TV Review: “Melrose Place”

Written by Television, TV Reviews

There’s a killer on the loose in Melrose Place! Beware! The ’90s hit soap is back, this time on the CW, which seems to be mining the previous decade for new programming (or is it reprogramming?). While I wait for some exec at the CW to remake Fox’s series, Wolf, I’m stuck with the new Melrose Place, an update of the sex and sleaze-filled show that gave us Josie Bissett, Courtney Thorne Smith and that dude who’s Elizabeth Shue’s brother.  A new group of twentysomethings have moved into the place, but there’s still the same intrigue and drama we’ve come to expect. As is custom in fantasyland, every neighbor knows one another and they form a tight knot family, for now. Soon enough I’m sure the characters will be swapping beds and blackmailing one another. We can only hope.

You know, I was once twenty and living in the Los Angeles area and I wonder where these apartment complexes exist that twentysomethings get along so wonderfully that they meet up in the courtyard when someone dies or someone gets engaged. Then again, I lived on Moorpark Place, so maybe the vibe is different in Hollywood than in the Valley. Still, this is the land of make believe, so the fantasy of a group of people becoming family in a Melrose apartment complex is passed off as reality.

The new version of Melrose Place, which the CW airs on Tuesday nights (and online at their infinitely confusing website), is just as sleazy, corny and full of sex as the original. I watched the pilot thinking I’d be getting a healthy does of mindless, guilty entertainment — and, for the most part, I got what I expected.

Speaking of the killer on the loose, I was coming to expect seeing Laura Leighton deliver her particular brand of crazy to the show, but her character, Sydney (a holdover from the original series) was killed in the first ten minutes. What a shocker. From what I’ve read, the mystery of Sydney’s murder will be sorted out throughout the early part of the season and Leighton will continue to show up in flashbacks. I guess I can live with that. Still, it’s nice that Thomas Calabro shows up to reprise his role as Dr. Michael Mancini, king of the douchebags, and carries the torch of the old school Melrose Place-ers. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s also the father of one of the main characters, David (Shaun Sipos), a troubled pretty boy, who sold drugs in the past and apparently knows how to break into houses and steal million dollar paintings. Excellent.melrose-place-2009

Other residents at the Melrose place are Auggie (Colin Egglesfield), a pensive chef, Ella (Katie Cassidy — daughter of David), a cutthroat publicist, Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), a med student who is broke and compromises herself by sleeping with a millionaire to help cover her bills, and the cute couple, Jonah (Michael Rady) and Riley (Jessica Lucas),  a first grade teacher. Now, I know teachers don’t make a lot of money, and it seems like Jonah hasn’t made his big break yet, so I don’t know where they’re getting the cash to live on Melrose. But it’s Hollywood, so the rent must be cheap or something.

Jonah and Riley are the sweetest thing about Melrose Place. Their relationship is pretty genuine. Rady is a great, lovable actor who also appeared on Greek (as a nerd) and Swing Town (as a wife-swapping husband in the ’70s).  His acting outshines everyone on the whole show with his earnestness and charm. When Riley finally accepted his marriage proposal in the pilot, I was actually touched.

Oh yeah, Ashlee Simpson-Wentz is also on the show as Violet, who has some connection to the deceased Sydney. She is horrible and out of her league with the rest of the actors on the show. Apparently the years of thespian training on 7th Heaven didn’t pay off. I guarantee you will cringe whenever she’s on screen.

I think it’s worth pointing out that there was a lesbian kissing scene in the pilot only because it seems like yesterday that the original Melrose Place was causing controversy for even alluding that the gay character on the show would kiss his boyfriend. My, how far we’ve come, wouldn’t you say? Stylistically, it has the same razzle-dazzle camera work you would expect from anything aimed at a generation addicted to the Internet and endless entertainments possibilities. The edits are hyper-kinetic quick cuts,  and the picture frame seems to be constantly moving, either by steadicam or hand-held camera. While it’s sometimes hard to judge a show by its pilot, I actually enjoyed the new Melrose Place. Compared to the other shows the CW is churning out, it feels kind of grown up, which means I might actually watch it again, especially if Heather Locklear decides to return.

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