It’s a vacant ‘Place’
I was a fan of the original “Melrose Place,” though I can’t for the life of me remember exactly why. No doubt it had something to do with Heather Locklear, who arrived in the second season and injected a refreshing note of wide-eyed campy knowingness into the proceedings.
In its heyday, “Melrose Place” was television’s hottest soap. Less sprawling than “Knots Landing” or “Falcon Crest,” it followed similar lines -- keep your enemies close, keep your friends closer because they’re the ones who’ll get you in the end. An astringent palate cleanser from the existential wit of “Seinfeld” and then the more saccharine nestiness of “Friends,” “Melrose Place” was a takedown of all those modern family metaphors of which the Sunday style pages were so enamored -- put a group of ambitious people in close quarters and even with nice weather and a swimming pool, they’ll all go Medici sooner or later.
It would be nice to report that the CW’s remix, also titled “Melrose Place,” provides a similar service to viewers, but too much has changed. The young and the soulless dominate television these days, with the CW’s own “Gossip Girl” and MTV’s “The Hills.” Indeed, creators Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin have filled the now iconic courtyard apartments with characters that seem to have been plucked from other shows, “Grey’s Anatomy” perhaps or “Chuck,” or from failed sitcoms like “Notes From the Underbelly.”
In quick succession we meet disaffected rich kid David (Shaun Sipos), troubled sous chef Auggie (Colin Egglesfield), plotting junior publicist Ella (Katie Cassidy), struggling medical resident Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen) and sticky sweet couple Riley and Jonah (Jessica Lucas and Michael Rady).
Through a flurry of texts and cellphonage, we learn that they are all equally irritated and concerned over the current state of “Sid,” who turns out to be, in case you’ve missed all the hoopla, Laura Leighton’s Sidney, one of the more scheme-prone members of the original cast. You may have thought, as did we all, that Sidney was killed in a tragic wedding day car wreck at the end of the show. She wasn’t, apparently; instead she returned to the scene of many crimes to become the landlady (or apartment manager), with a finger in every pie and a claw in every heart.
So how surprising is it that she winds up dead, floating face-down in the pool, discovered by Melrose Place newbie Violet (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz), who bears a striking resemblance to the corpse? Not surprising at all. As the first two episodes proceed, flashbacks tell a tale of tangled webs and much deceit; everyone, including Sidney’s old brother-in-law-turned-flame Michael (Thomas Calabro, also an original) seems to have a very good reason not to mourn her death.
If only it were possible to care, even the least little bit, who did what and why and what will happen next. But as of the end of Episode 2, it just isn’t. Like action figure collectibles, each character is so carefully encased in his or her protective wrapping of clever plot possibilities -- Auggie’s a recovering alcoholic! David steals things! Lauren may have to become a high-price call girl to pay for med school! -- that it’s virtually impossible to connect with them emotionally.
Cassidy gamely takes on the “I will stop at nothing to be a player” chestnut, and despite being saddled with the twin weights of an inexplicable crush on Jonah and an up-to-date swinger mind-set (in Episode 2, she makes out with . . . a girl!), she brings a little fire and fizz to the dialogue. The rest of the cast seem content to simply fill out their lip gloss and costumes and let events wash over them. (If the actives of “Dollhouse” should ever need to move, “Melrose Place” might work out nicely.)
Nothing is said that hasn’t been said, nothing is done that hasn’t been done and as the group of friends who share little save a shoe size and an address gather poolside, even the sunlight looks fake, as if the complex were in a dome, a captive ecosystem on another planet where scientists are attempting an experiment in social regeneration. An experiment that one suspects is about to go terribly wrong.
When: 9 tonight
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)
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