‘True Tori’: Was the whole series fake or more real than intended?

05.28.14 3 years ago 45 Comments

In “True Tori,” Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott allegedly tried to do something different — a reality television show about their marriage that stripped away the celebrity veneer and explored the gritty aftermath of McDermott's adulterous affair while filming the first season of “Chopped Canada” in Toronto. I use the word “allegedly” because, depending on who you talk to or what you read, it's either exactly what it seems or it's as scripted as a very special episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”

The accusations are a varied lot, ranging from suggestions that the affair that started it all is fake (the woman McDermott is said to have slept with lacks “a digital footprint,” according to the gossip rags), claims made by McDermott's teenaged son Jack that his father has been unfairly portrayed, and rumors that the show has just been a desperate money grab to deal with the financial mistakes Spelling described in her book, “Spelling It Like It Is.” While I wouldn't put a lot of stock in tabloid reports, the show itself often strikes off notes, whether they be reality or “reality.”

We are reminded right from the start that the marriage is a fairy tale romance, a dream come true, a Disney princess movie come to life. Well, it was until McDermott screwed up everything. Watching the guy tearlessly weep about the guilt he feels for “ruining everything, our fairy tale ending, my beautiful family!” it's hard not to roll your eyes. Whether or not it's bad acting, it's pure ham.

That the series wraps up so neatly, showing us that Spelling has grown up enough to realize that “life's not a fairy tale; life's not a movie,” you can see the character arc clearly written like, oh, I don't know, something out of a Lifetime TV movie. If “True Tori” isn't turned into one, I'll eat my laptop.

Oh, and let's not forget — the therapist they choose to see is Dr. Wexler, the same one who helped Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed work through the “issues” that had prevented them from getting married… for 28 years. Not surprisingly, the season finale of “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” that year was a romantic wedding on the lawn of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Pretty amazing what a few filmed therapy sessions can do!

Something similar happens on “True Tori,” in that the couple goes from screaming sessions and sobbing to a tentative evening out a week later. Unless Dr. Wexler is a voodoo priestess miracle worker, I'm hoping this means there were many sessions and moments that the cameras didn't see. 

I've had more than a few people swear that the show is pure fiction. Ultimately, I don't think it matters. What's more interesting to me is what “True Tori” reveals about this couple, scripted or not. Ultimately, I'm sure that McDermott and Spelling had the final say on what made the cut and what didn't, and it was the moments in between the major plot points that seemed most telling. And sometimes most unflattering.

As befits an attractive pair of actors, we are incessantly hammered with cute photos of the pair with and without their kids, usually as a transitional device or to give Spelling something to look at while she broods on the failure of her “fairy tale.” But what we really see is that Spelling's attachment to the “fairy tale” has less to do with the marriage itself and more to do with presenting a perfect, plastic self to the public — and even her own family.

After the couple embraces following a fight, I can't quite figure out why it looks so uncomfortable… until I remember that it's how soap opera actors make sure their faces stay in the shot during a love scene.

When her son Liam shows a lack of interest in his parents' marriage, Spelling sweetly chastises him. “Maybe you should learn about our love story,” she says in one of the ickiest parental lessons ever. Even in telling the kids they're no longer allowed in Mommy and Daddy's bed, it is always clear that the marriage — the fairy tale — is more important than any individual in its orbit.

McDermott, the now-tarnished Prince Charming, sometimes doesn't seem to rank as more than an accessory, though a particularly frustrating one. “I need that love that's so all encompassing I can't let it go!” Spelling wails while McDermott runs his hands through his hair and complains he can't do anything right — offering to quit a second season of “Chopped Canada” doesn't make Spelling happy, while anything less makes her furious.

When she should be upset — after he blames her inability to meet his sexual needs as what drove him to cheat — she simply sniffles. It seems that McDermott falls back on his addictions and troubled childhood as a convenient excuse to get his way. At some point he “gets it,” though it seems unlikely that such deeply ingrained behavior is so easily fixed. 

Spelling grew up on camera, and it makes sense that she feels more comfortable with a camera crew around than not. She so calmly articulates the problems in her marriage, it's almost as if she's talking about someone else. Given that one of the problems that's discussed in therapy is that McDermott's issues are so oversized Spelling is afraid to feel or express too much, I'm sure being able to vent to a camera crew, even in a controlled way, is probably a relief. When a friend suggests to her that she may have been able to speak more freely to her husband during filming because the “cameras make it feel less real to you,” Spelling doesn't disagree. 

But that brings us to another issue I can't quite unravel. When Spelling does try to express her feelings of hurt, McDermott begins to experience what we're told is a “mental breakdown” (which seems to consist of a great deal of leg twitching) and we learn thoughts of suicide had caused him to be briefly institutionalized. When the reality series producers talk about stopping production due to his behavior, Spelling's first reaction is to ask how this might hurt McDermott's career. It's not quite calling the insurance company before the body is cold, but it's unsettling. If this show is scripted, I can't think of a possible upside to portraying McDermott as mentally unstable — not when casting agents could be watching. 

I'd like to think that “True Tori” isn't fabricated from whole cloth, if only because such a decision is so painfully cynical, so narcissistic and thoughtless (those kids!) it boggles the mind. I'd also like to think that the purported goal — to help others going through a similar situation — allows someone to find something here that's useful, regardless of whether it's real or not. 

At one point during the show, Spelling talks to her husband about how their daughter created a fake scrapbook of memories for a class project, pictures of a fabulous family Christmas that never happened. Spelling is crushed, seeing this as a sign her children are sorely missing the happy moments McDermott's work schedule (and infidelity) took away. I think it just suggests Stella is her parents' child, one who's probably already seen how “reality” TV isn't always so real thanks to editing and music cues and countless other manipulations of even the most honest moment. She simply chose to create her own edit of a Christmas that never happened. How Hollywood of her. 

Next week will be a very special episode in which the couple will come together to address all the rumors and the questions — is the show fake, were there other women, will they reconcile — and perhaps that will shed some light, though I doubt it. Ultimately, the only two people who really know what happened in this marriage are Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. And really, isn't that how it's supposed to be? 

Do you think “True Tori” is fake? 

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