It's a step up . . . the coast, that is

Times Staff Writer

It literally may be against the law for me to watch "Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County." For one thing, I am so not 12 to 24, which is the key demo. For another, it is, you know, on MTV, which I haven't watched with any sort of commitment since, like, Adam Ant was hot. Also I am not blond.

But "Newport" is the successor to "Laguna Beach," which basically invented the super-cool, high-def, docu-soap, turning its high-school-age stars into overnight celebrities. So much drama. Just think: Without "Laguna Beach" there would be no "The Hills." Weird, huh?

So even though the last season of "Laguna Beach" was not what you would call a hit -- way too full of kids in serious need of attitude adjustment -- and MTV did not make the "Newport" premiere episode available early for review (never a good sign), I tuned into the "sneak preview" on Monday night following "The Hills."

And hey, these kids in Newport actually have parents. While some of the elders still seem to be ruling by credit card and in absentia (will no one tell these girls to stop fiddling with their hair at the dinner table?), at least one mother and father actually impose a curfew and -- can you believe it? -- rules on their offspring.

That would be Chrissy, a high school senior whose golden brown tresses make her the closest you are going to get to a female brunet on this show. The girlfriendy heart of at least the first episode, Chrissy has her eye on Clay, a surfing, golfing hottie about town (even though he is a junior). Only thing is, he's shy and taking a while to make his move. It doesn't help that Chrissy's dad calls her every five minutes to find out where she is.

Clay thought he had his chance when the gang was in Palm Springs. And he and Chrissy did wind up, alone, in her hotel room but wouldn't you know, Chrissy's cellphone rang and of course it was her dad and he totally freaked out about Chrissy being in the room with Clay and, next thing you know, Chrissy and Clay are standing in the hallway looking like losers while Mr. and Mrs. Chrissy arrive and start reading her the riot act. So awkward and totally unnecessary, right? It's not like Chrissy and Clay were even doing anything. Just standing there, talking.

Fortunately, the rest of the crowd seems unencumbered by parental units. Allie, who also has her eye on Clay but really wants old beau Chase, is shocked by how strict Chrissy's parents are and, when gossiping about it poolside, can barely keep her eyes on her copy of "InStyle" for her delighted outrage. Grant is pushing Clay to make his move although he, Grant, is not about to tie himself down.

Then there's Sasha and Taylor, and it's a darn good thing the creators of "Newport" decided to ID everyone on-screen multiple times because they all pretty much look alike. Which is to say blond and beachy, lip-glossed and eyelined to perfection and bearing no resemblance whatsoever to any teens you might know unless you happen to live in Newport Beach or on the CW.

Still, no one ever accused "Days of Our Lives" of having great depth, and it's done OK. Soaps are cultish and agreeably addictive; being able to tell otherwise indistinguishable characters apart is some of the appeal -- you are a member of the club, you know the secret handshake and the various shades of platinum blond. Parents and other undesirables who might wander into the room and say lame things like, "Why do all these girls look alike?" and "Will someone tell them to stop touching their hair?" just don't get it.

So if you are looking for a young and attractive set to hang with as they move through their sun-drenched days, you could do worse. And Shakespeare never turned up his nose at the conceit of several couples jockeying for love and rank.

Don't look to "Newport" for anything approaching poetry, however. There is something both touching and infuriating about the cast's seeming unfamiliarity with the concept of conversation. "So you're washing your car," Chrissy says to Clay, who stands in his driveway washing his car. "Yeah," he answers adroitly. Touching because it does capture the wash of embarrassment just being 16 can cause, infuriating because it makes these teens into even greater caricatures than they already are and is very boring to boot.

But still, you know, whatever.


'Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County'

Where: MTV

When: 10:30 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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