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‘Melrose’: A Spinoff Steeped in Hormones

It’s totally happening.

Imagine what the daters on Fox’s “Studs” do at home and you pretty much have “Melrose Place,” the network’s new series about beautiful people in their 20s. Here is a case where twentysomething refers to IQ as well as age.

“Melrose Place” was spun off earlier this month from “Beverly Hills, 90210,” the teen cult hit it follows in a Wednesday-night lineup featuring hour dramas about the “lives, loves, joys and frustrations” of high schoolers and young adults coming of age in contemporary urban society.

Both programs were created by red-hot Darren Star, whose “Melrose Place” now gives viewers a whiff of things to come in a 1992-93 TV season featuring a glut of series specifically designed to attract the young demographic group they depict.

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Clearly, the Bethlehem Star here is “Beverly Hills, 90210,” a series whose commercial success and vast media coverage have resonated deafeningly in the offices of industry executives who decided this was one ZIP code they would try to replicate.

It was ABC’s late, great “thirtysomething,” however, that set the tone for contemporary ensemble dramas about friends with closely interconnecting lives. Yet to equate the textures, layers and complexities of “thirtysomething” with the alpha rhythms of “Melrose Place"--where matters of sex have predominated so far--is to compare apples and orgasms.

The “Melrose Place” protagonists are eight young residents of one of those typical Los Angeles apartment buildings built around a courtyard with a pool. The setting is the city’s Melrose area.

Unlike the ever-fretting “thirtysomething” crowd, no one here whines or spends every waking hour in deep, hand-wringing self-analysis and introspection. Good. Also unlike the characters of “thirtysomething,” though, the characters of “Melrose Place” are to date mostly superficial and uninvolving.

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Flashing back to last Wednesday, the show’s third episode:

Allison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) was a bemused observer as her lug of a platonic roommate, goofy Billy (Andrew Shue), bent over his word processor, trying to finish his great American screenplay (without getting his fingers stuck in the keys).

Mischievous Sandy (Amy Locane), an aspiring actress with a thick Southern drawl, urged newly married Jane (Josie Bissett) to step out on her husband, Michael (Thomas Calabro), a hard-working hospital intern who also manages the apartment building in exchange for free rent.

Matt (Doug Savant), a gay social worker, appeared briefly and disappeared.

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Despite the lobotomy, Billy managed to find his way to the ad agency where Allison works as a receptionist, thrusting his now-completed dopey script at her and demanding she read it.

Later, back at their apartment, Allison felt she had to be truthful and tell Billy she hated his script. Billy was devastated. Deeply wounded and out of control, he said things he’d later regret, including that he hated Allison’s casserole.

Kelly, a teen character from “90210,” had the hots for resistant Jake (Grant Show), a hunk construction worker who lets his unruly hair hang across his right eye because he couldn’t care less about appearance and stuff like that.

Jane surprised Michael at the hospital with a candlelight dinner, which he couldn’t eat because he was called back to duty. Given Michael’s frenetic schedule, the dinner was a lame idea, but Jane got mad anyway and immediately headed for the trendy bar, Shooters, where Sandy works. Rhonda (Vanessa Williams), a neighbor who has lots of bad dates, was there, too, and said: “I’m passionate by nature.”

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Despite being brain-dead, Billy managed to make his way to Shooters, where he found Allison, forgave her for trashing his script and said he actually liked her casserole. Billy was suffering, though, now having second thoughts about his ability.

In his apartment, Jake pretended to have no feelings toward Kelly so that she would stop loving him. She was crushed. “Hey,” Jake told her, biting his tongue, “that’s me. That’s who I am.” Later, Jake, still unsighted in one eye because of his hair, was tormented by what he had to do to Kelly to stop her from destroying herself: “She was the only person who ever made me feel good about myself.”

If he’s lucky, the next person he dates will have a comb.

Meanwhile, Jane and Rhonda had drinks with a couple of guys at Shooters. Jane panicked (but didn’t whine) when she lost her wedding ring. Jane decided that going to the bar was a mistake, so (don’t ask why) she let one of the guys take her home.

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Overcome by guilt, Jane began telling Michael she did “something crazy,” but he didn’t want to hear because inside their apartment he had his own candlelight spread for the two of them. That’s him. That’s who he is.

Jane and Michael had great sex.

Sandy found Jane’s ring and returned it to her.

The next morning, that cabbage head Billy, basing his feelings totally on a single critique, Allison’s, was totally resigned to the fact that the writing he had poured his heart into was rubbish. In a trash can outside their apartment, he euphorically burned his script.

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Script burning: a metaphor for “Melrose Place.”


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