It's hard to know precisely how to feel about Tori Spelling, whose new sitcom, ''So NoTORIous," premieres tomorrow night on VH1. Self-deprecating humor is, in general, the best kind, so Spelling gets credit for executive-producing an extended joke about herself.
But only so much credit. These days, admitting that you're fat, obnoxious, overprivileged, and/or D-listed seems the best way to jump-start your career. Spelling, the butt of about two decades' worth of nepotism jokes, has stumbled on an opportunist's dream.
Fortunately, this is a good-natured sort of opportunism; as a fictionalized version of herself, Spelling endures humiliation, but not the gut-wrenching kind that Lisa Kudrow's character put herself through in ''The Comeback." This is a pleasant, farcical romp through the familiar terrain of obnoxious roommates, dating mishaps, and Hollywood sets: Sitcom Tori, like her real-life counterpart, gets lots of parts in made-for-TV films on women's cable channels.
It's all a little too familiar -- so much so that we all could have written the jokes ourselves. Try it at home: a sight gag about bulimia; an extended spoof on a Scientology-like cult called ''Whole"; a few riffs on Spelling's real-life dog, a pug named Mimi LaRue who wears custom clothes. The Aaron Spelling humor is particularly obvious: Daddy speaks to Tori exclusively via speakerphone, and addresses her as ''Angel."
And then there are rich-Hollywood gags that may or may not reflect Spelling's actual life, including some vaguely disturbing flashbacks to an overprimped childhood. (More points for Spelling: There's enough truth here, apparently, to raise the ire of her real-life mother, Candy.)
As Tori's fictional mother, Kiki, who has outfitted her mansion with a gift-wrapping room and an office for
Spelling, for her part, isn't a bad comedian, though her timing gets some help from cute camera tricks. And ''So NoTORIous" mines a good share of humor from its supporting cast; James Carpinello is funny as Tori's oversexed roommate, and Zachary Quinto steals scenes as Sasan, Tori's semi-closeted gay Iranian friend.
In fact, as game as Spelling is to send up her own life, the funniest gags often have little to do with her. In part, that's life as a sitcom star; supporting characters usually get the good lines. In part, it may be proof of where the truest talent lies.
In either case, Spelling doesn't seem to mind being upstaged. If her acting career still sputters when ''So NoTORIous" ends, she could have a future as a producer. There's no question her dad would give her a break.
Joanna Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.