Sunday, June 25, 2006

RIP Aaron Spelling

In memory of TV producer Aaron Spelling, who died over the weekend, I am going to list some of his finer contributions to the world of television (at least the ones that aren't WAY before my time).

Beverly Hills, 90210: This is where it all started for me. I was probably a little too young to watch 90210, but I enjoyed every silly minute of it. Donna's struggle with "virginity," Andrea's desire to fit in with the West Beverly gang despite the fact that she was poor, Jewish, and 35 years old, Luke Perry's forehead lines underscoring his equally inappropriate age for a high-school-themed show; 90210 had it all. Who could forget the scandal when, over the summer, Kelly (Brenda Walsh's best friend) slept with Dylan (Brenda's boyfriend)? And the arrival of Tiffani "my name isn't Kapowski" Thiessen was shocking. I'd have to say that my favorite ridiculous subplot was the Steve-taking-steroids after-school-special stuff. Watching Ian Ziering trying to act like he had more than the bare minimum of testosterone was hilarious.

Melrose Place: The much-beloved spin-off of 90210, Melrose Place came to surpass its predecessor in my heart and mind. Can you blame me? No school, no parents, just steamy love scenes and outrageous betrayals. Despite my deep resentment for Heather Locklear's impossibly flawless appearance, I knew that when she came on screen one, or more, of the following things would happen: someone would get called a bitch, a saxophone-accompanied makeout scene would ensue, or Amanda Woodward would swear to ruin somebody. Saturday Night Live once did a spot-on skit about Melrose Place (with host Heather Locklear) that still makes me laugh--"I'm a very important executive at D&D Advertising," indeed. Plus the show brought us a pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross, who played the insane Kimberly. I'm still waiting for Cross to rip off her wig on the red carpet someday, revealing a hideous cranial scar. That would be awesome.

Models, Inc.: Yet another Spelling spin-off, this one involved Amanda Woodward's Mom running a modeling agency. For some reason all of the models lived together, creating all kinds of catfights and romantic mishaps. I have absolutely no proof, but I'd bet that this show was the inspiration for America's Next Top Model. Think about it. While the show was short-lived, it brought us some soon-to-be-famous faces and many memorable moments. For example, one supermodel dies in episode one, then another model pops up out of the blue who looks exactly like her, yet is not her identical twin!! Linda pushes her rich, overprotective boyfriend down the stairs--by accident! The show also introduced me to a little-known actress named Carrie-Anne Moss, who would later star in the Matrix films. I still think she looks better with long hair, but then I suppose she would have out-prettied Keanu. No one out-pretties Keanu!

And The Band Played On: Just so you don't think I'm entirely without substance, I'm recommending this movie about CDC doctors during the earlier stages of AIDS research. This TV movie was made in the early 90's, way before actors like George Clooney started lecturing the public about AIDS. The cast ranged from established talents like Anjelica Huston and Ian McKellen to lower-rung actors like Matthew Modine and non-actors like Phil Collins. To be fair, the movie isn't great, and can be heavy-handed at times. I would recommend the book of the same name before the movie, but at the time I didn't know a great deal about the politics behind AIDS research. Any information, however melodramatic in its delivery, can be useful. Besides, who doesn't love Matthew Modine? I'm thinking of copying Jiminy Glick and buying 2 dogs, one named Matthew and the other named Modine.

While Aaron Spelling wasn't strong on PBS-style TV, he knew how to entertain. Entertainment is often minimalized by cultural critics, but I believe that it is of tremendous value to an audience that is looking for some relief at the end of a long day. CNN (or Fox News, or whatever news network won't make me get angry e-mails) doesn't quite deliver this. So I celebrate the work of Aaron Spelling, and hope that either Darren Star or his non-union Mexican equivalent can take his place.