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February 12, 1996
GARDEN OF GOOD AND TRASHY
AARON SPELLING'S NEWEST SOAP, SAVANNAH, UNLEASHES SCHEMING SEXPOTS IN A WORLD
OF WEALTH, PECAN PIE AND NICE TEETH
DURING ITS 54 WEEKS ON THE air, the WB netlet has produced the sort of
programming that requires viewers to suspend disbelief far too strenuously. The
sitcom Kirk, for example, asks us to accept that Kirk Cameron could be a
Greenwich Village illustrator raising three children and dating a doctor who
looks like Elle MacPherson. More demanding still is Simon, a sitcom about a
dim-witted TV executive that seems to be set in some parallel universe where
grown men take baths in front of their friends.
That Savannah, a new soap from producer Aaron Spelling (Sundays, 9 p.m. EST),
could seem more grounded in reality than anything else on WB is indeed a
tribute, though to what is open to debate. The show, which debuted last month
and garnered the network its highest ratings ever (3.6 Nielsen points, compared
with its average of 2.4), revolves around young women who live, love, cheat and
eat a lot of pecan pie in the fashionable Georgia city that gives the show its
name. Spelling has made some missteps in the past few years (e.g., University
Hospital); with Savannah he has created a series that can rival his own Melrose
Place and Beverly Hills 90210 as state-of-the-art trash.
Savannah achieves perfect-pitch campiness while steering clear of the baroque
absurdity in which Melrose has lately dabbled. There is little chance, for
example, that anyone on Savannah will enter an insane asylum and emerge a
psychoanalyst--which is not to say Savannah is lacking in comedy. This is a
show, after all, in which actors and actresses are made to address each other as
"you cheap piece of white trash" with as much sweaty disgust as they
The basic setup is yet another variation on one of soapdom's archetypal
conflicts: the pitting of the poor, conniving, tube-top-wearing vixen against
the tasteful, trust-funded beauty. Peyton Richards (Jamie Luner) is the former,
Savannah's pre-eminent troublemaker; her rival is the kindly, blond Reese Burton
(Shannon Sturges), an heiress with the IQ of Spanish moss.
In the first episode, we learn that Peyton has grown up, Sabrina-like, in the
servants' quarters of the Burton family mansion. Though she is desperate to
partake of the Burtons' world of wealth and good teeth, she can't get the hang
of it. She is clever enough to have an affair with Reese's thick-necked fiance,
but all she manages to get is a bracelet of cubic zirconium. There is pathos
here because, deep down inside, Peyton is just a pained little girl. We know
this because there is a teddy bear on her bed.
The series is filled with intriguing secondary characters, especially Reese's
domineering father, who is played with creepy panache by Ray Wise. Savannah is
such deliciously bad Southern gothic that it may even help you forget the simply
awful Northern Gotham that was Central Park West.
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