the absence of the rest of the supporting cast reminds us of how good they are. Without them, So NoTORIous is nothing.

***DISC 2***

Episode #8: "Relaxed": A talkative masseuse spreads stories between the four friends and reveals more about their past together than any of the four knew prior. 90210 fans will particularly appreciate the flashback to the backstage celebration for the infamous graduation episode. The "Donna Martin Graduates" catchphrase gets a whole new rhyming spin.

Episode #9: "Charitable": Another of the top episodes. To compete with Janey, Tori gets a Li'l Sis, an underprivileged, inner-city girl to take under her wing. The troubled teenager gets Tori to throw a quincea├▒era for her, but her behavior when Tori isn't around causes the others to rightfully suspect that she is not all that she presents herself to be. Bonus points for the two catfights that end up in the pool, one between young Tori (Ariel Winter) and young Drew Barrymore, and the other between Janey and Li'l Sis. It's an excellent homage to Aaron Spelling's trademark slapfests on "Dynasty."

Episode #10: "Canadian": This is the episode that didn't air on VH-1, and there is no explanation as to why it got cut, as it's pretty good. As Tori and Sasan are in the early planning stages to start a clothing line for plus-sized canines, Tori gets a job on a movie in Canada. Sasan and Pete travel along, and the three of them have a hard time adjusting to how nice everyone is up North. Includes several references to maple syrup as sexual innuendo.

THE DVD

Video:
The series was shot in full frame for airing on broadcast TV. These are good transfers with a strong image quality.

Sound:
Nothing fancy, but a good stereo mix.

Extras:
Both discs have an optional Play All function so that you can run through the shows in one fell swoop. What's really nice is that this function also includes extra features. Each episode has a short reel of episode-specific bloopers, and rather than having to go to the individual menus to play each one, they play immediately after the show they are taken from. This is also a feature on disc 2, and when the last episode plays, it is followed by around 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes features and more deleted scenes (all with commentaries that you can't turn off). These exhaustive promo materials made for VH-1 include interviews with all the cast regulars (including the dog and even Charo) and a look at the creation of promo materials. Granted, these are just glorified commercials, so this many in a row can be a little tiring (I did already use the adjective "exhaustive"), but no one can complain that the producers skimped on bonuses. I only wish they had extracted the excellent musical trailer from the making-of and given it its own slot on the DVD so you could jump right to it. The play all function didn't really need to run us into the trailers for other VH-1 and Aaron Spelling TV shows, either.

Four of the episodes on disc 1 also have commentary tracks with Tori Spelling and the two co-creators/producers Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler. They are decent commentaries and the three attempt to give a look behind the curtain and discuss what is based on real life and what is not. They do run a bit thin, however, and there are lots of pauses. You get the basic gist by listening the first two of them, and there isn't much need to finish them off.

The DVDs are in slim cases with different cover images, and they come in a cardboard slipcase.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
So NoTORIous is a funny diversion that gets the bulk of its laughs off of its nasty one-liners about celebrity culture and Tori Spelling's ability to make fun of herself. The plots are pretty thin, but this is a show you watch for the zingers and the strong comedic performances, not the stories. Plus, the two-disc set is brimming with extras. Recommended.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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