Of course I watched "Melrose Place" during its first incarnation. So did you. Every Wednesday night, my apartmentmates and I would turn off the phone, slip some roofies into the dog's ground chuck and set about channeling our inner careerist trollop. We'd banter about Amanda's short-skirted guile and Dr. Michael's blithe villainy. During commercial breaks, we'd express feelings of deep self-loathing.
That show went off the rails quickly, its patented before-every-commercial-break plot twists losing steam with each passing flurry of fake deaths and breasts. In the end, "Melrose" proved far less of a generational staple than its Fox mate, "Beverly Hills, 90210." Nobody missed it when it went away, though I won't deny that a trash-nostalgia sigh escaped my lips when Heather Locklear's mug shot hit the wires.
One could argue, then, that "Melrose Place" is a far better candidate for a reimagining (that's fancy-person talk for "unimaginative remake") than "90210" was. It hadn't burrowed itself into our collective consciousness quite so deeply. Lo and behold, the CW has chosen to drive a Mack truck through this pop-cultural aperture, unveiling a shiny new "Melrose" and touting it with a obstreperously suggestive "Tuesday is the new hump day" ad campaign. See, these ads hint that there might be sexy doin's afoot, as opposed to the thoughtful policy dialogues we've been conditioned to expect from prime-time CW dramas.
On first glimpse, numerous differences from the original jump out at you, starting with the misguided replacement of the synth-tastic opening music. The advertising-office setting has been replaced by a chic bistro, while the apartment complex that houses the show's characters has been rezoned to permit residency by non-Caucasians. An overweight person appears briefly in two scenes before he is summarily dispatched to the dessert bar.
More noticeably, the show labors to establish contemporary credibility. Hardly a scene goes by without a too-deliberate reference to Twitter or some fashion brand that didn't exist back in 1994. This proves a major distraction; after a little while, viewers come to expect tossed-off nods to T-Pain and climate change in the middle of hair-pulling donnybrooks.
But mostly, the new "Melrose" is the old "Melrose." The first suggestion of blackmail, the mother of all "MP" plot staples, arrives four minutes into the pilot episode. It is followed in due course by the first gently deflected marriage proposal (six minutes in), OMG cliffhanger (seven minutes), lovers' spat (16 minutes), caught-on-camera adultery (34 minutes), bribery/actual blackmail (42 minutes) and belatedly accepted marriage proposal (51 minutes). But "Melrose" version 2.0 saves the real action for its end-of-hour montage, which adds art theft, prostitution, bisexuality and either conspiracy to commit murder or obstruction of justice into the mix. That's real ambition.
I wish the show had been similarly forward-minded with its characterizations. Instead, each player on the new "Melrose" parallels a character from the old one. Ella (blonde bitch) = Amanda. Violet (raven-haired naïf on the fast track to cuckoo-dom) = Sidney. David (troubled, squinty hunkthrob) = Jake. Most impressively, the producers have located a 2009 equivalent of Andrew Shue's Billy who shares a perpetually slackened jaw with his forebear.
I realize that this is the show's way of luring former "Melrose" devotees who might otherwise dismiss the remake as a trifle. But providing an easy road map only serves to reinforce the staleness of the set-up. This becomes even more glaring when former "Melrose" residents pop in to show the young'uns how it's done. Laura Leighton, even looking sickly thin and dermabraded half to death, has more bitch in her pinky toe than the would-be Sidneys have in their entire being.
Ironically enough, the one way the new "Melrose" trumps its predecessor is in the use of brands. The lingering glimpses of AT&T cellphones and Mercedes grilles give the show a plastic sheen that the original lacked. This is a show about pretty people doing pretty-people things, so it's essential to arm them with the proper luxe-life accessories. In this regard, "Melrose" chooses its partners wisely.
On the other hand, advertisers seem to have missed the memo about the show's newfound brand-attentiveness. Tuesday night's airing featured one of the most bizarre commercial juxtapositions I've ever seen, with a Dr. Dre ad for Dr Pepper sandwiched between spots for the new "Fame" flick and Nuvaring. Apparently marketers have as little idea about who this show is targeting as I do.
In the end, the new "Melrose Place" isn't bad enough to be good; it's dull bad rather than campy/trashy bad. Compared with "Gossip Girl" or the network's own "90210" update, it feels old and wooden. The CW's freshly minted tagline is "TV to talk about," but the days-after "Melrose" conversations are less likely to start with "Wow, that impoverished Asian nurse chick sure seems to be taking well to her side gig as a hooker!" than with "They should've sent a dump truck filled with $100 bills to Heather Locklear's doorstep and just picked up where they left off." Put it down as an opportunity missed.