Will last year’s guilty summer pleasure translate into this season’s sustained ratings success? That’s the challenge facing ABC with “Clueless,” the new series based on the 1995 Alicia Silverstone starmaker created, written and directed by Amy Heckerling (who originally conceived it as a TV series, according to production notes, and which was itself loosely based on the Jane Austen novel, “Emma”).
A number of elements from the film have been carried over, including the young heroine’s Beverly Hills home and five original cast members. Not Silverstone, however, who has been replaced by Rachel Blanchard as the unperturbable, pathologically upbeat Cher. In the debut episode, Cher steps in for a week as the anonymous personal advice columnist at her high school paper (does even a Beverly Hills high school have a daily student paper?), causing all kinds of complications as Cher realizes gasp! that pat answers don’t always work out in real life.
Of course, even employing the phrase “real life” in this context requires something of a stretch. It’s possible that schoolchildren calling each other across the classroom on their cellular phones is really just a technological update on passing notes behind the teacher’s back, but it’s jarring nonetheless.
Still, some elements of “Clueless” really do appeal: The kids are allowed to be smart, one consequence of which is that the show features the most literate p.c. kids, black and white, on TV; their references are as likely to be to John Keats as to Jim Carrey (often in the same sentence). And who can resist a show featuring Wallace Shawn fighting the good fight as an English teacher? Can this be the very “Designated Mourner” who only weeks ago had Mike Nichols holding forth on the stage of London’s National Theater on the death of culture? Talk about cognitive dissonance!
OK, let’s not talk about cognitive dissonance. At any rate, a little “Clueless” goes a long way. The show is drenched in a cavity-inducing riot of pastel colors, from Mona May’s fashionable costumes to Peter Samish’s luxe decor. It’s all so very rich, in every sense of the word, it’s enough to make you postal, as Cher might say.