Fiona Waybill hadn’t heard the news. Two decades had passed since she left NBC Studios for a well-paying job in higher education. She taught communications courses in Claremont but never discussed how exactly she had been informed that the junior sitcom version of 90210 was getting canceled only after its second season.
Even though Fiona highly encouraged class participation, her students typically balked at the idea of an hour long TV rights fee discussion. They snored through her lectures on the delayed death of pay-per-view combat sports and live concerts. They did, however, half-heartedly rate her mid-range business suits and stateside sunburns just three weeks into the new semester. They did so in a closed social media group, which would’ve gotten Fiona’s British blood boiling had she known. She was too busy leading a lecture hall discussion regarding the top ten worst season finales of all time. Such a prolific list could’ve only been been tabulated by a legit business online publication, which it had. Not only did the teen sitcom Fiona had written for receive the dreaded #1 slot, she had no choice but to indefinitely cancel all her office hours once her maladjusted, mud-soaked eyes rested on the final line of the digital article she had projected at the front of the class:
The Worst TV Show Episode in History, Period.
Most of her students had never heard of “That’s Rich”. Many would’ve immediately checked out “Fifteen” had Fiona informed them that Nickelodeon had landed Ryan Reynolds in his true prime. Instead of resembling the surface of Mars off her latest American holiday, Fiona sent her unnamed critics to the dry eye cleaners before arriving at home later that day undeterred. That was until she received a unsolicited phone call from one of Fab Weekly’s highly overcaffeinated office representatives. They wanted an interview. Would she ever be interested in working in Hollywood again? Had she kept in contact with any of the cast members? Did she or any of her former coworkers understand the logistics of a season-ending cliffhanger?
Fiona knew expecting the worst would not prepare her for the active role she was about to take in her own public shaming. After all, she did her best to instruct the next generation of smut-scavengers without inheriting the celebrity stink that came with just being on-campus during most university alumni functions. Given her humble upbringings in Newcastle upon Tyne, Fiona was practically green-lighted at birth for a leading role in radio or TV just because of the sound of her voice. Maybe this was why she started to hallucinate once Hugh Grant greeted her the day of her interview.
* * *
Fiona hadn’t expected to be video-recorded, but the makeup girl had been pleasant enough. Hugh was actually an American show tunes guru named Herb. Herb was known to break out in song during all of his interview original edits, but once they were both seated he quickly assured Fiona that their impending Q and A session would be relatively brief. He just didn’t know how brief, as the world’s most ill-famed screenwriter to date told him flat out that she owed the NBC network nothing. They had chosen not to retain her creative services after “That’s Rich” hit the can, not the other way around. What she couldn’t understand, however, was the hydroplaning popularity of America’s new #1 sitcom, especially when the lead actress wasn’t even a U.S. citizen. She wasn’t old enough to drive either, much like the former stars of “That’s Rich”. Unfortunately for Fiona, once the makeup girl heard her sanguine sound bite from an internal secondhand source she nearly had a Punjab cow.
* * *
Reagan Rich was old enough to remember the early 90’s but not in a financial position to reconstruct more than 73.5% of her shattered pelvis after surviving a small plane engine crash at age 27. Doctors had told her natural births would be impossible, C-sections problematic long-term, and that was if she didn’t die on the delivery table first. Fortunately, her husband had agreed to adopt a young Indian girl they had met on a missions trip to the sticks of Mumbai several years later, but Reagan wouldn’t stop to wonder if the adorable preteen star of “Get Real” minus Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway really was a nocturnal cancer to America’s multi-colored heart.
Fiona was obviously out for typecast blood. Raja Rohit’s recent rise to re-streamed Netflix fame couldn’t be offset by the D-rated desi wit of that one Mindy chick from The Office, but a canceled U.S. visa would certainly do the trick. After all, Fiona had been looking forward to seeing her brother, Benjie, over winter break, but his ongoing visa troubles continued to prevent him from traveling to the U.S. for anything other than business purposes.
Maybe Professor Petty Bitch knew someone in customs. Maybe “That’s Reagan” would soon be trending worldwide after Reagan saved Raja from the worst cross-examination experience of her life. That was until Herb gave the media reporter shtick up and entered law school forced smile first.
* * *
Herb had never met a transplanted countrywoman quite like Fiona before. What didn’t help matters much was when he admitted during the interview that he hadn’t bothered to actually watch the episode in question.
Reagan would. “Don’t Let Another Day Go By” had started off innocently enough: a school dance that eventually saw the wallhugger portion of the show’s recurring cast huff spray paint until they passed out in the back of an ice cream truck. The truck had been concealed under a large circus tent-sized tarp right outside the school gymnasium, but there had been no follow-up at the beginning of season two. Had YouTube existed back then, daily updates of the gang’s psychedelic trip would’ve been uploaded to the show’s top fan sites all summer long. Or better yet, a never-ending series of offbeat musicals about drug prevention and a proposed school chaperone buddy system just like Herb would’ve wanted.
Rather than introduce their faithful fan base to a quirky, new character in the season two premiere, NBC had only managed to alienate Fiona from her saner mid-forty self a quarter of a century later.
Raja had to go, and she would. Unfortunately for Fiona, Reagan would be in Claremont within the hour. Right after getting into contact with a few of her students and organizing an extra credit assignment for the ages.
* * *
“One star fades—and another dawns in its place. Isn’t that right, Fi’?”
Fiona had no idea she had been drugged. She failed to place Reagan’s voice. Her face too once her eyes began to refocus, but that was okay. She was about to die somewhere no sidewalk stalking, playground chalking, post-Sandlot kid posse would ever truly belong. Fiona hadn’t heard anything about the new six figure bids for the infamous brain freeze mobile she now found herself confined to.
Reagan moaned lovingly, before instructing Fiona with an enthusiastic smile, “Don’t be such a nervous numpty. After all, it’s Diwali.”
Reagan activated a strobe light on her phone, which she began waving around in a gentle yet erratic fashion. Fiona tried moving her hands only to find her wrists bound in place, which meant she had no choice but to listen to what makeup girl had to say.
Reagan quickly explained herself. She had looked after her own Raja for nearly as long as the average shelf life of the American sitcom, but before all three Lawrence brothers officially became available for comment in seven years or less, Fiona started babbling uncontrollably. As a mother of one herself, she felt for Reagan. That was until reruns of “The Secret World of of Alex Mack” began to air somewhere between the darkened extents of her burning throat and the fossilized ice cube at her yellow-streaked back.
Fiona begged, “Please. Don’t do this. I. I—”
Reagan’s best friend, Joan, was also in the back of the van, and she made sure that Fiona’s mouth remained wide open long enough to get in a good tonsil spray tan session. Eventually, she’d stop screaming “Bloody hell!” only to declare with her final stifled breath, “No medical cost is worth more than a woman’s right to get fatter than the new permanent homebody of Adele.” Before this occurred, Reagan informed Fiona that she was getting her just fill of Satin Expresso. Matte Merlot. Gloss Beam and Pale Sage too.
Fiona was being fed vintage cold spray and nothing more. She was also pretending to be choking to death, right before she managed to slip out of her uninsulated wire bindings and took off on foot. Reagan and Joan quickly took up chase behind her, but neither were all too surprised to find themselves on-camera at nearly every street corner they passed. Fiona’s students were more than willing to gift her just what she craved after all these years—their complete, undivided attention whether or not a smart phone could take all their notes for them at this point.
Fiona’s useless cries for help said enough. She had got gotten, but had NBC pulled the trigger on “Ernest Goes To Primetime TV” all those years ago the local populace of nearby Rancho Cucamonga would’ve remained on high alert for the next week and beyond. The actor chosen to play the ice cream man had been great in rehearsal, but he turned up dead before long. This occurred after he spoke publically about NBC’s major expenses directly linked to satisfying the sweet tooth of its highest-paid actors. The CEO at the time had been the worst offender of them all, hiring private stylists, installing a $223,000 Jacuzzi on his private jet—even maintaining a secret romantic relationship with his gay lover, Nick Nolte.
The ice cream man had used his findings as regular material during his local standup gigs, but no one believed him. Tax laws were tax laws though, and small time actors got axed out of Hollywood everyday, so Fiona hadn’t said a word. After all, she was just a writer. A gobsmacked, impressionable shy little British bird that had been neck-deep inside that air Jacuzzi herself. Nick Nolte’s unbuckled trousers not so much, but surely she’d write about them in her autobiography someday.
Fiona Waybill goes from blacklisted in Hollywood to #1 on the New York Times’ bestseller list? Now that’s rich.