Rob Lowe is back, people, and this time he's on Lifetime.
Yes, Lifetime, officially the "network for women," and unofficially the network for former television and film stars trying to extend or recycle their careers (the women of the original "Charlie's Angels" quickly come to mind). You think, perhaps, Lowe might be rethinking that decision to abandon "The West Wing" over money issues?
Okay, a lid on the cattiness.
The truth is, Lowe's new show, "Beach Girls," is better than the standard woman-in-crisis films that seem to dominate Lifetime's time slots. Based on the best-selling novel by Luanne Rice, a prolific producer of contemporary women's fiction, the six-hour miniseries explores the complex fallout -- love, death, anger, lost connections -- resulting from the friendship forged by three young women during a summer at the beach 20 years prior. Debuting tonight with a two-hour episode at 8 p.m., it continues in one-hour increments for the next four August Sundays. And though it does feel a bit like a soap opera at times, it also seems sweetly suited to its late-summer run, like a drippy chocolate ice cream cone at the end of a hot day. Cliched? Yes. But it works.
Twenty-odd years after emerging as the almost too-good-looking heartthrob in films like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "About Last Night," Lowe now finds himself playing the father of a girl about the same age as those who used to plaster posters of him on their bedroom walls. His character, Jack Kilvert, is a widower raising 16-year-old Nell (Chelsea Hobbs) on his own. With both father and daughter still reeling a year after mom's death in a car accident, Jack rents a summer house in Hubbard's Point, the idyllic beachside town of his -- and his late wife's -- youth. There, Jack tries his best to ignore his past, while Nell chases it, as she seeks out any and all information she can about her mother and her time there.
The three women of the title are Emma Lincoln (who eventually becomes Jack's wife), Maddie Kilvert (Jack's sister) and Stevie Moore, who is now living like a recluse, painting and writing her well-received children's fiction from a beach house she rarely leaves. When it comes to recycled stars, Lifetime hit the trifecta this time: In addition to Lowe as Jack, Stevie is played by movie actress Julia Ormond ("Legends of the Fall," "Sabrina") and Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman has a supporting part as her Aunt Aida.
Nell befriends Stevie, much to her father's chagrin. Stevie and Emma long ago had a falling out, so much of one that at first Stevie is unaware of Emma's death. And the obvious tension between Stevie and Jack speaks to some underlying and unresolved relationship issue of the past.
In Rice's novel, Nell is a 9-year-old girl; aging her for the screen version and giving her fast-forming friendships with two other teenage girls in town provides producers Robert Greenwald and Alys Shanti the ability to parallel the two sets of "beach girls."
And, of course, making Nell 16 also provides ample opportunity to splash lots of teenage hotties on the screen in bikinis or low-slung swim trunks. Add in first loves, teenage sex (and the pursuit of the same) and a lot of "lifeguard lemonade" and what you get is a little bit of "The O.C." to spice up the adult drama. In fact, the show even imports one of "The O.C.'s" hot bodies, Chris Carmack, who plays a beach bum whose summer goal is to bed one of Nell's new friends despite -- no, make that because -- she has proudly and publicly declared herself to be abstinent.
Mixed in, there's some underlying mystery about the state of Jack's marriage at the time of his wife's death, and about the character of his wife. Despite Nell's clear mourning for a mother she adored, there are some pretty clear hints in the first two hours that Emma Kilvert wasn't the nicest woman in town.
Other storylines are just annoying: Jack's young and self-absorbed new girlfriend is pure caricature, as is the strained relationship between her and Nell, and it's clear she's disposable in the first 15 minutes. But Hobbs does a good Liv Tyleresque brood and Ormond's performance makes you wonder why she hasn't been in anything memorable on the big screen lately.
As for Lowe, he hits and misses in the first two hours. His dad is a little bit selfish, a little bit overprotective and seemingly torn about what state of grief he should be in at this point. Despite being a high-powered attorney, he's got the scruffy look going, and though it may take a leap, at first, to process Lowe as some 16-year-old girl's daddy, it's hard to resist watching to see if he really can pull it off.