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TELEVISION REVIEW

Even as a guilty pleasure, 'Beach Girls' is washed up

Midsummer is the perfect time for gluttony and excess, for drama stripped of its complexity and coated with a thin layer of oil. Nothing screams ''August" like a campy miniseries about love, betrayal, and bikinis.

But ''Beach Girls," the six-hour series that premieres tomorrow night on Lifetime, takes the elements of the summer thumbsucker -- ''Surf. Sex. Secrets," according to the promotions -- and manages to strip away the fun. It's beach reading turned issue film, too much guilt and too little pleasure.

To be fair, there are a few small pleasures here, chief among them the acknowledgment that Rob Lowe, once the embodiment of teen angst, is now officially old enough to be a teenager's dad. He's the centerpiece of a series sprinkled with mildly 1980s-inspired nostalgia: ''You had, like, exploding bangs," the teen protagonist tells her aunt at one point, after glimpsing a vintage photo.

Well, in the '80s, at least something had a spark. The present day, by contrast, seems unspeakably bland. The story, based on a best-selling novel by Luanne Rice, aims to bridge the two eras, as 16-year-old Nell (Chelsea Hobbs) investigates her mother's beachgoing youth in the decade of fluorescent tees and parachute pants.

Lowe plays Nell's father, Jack Kilvert, a WASPy lawyer who met his wife, Emma, in 1985 in the fictional beach town of Hubbard's Point. (Given that this place is commutable from Boston, it's safe to assume it's around Cape Cod; ''Beach Girls" was filmed in Nova Scotia, continuing Canada's streak as a stand-in for Anywhere in America.)

Now, a year after Emma's death in a car accident, Jack rents a summer house on the Point and deposits Nell there, presumably so she can connect with her mother's memory. Jack himself turns out to be little help; he's too busy coddling a new girlfriend and nursing an unexplained antipathy toward his dead wife's friends. So Nell takes off on her bike for a little coming-of-age. She befriends Skye and Clare, two local girls with serious issues of their own, and drops in on her mother's old best friend, a reclusive writer named Stevie (Julia Ormond).

In its first two hours, the miniseries wastes no time with pesky things such as character development. Within about two minutes of meeting Nell, Stevie morphs into a maternal figure and feels free to give Jack parenting advice. And much of the dialogue feels like heavy-handed psychological exposition -- in case we can't deduce their emotional states, the characters will make it all very, very clear. ''Aunt Stevie and Aunty Maddy were Mom's best friends," Nell tells her father during one confrontation. ''They have all these memories, all this information about her. If I can't see them, it's like you're taking her away from me all over again."

Like most scenes, this one smacks of actors reading lines: too many awkward pauses, too little chemistry. The only real attempt at authenticity seems to be Nell's teenage way of talking. Her summer house ''totally rocks," her mom's friends were ''total hotties," and every third or fourth word out of her mouth is ''like." That's admirable, in its way, but also jarring. If the Cape Cod water turned the teens on Dawson's Creek into hyperarticulate junior philosophers, the Hubbard's Point salt air turns reserved WASPs into simpletons.

Lowe does his best to convey emotions with his eyes instead of just his mouth; his performance is one of the better ones. Ormond seems to be struggling to suppress her British accent, and Cloris Leachman is extraneous as an eccentric old woman trying to stop a highway development.

Other subplots are similarly thin, particularly the one involving Skye, who is both beautiful and committed to abstinence. Naturally, this means an attractive bad boy (Chris Carmack) will make a bet with his friends that he can bed her.

Carmack did well in this role for a while on ''The O.C.," but he, too, seems devoid of personality here. Nobody behaves like a real person, which might be acceptable if ''Beach Girls" were either highly literary or highly schlocky. Instead, it's neither. The scenes about emotion are too trite, and the scenes about excess are too reserved. It's far too dull and heavy for a hot summer night.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.

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