TV Series Review
I've never lived in a trendy Los Angeles apartment complex. But if I did, I'm sure it would be just like Melrose Place.
I would lose weight, gain hair and grow a chiseled jaw. I would get a buzz-worthy job—perhaps as a struggling actor or fabulously talented but underappreciated screenwriter. I would develop hidden virtues and sad but screenplay-friendly flaws: Alcoholism, perhaps, or a penchant for stealing fine art from my estranged father's house. I would be simultaneously attracted to and repelled by every other fabulously gorgeous female tenant in the building.
I would feel compelled to tell them my deepest, darkest secrets, and they would tell me theirs. We'd get into fistfights or give each other cold, knowing looks. And, occasionally, we'd attack one another with a knife or breadbasket or something.
And then we'd have a barbecue.
You Can't Go Home Again
The CW's Melrose Place, a reboot of Fox's long-running primetime soap, picks up the story several years later. Sydney, one of the original series' stalwarts, shows up onscreen to link the two programs together—before she's unceremoniously stabbed to death and thrown into the complex pool. It is, perhaps, an indication of how desperate this series is to make quick ratings hay: It spends its "Who shot J.R.?" capital within its first 10 minutes. Surely, one of the renters will start jumping up and down on the back of a mako shark by Episode Five.
But I digress. While Sydney's mysterious murder will almost certainly serve as an important plot element throughout the season (and she herself will continue to surface, thanks to a deluge of flashbacks which show who might've had motive to kill her), it's the lives of the rest of the residents we're supposed to care about. We don't, but that's beside the point. Two get engaged. One struggles with alcoholism. Another runs a stolen goods racket. Still another becomes a high-market prostitute to pay for her medical school tuition. And nearly all, of course, are preoccupied with sex, career and making catty remarks.
"Karma sucks," says Ella, the pretty publicity flack who serves as the show's official, um, not-very-nice woman. ("Stab enough people in the back and eventually you'll get a knife of your own.")
Wrong Time, Wrong Place
Melrose Place, backed by an ostentatiously sleazy ad campaign, is exactly what you'd expect: a series predicated on the three B's of booze, breasts and backstabbing. Sexual salaciousness populates the show like fire ants. We see folks steal, lie, swear, drink, use cocaine, drop their drawers, fight with their estranged parents and ransack three boxes of Lucky Charms for their green clover marshmallows.
And we've only watched two episodes, people.
"Where the 90210 spinoff ... took a while to find its decadent, over-the-top tone," writes Time magazine's James Poniewozik, "[Melrose Place's] skips over its forebear's early attempts at earnestness and goes straight for the trashy stuff."
But here's the curious thing: Shows such as Melrose Place—programs predictably dedicated to elevating the worst behavior human beings can muster—have encased within their miserable trappings a heart of gold.
Audiences gravitate toward these shows because they're so obviously bad. But to enjoy such fare, one must come bearing some sort of idea of what right and wrong mean. And so, in turn, must the show. Fans cheer when good-guy filmmaker Jonah refuses to take hush money (and a huge career advancement) from a big shot producer for the wrong reasons. They shake their heads when Lauren dives into the sack with a rich benefactor to earn her overdue tuition money.
Weirdly, Melrose Place and its kin are like hyper-graphic 19th century melodramas, where audiences were encouraged to cheer for the heroes and lustily hiss the villains. It seems almost that TV's most immoral shows simply can't exist at all without overtly acknowledging bedrock morality.
Does that excuse their bad behavior? Hardly. C'mon, we're talking about Melrose Place. Asking that question is akin to asking whether you should eat that third bacon-encrusted, triple-glazed doughnut.