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GUEST BLOG #49: Ed Martin Checks Into CW's New "Melrose Place"
September 10, 2009  | By Ed Martin
 

[Bianculli here: The CW unveiled its remake of Melrose Place earlier this week, and is repeating the pilot Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET. Contributing critic Ed Martin has seen next week's episode as well, and has some thoughts about how to amp it up quickly...]


Melrose-Place--top.jpgMartin's "Melrose" Mantra: A Whore Should Never Be a Bore

By Ed Martin

There hasn't been a column written about The CW's continuation of the '90s pop-culture fave Melrose Place that did not include a mention of Heather Locklear. Everyone seems to think that if Locklear would agree to reprise her role of ferocious businesswoman Amanda Woodward on the new show, its future would look brighter.

Putting aside the question of why Locklear would even want to do such a thing, the fact is that the new Melrose Place doesn't need her. What it needs is Marcia Cross! More specifically, it needs a Marcia Cross Moment -- as soon as possible.

melrose-place-heather.jpgI'm referring, as you might imagine, to what may be the most famous scene in Melrose history -- one that did not include Locklear. It was the sequence in which Cross' Kimberly Shaw, the brilliant young doctor who had been gravely injured in an auto accident, returned to the life she had known after a long recovery period seemingly as good as new.

Until, that is, she slipped out of sight and pulled off her wig, revealing a monstrous scar along the side of her head that called to mind the Frankenstein movies of yesteryear.

Yes, Locklear was so contagiously energizing as Amanda that her addition to the series late in its first season saved what had been a turgid twenty-something drama, and instantly transformed it into irresistible top-drawer trash. In other words, once Melrose stopped pretending to be something other than what it should have been from the start, it was a hit.

But it took more than the addition of a super-bitch to make Melrose so memorable. Locklear's Amanda got everyone talking, but the show didn't explode until Kimberly went wacko, determined not simply to ruin the lives of her former friends and neighbors, but to kill them all by blowing up the titular apartment complex (in a storyline that was rightly compromised at the time, out of respect for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing).

melrose-place-kimberlyheads.jpgTo their everlasting credit, the writers and producers of Melrose didn't rest on their laurels after adding Amanda and Kimberly to the canvas. They also gave grievously put-upon good girl Jane Mancini (Josie Bissett) a slutty kid sister named Sydney, played by a then-unknown Laura Leighton. We all know Melrose Place was not a show that was ever spoken of in the same breath as the word "Emmy," but there were times during Leighton's run when I honestly thought she deserved a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

The writers put Sydney through all manner of hardships (she became a prostitute, endured a number of failed relationships and was briefly institutionalized against her will, among other trials), but even at the character's worst, Leighton always made the audience aware of her internal turmoil. More often than not, Sydney was the personification of self-loathing. Leighton made her so surprisingly sympathetic that I was genuinely bugged when she was hit by a speeding car on her wedding day and died.

melrose-place-old-sydney-_l.jpgWhen The CW announced that Melrose Place would be revived this fall, just as 90210 had been last year, we learned that Sydney had faked her death. (A full explanation has yet to be offered within the storyline.) This was good news for the new show, I thought, because Sydney was the most complicated character in the history of this franchise. Her wild past history and vivid emotional depth would provide the foundation necessary for Melrose to be successfully re-established.

Then we learned that Sydney would be killed off again at the end of episode one and that the rest of her involvement in the story would be presented via flashbacks. Sure enough, there she was, stone cold dead, floating face down and bleeding profusely in the pool before the end credits rolled.

Not good. The first two episodes excitingly establish that Sydney was the new landlady of the apartment complex and had become intimately involved in many of the characters' lives, and that shiny red-head Violet (played by singer Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, she of the legendary Saturday Night Live fail) might either be her long-lost daughter or a scheming brat pretending to be such. How much fun would it have been to watch Sydney deal with a monster daughter while spiraling downward into some of that old self-loathing again for having given up her only child all those years ago?

Oh, well, there's only so much they can do with Sydney at this point -- unless she's once again faking her own death as the means to get out of multiple messes of her own making. Now THAT would be vintage Melrose.

melrose-place-top-4616.jpg

By the way, I think it's strange that the characters in the apartment complex blithely go on about their business in episode two, which begins the day after Sydney meets her violent demise. They go so far as to hang at the pool, even though Sydney's corpse was gushing blood in it just a day or two before. Is that enough time for it to be properly cleaned and sterilized? It's all very gross -- and very Hollywood.

Seriously, if it weren't for Katie Cassidy (a beautiful young actress, seen at the top of this column, who might eventually be spoken of as the new Heather Locklear), the new Melrose would be in as much trouble as the old Melrose was during its first forgettable episodes.

Cassidy's portrayal of bisexual bitch Ella Simms, a cut-throat Hollywood power publicist in the making, is razor-sharp and as much fun as every portrayal by every actor of every character on this show really ought to be. (Next week Ella lands an impossible-to-get actor client by convincing him to expose himself at a party and -- well, you'll see.) But the other female characters aren't at all interesting. Not even good girl medical student Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), who has started sleeping with men for money to pay her medical bills. When it comes to trashy primetime serials, a whore should never be a bore.

And speaking of boredom, none of the young men on the scene make memorable impressions during the first two episodes, either. Interestingly -- and alarmingly -- they are eclipsed by two guest stars: Victor Webster as Ella's boss Caleb, and Nicholas Gonzalez as Detective Marco Rodriguez. Executive producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer would be wise to keep these two around, at least for a while.

melrose-place-CW-leighton-c.jpg

Original Melrose Place cast member Thomas Calabro is also part of the new show, back in familiar form as scumbag Dr. Michael Mancini. Remember what a bland good guy Michael was during the pre-Locklear days, before he went bad? He's still rotten, but he's gotten boring again with age. Josie Bissett and Daphne Zuniga (as sullen photographer Jo Reynolds) will reportedly make guest appearances in the weeks to come. But I'm concerned about what may happen to their characters, given the seeming waste of Sydney Andrews.

All these complaints aside, I would like nothing better than for the new Melrose Place to follow in the tracks of the old, and become the trashiest serial on prime time television. (Though The CW's new drama The Beautiful Life: TBL, about young men and women exploited by the modeling business, might get there first if it loosens up). I'm good with Melrose stumbling and fumbling around for a while but I won't wait forever for it to bring in the crazy.

----

edblogpic.jpg

Ed Martin is the television critic and programming analyst for the media industry Web site JackMyers.com. The former senior editor of the award-winning, much-missed television and advertising trade magazine Inside Media, Ed has also written for USA Today, Advertising Age, Television Week, Broadcasting & Cable and TV Guide.

 
 
 
 
 
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