Can the star give us the true story in this new reality show about her marital disaster? PEOPLE's critic weighs in

Credit: Courtesy of Lifetime

Let Gwyneth Paltrow take the "conscious uncoupling" route. Tori Spelling is willing to implode on camera for all America.

Her new Lifetime docureality show, True Tori, is about the ongoing crisis in her seven-year marriage to actor Dean McDermott. The first episode Tuesday night took us through the days when McDermott was undergoing therapy in rehab: He’d gone there after admitting to Spelling that reports about his infidelity were true, that he had a fling in Toronto.

Spelling, followed by a two-camera crew, looks after their four children on her own, confers several times with a gay friend and dodges the paparazzi before visiting McDermott at the rehab facility and deciding that she isn’t ready for him to come home.

One has to ask: Why not take the more traditional approach to celebrity matrimonial disharmony – work things out (or not) in private, then appear together before a sympathetic interviewer, or at least hold off and give out helpfully indicative statements to the press and so on? (This is from the Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones play book.)

At the start of the hour, Spelling explained why. In a long, awkward segment in which she sat on a gorgeous leather sofa perfectly accented by the window treatment behind her, she said that True Tori was her means of reclaiming the narrative, and the truth, of her life.

This is a useless strategy, especially given that I’m just one of many people writing up their critical interpretation of this reclamation project. And Spelling is no dummy: She knows that no one really owns their story, apart from maybe Ulysses Grant. Besides, how can she capture the truth if she films her and McDermott’s story as it’s still unfolding? You have a horse, and you have a cart, and they go in a prescribed order.

What really counts is having your story out there. And hers, as Spelling keeps reminding us, is.

It would be more honest to say that Spelling has had some lemons cruelly thrust into her arms, and has had the determination and skill to make lemonade.

She certainly doesn’t appear to be faking her pain, but what do her children make of the fact that their father is AWOL, that a camera crew is in the house and that paparazzi are outside? Why are we shown footage that McDermott shot of one of the children’s holiday performances at school? Because, says Spelling, McDermott had just confessed to the affair, and so she sat in the darkened theater, proud of her child and yet miserable at her husband’s betrayal. I would have just shown a charming re-creation of the play or even borrowed a clip from a Wes Anderson movie.

Soon, Spelling realizes, “everyone in the world would suddenly know this fairy tale wasn’t true.”

An analyst would point out here that a fairy tale by definition is untrue.

The hour improved dramatically when Spelling finally visited McDermott at his treatment facility. Spelling herself doesn’t command the camera’s attention for very long, and that’s a drawback: If she did I probably wouldn’t have had all these issues and questions during her scenes without her husband. But she and McDermott, in addition to their relationship, have played themselves in other reality series. Here at least we had the recognizable dynamic of a couple.

McDermott, who looks like an outdoorsier Liev Schreiber, apologized for the affair, touched on emotional issues that included substance abuse and depression and, in the hour’s oddest moment, suggested Spelling might want to go ahead and just slap him. She didn’t.

Instead, she was rational and pragmatic, hard-nosed without being mean, as she tried to assess and respond to her husband’s confessional mode. I’ve been watching Spelling for many years now, and this was the first time she ever registered as something other than someone who was hoping and wishing deep inside that her latest performance would find acceptance and love. The old Tinker Bell desperation was gone.

This Tori seems capable of consciously dumping a husband who doesn’t stick to his end of the bargain.

We’ll see if she’s around in the following weeks.

What did you think? Sounds off in the comments below.