After the jump, my thoughts after seeing two episodes of the reworking of "Melrose Place," from my Sunday column in the Beacon Journal, and a few words about "90210's" second-season premiere.
When the original Melrose Place premiered in 1992, it tried to some degree to be an earnest ensemble drama, a Knots Landing to Beverly Hills, 90210's Dallas. But it figured out soon enough that it had a better shot in the ratings as a steaming, scheming soap, and -- especially after Heather Locklear joined the cast -- that was the form it took for most of its run.
The new Melrose Place premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on The CW, following the season premiere of the current 90210. And not for a moment has it hesitated over its dramatic course. Get out the soap bubbles and the OMG! text messages; it's going for melodramatic gusto.
The first two episodes include a death, illicit sex, drunkenness, a man exposing himself, an invitation to prostitution, unrequited lust, requited lust, mystery, improbably fine wardrobes and ludicrous lines delivered with absolute conviction. Well, most of the time. But we'll get to that.
Like the original show, this one is built around the apartment complex at 4616 Melrose Place, which has a new batch of 20-something tenants and a familiar landlady: Sydney Andrews (played again by Laura Leighton) from the old Melrose.
There's a teacher (Jessica Lucas) living with an aspiring filmmaker (Michael Rady). A chef (Colin Egglesfield). A rich kid (Shaun Sipos) who has ties to the old Melrose crew. A medical student (Stephanie Jacobsen). A new, much younger tenant (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz). And -- providing the Locklear-like spice from the moment she steps on-screen -- an ambitious publicist (Katie Cassidy).
All of their lives intersect and overlap. The ones who don't have secrets have yet-to-be-realized dreams. The ones with the secrets also have dreams. Achieving them is not easy -- especially not after a death at the complex leads to poking into the characters' private lives.
It's a serviceable enough soap, though a bit bland in the early going. Cassidy does impress, though, and the cast is capable at this sort of melodrama -- save for Simpson-Wentz, who goes through her scenes with a blankness suggesting not mystery but emptiness. Her gestures are rote, her expressions limited. She is way out of her league.
As for "90210," I thought at first that the season premiere was a considerable improvement over the first season, even the more confident portions at the end of Season 1. It was flashier and splashier, and considerably more witty. Taking a cue from the second season of the original "Beverly Hills, 90210," it even moved action to the Beverly Hills Beach Club, which allowed for a brighter look to everything as well as a new place for lots of bad stuff to happen. On the other hand, putting the show's female stars in swimsuits is not the best idea when it reminds everyone what toothpick arms Jessica Stroup has. (As Silver, she's my favorite character on the show. But mercy, get that girl some dinner, STAT!) I even enjoyed the self-aware moment when the show recaps in dialogue all that just one character went through.
But when it got into its soapy doings, notably the double cliffhanger involving Annie (Shenae Grimes), the series began to drag. Oh, it's trying to amp things up, with lots of complicated romance and the introduction of a new character who seems to cause trouble even when he doesn't mean to. Only the amping is often insanely implausible, even by prime-time soap standards, and demands a lot of stupid behavior. True, we're not talking about the brightest bunch of characters to begin with. But "90210" did far better at generating laughs than providing suspense.