Skip Some Pages in The Next Best Thing
- Monday, July 16, 2012
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Title: The Next Best Thing
Publisher: Atria Books
In Hollywood, the land of beautiful people, Ruth Saunders does not fit in. As a result of the auto accident that killed her parents, she has a wonky eye and a permanently misshapen face. She also has a searing wit, a love for television comedies, and a script that's about to hit prime time.
It's a magic moment. The network has given the green light for a pilot and The Next Best Thing—a semi-autobiographical tale of how Ruth and her grandmother moved to Hollywood to make it big—may soon be inspiring viewers the way The Golden Girls inspired Ruth as a child. That's assuming her show is recognizable once the studio execs get through with it. Ruth may be the "showrunner" but that doesn't mean she'll be in charge. She wants to make art. The network wants to make money. It's a conflict that's bound to leave casualties in its wake. Anyone who has ever had a pet project derailed will feel Ruth's pain as she watches her dream warp into something she barely recognizes.
Author Jennifer Weiner was co-creator and co-executive producer of the ABC Family sitcom State of Georgia, so her behind-the-scenes look at how television is created crackles with authenticity. True to form, she's created another compelling heroine. Ruth has overcome so much but still carries at least as many scars on the inside as she does on her damaged face. She's a nice girl with a dream and the talent to make it come true, as long as she doesn't get in her own way.
Ruth also has a whopper of a crush on her former boss, one of the Daves in Two Daves Productions. Naturally, he has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend . . . and a wheelchair, thanks to a boating accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. In a land of phonies, Dave is a genuinely nice guy.
Ruth's grandmother is quite the character, too, a self-reliant, senior citizen fashionista. Grandma has a steady boyfriend and a busy career as a Hollywood extra. Now that Ruth is on the verge of making it big, maybe Grandma can fashion her own happy ending.
As always, Weiner's writing is crisp and clear. Her pacing is perfect, moving briskly along from crisis to crisis without letting the reader get bogged down. Her characters are consistently delightful. Even the stereotypes (beautiful-but dumb actors, clueless managers, money-hungry execs) each have a little something that makes them more real than not.
It's a shame, in my opinion, that she felt the need to go into so much detail in the sex scenes. They're definitely the late night cable channel variety, the kind of thing parental controls were made for. There's also a certain amount of mild-to-coarse sexual humor; not really surprising when you consider this is a book about sitcoms. Compared to the content of most prime time television, the ratio of bawdy content to actual story is relatively small.
Skip the sex scenes if you like, but don't miss the ending. The adventure of the last few chapters is such fun it justifies all the pain the characters suffered through early on. In fact, it's the sort of ending that would make for really good TV.
*This Review First Published 7/16/2012
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