Talk about biting the hand that feeds you: “Best Actress,” E! Entertainment’s first foray into original telepic production is a nasty poison-pen letter to the same showbiz types the cabler fawns over around the clock. Although telepic is mildly amusing in its over-the-top depiction of the pill-popping, backstabbing, publicity-mad denizens of Hollywood, it certainly feels like a very special episode of “Melrose Place.” After all, you can’t really expect “All About Eve” from the good people who bring us “Fashion Emergency.”
The five women contending for the major award in Robert Cooper’s adaptation of John Kane’s airhead novel play more like sad, little cardboard character types: There’s the young indie darling hooked on booze and drugs; the proper British actress who’s married to a philandering, Shakespeare-loving helmer (sound like a famous couple you’ve heard of?); the soft-core porn star turned serious actress (“Pamela Anderson without the talent”); the African-American diva in desperate need of a comeback; and the closeted lesbian with a manipulative publicist. Throw in a half-baked murder plotline and sterling dialogue such as “I can’t be interviewed by Katie Couric — she’ll make me look like a slut just sitting there,” and you get an idea of where we’re heading.
Our host through this guided tour of hell is a scheming hack writer for Celebrity magazine, played with sleazy ebullience by good sport Thomas Calabro, who perfected the same sort of shtick during his seasons on “Melrose.” It’s to scribe Cooper’s credit that he came up with Calabro’s character and incorporated the old dead-narrator device (can you say “American Beauty?”) that somehow works in this larger-than-life milieu.
Although F. Harvey Frost’s direction is about as subtle as E! “personality” Melissa Rivers, some of the thesps manage to raise above the sordid fare: Loretta Devine is quite good as Connie Travers, an alcoholic diva with a taste for pool boys and kleptomania who is allowed to have some tender moments with a smitten police officer. Also Lori Seefer and Maria Conchita Alonso do the best they can with the roles of the closeted actress and her beautiful Latina lover.
Tinseltown devotees may get a chuckle here and there about characters who may or may not be references to real-life players: You don’t have to be on the A list to recognize the inspirations behind a controlling publicist named Melissa Goldman or the crass head of a mini-major called New Mira!
Press notes reveal that E! plans to follow up “Best Actress” with titles such as “Hollywood Off-Ramp” “Spinning out of Control,” and “Murder at the Cannes Film Festival.” It’s a frightening thought, but at the rate things are going, soon we’ll have to sit through gems such as “The Year I Missed the Santa Barbara Film Festival” or “Someone Stole My Cell Phone at Slamdance.”