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The highlight of ABC Family’s new three-camera comedy Mystery Girls is its meta appeal. The show, conceived by Tori Spelling, reunites Spelling with her 90210 co-star Jennie Garth, and they play former co-stars of an extremely popular 1990s TV show (sound familiar?) called Mystery Girls. The jokes that stem from there, including references to a fictitious Z-list reality series called Celebrity Beekeeper, as well as an obligatory Shannen Doherty mention, come off not as too cutesy, but as sincere callbacks to their own careers and experiences.
Spelling is at her most hyperactive as the ditzy Holly Hamilton, who doggedly clings to her former fame (a familiar joke with Spelling that she readily acknowledges), while Garth remains calm as straight-woman Charlie Contour, who is now a suburban housewife and mother. The two have been estranged for the 14 years since the show concluded, but Holly still dreams of reuniting them in a way that would return the Mystery Girls to glory.
Early in the pilot, she gets her chance. A young man, Nick Diaz (Miguel Pinzon) has witnessed a mob hit, but refuses to give his statement to anyone except the Mystery Girls. That kind of delusional-super-fan touch is part of what makes Mystery Girls‘ self-awareness work, just like when Holly and Charlie are reunited, and Holly forces a selfie on her, hashtagging it as a reunion. Naturally, it goes viral, and even Charlie’s family is excited that she’s back in the spotlight. Galvanized by the attention and the fun the two have together, they decide to resurrect the Mystery Girls, but this time as a real crime-solving agency.
It seems that henceforth Mystery Girls will turn into a kind of 40-something-year-old Nancy Drew series, as the pilot finishes up with Charlie and Holly working out the particulars of their new office, and taking their first case (a missing show pug). The series doesn’t need a laugh track, but both Spelling and Garth work with it like pros, with comedic timing that catches all the right beats. And, like their characters, the two have an easy rapport that makes it seem like they’re actually having fun.
Despite some nice riffs about Lifetime Originals (which Spelling has indeed appeared in) as well as Holly’s family selling her out to TMZ for a $50 tip, most of the pilot’s jokes are broad, and none more so than those surrounding Diaz as an over-the-top gay character, whose sole purpose seems to be fawning over Holly and her outfits from the early seasons of Mystery Girls.
That is an easy fix, though, and the rest of Mystery Girls flows by breezily, with plenty of one-liners and room to grow, never asking more of its audience than to just sail along and have fun. Spelling is not afraid to make fun of herself (not only as the proud winner of Celebrity Beekeeper, but also for being mistaken repeatedly as a sex worker), and Garth does a great job of grounding Spelling’s often over-exuberant acting. “We weren’t real detectives,” Charlie says to Holly, trying to talk her out of the business venture. “But we were a real team,” Holly replies. Spelling and Garth were and are. Mystery Girls is silly, with broad humor, but the nostalgic appeal of these two broads being back together is no mystery.
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