September 09, 2009

TV: Melrose Place (CW, Tues 9)

And we're off for another September marathon of new TV shows!

"New" may not be the best word for our first show, an update of the 90s soap opera. "It worked for 90210," seems to be the thinking.

It's easy to forget that the original Melrose Place didn't actually start off as the campfest it would eventually became. For the first few months, it was a relatively serious drama about the beautiful young residents of a Los Angeles apartment complex; it was only when Heather Locklear turned up that the show really began to dive into the more ludicrous plots and melodromatic relationships.

The new version doesn't waste any time getting to the good stuff. Our seven beautiful young cast members all get phone calls in the first few moments telling them that "she needs help." "She" is Sydney (Laura Leighton), returning from the original cast; she's now the landlord at Melrose Place, and she's clearly got serious problems with booze and pills.

You may wonder how Sydney can be the landlord when she was killed off near the end of the original series' run; the new version doesn't waste much time on that (I think there was a passing reference to someone helping her fake her death), but it doesn't much matter, because before the first commercial break, Sydney is dead (again), floating face down in the pool.

She's found by Violet (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz), the newest resident of Melrose Place, whose bright red hair is enough to suggest that she's more closely related to Sydney than anyone knows. Everyone else has been around long enough that they may well have motives, as Sydney was not a lovable woman. It seems clear that the series will, for at least the first several weeks, be devoted to the question of who killed Sydney, with lots of flashbacks.

The remaining residents/suspects are:
  • Aspiring publicist Ella (Katie Cassidy), clearly meant to be the show's reigning bitch
  • Sexy young chef Auggie -- yes, Auggie (Colin Egglesfield) -- the dark, brooding type
  • Engaged couple Jonah and Riley (Michael Rady, Jessica Lucas), aspiring filmmaker and elementary teacher, respectively, and among the show's "good" characters
  • Med student Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), who may be driven to desperate measures to pay her tuition bills
  • Bad boy David (Shaun Sipos), who responded to Sydney's late-night distress call, then got so drunk that he can't remember whether he killed her or not

Oh, and David's father? Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro), the only character to last for the entire run of the original series.

Does it work? Well, the cast is extremely pretty (I'm partial to Auggie, myself, but whatever your type, you're bound to find someone you can ogle) and adequately talented; a show like this doesn't exactly demand Shakespearean talent. Cassidy is quite funny as the power-hungry Ella, and Rady has some nice moments as the ethically conflicted Hollywood wannabe. Simpson-Wentz looks to be the show's weakest link, based on the first episode, and I fear that she's not going to be up to the challenge when Violet is revealed to be less naive and more complicated than she initially appears.

If you like this sort of thing, I think the new Melrose Place will probably make you happy. At first glance, it's more earnest and less campy than the original, and that may need to change; I'm not sure anyone will want to watch if the show actually expects us to take these people seriously. But it's not the disaster I'd sort of expected it to be, and it's entirely possible that if the new show finds its own Heather Locklear, it could take off into the sort of giddy, campy free-for all insanity that made the original version so much fun.

No comments: