Critics say the remake of Melrose Place, which premieres tonight on the CW, is entertainingly trashy, but even a murder-mystery involving a character from the original series may not be enough to distinguish it from the other trash on TV.
The new Melrose Place is both a reboot and a sequel to the original series, which ran from 1992-1999. The new group of people living in the Los Angeles apartment complex are similar to the previous residents, yet some members of the original cast appear on the show along with their doppelgangers. Laura Leighton reprises her role of Sydney Andrews in the premiere, but is found dead in the complex's swimming pool by Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, whose character closely resembles the corpse, by the end of the episode. Flashbacks will reveal in upcoming episodes that everyone in the new cast had a reason to murder Andrews, including Jonah (Michael Rady), an aspiring filmmaker; his fiance Riley (Jessica Lucas) who is a first-grade teacher; Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), a poor med-school student who turns to prostitution to pay her bills; chef/alcoholic Auggie (Colin Egglesfield); and publicist Ella (Katie Cassidy). Reviewers said the new Melrose Place may be marginally better than its predecessor, but in the '90s guilty-pleasure prime-time soaps were a bit harder to come by. The new series is decent, but may not be good (or rather bad) enough to make viewers switch over from the dozens of sleazy reality dramas they're already watching.
Below, the critics weigh in:
The real entertainment-and there's plenty of that in the new Melrose Place-builds from the endlessly brewing conflicts and rivalries within that band of young hopefuls. The writers extract sturdy drama when they bore in on psychological conundrums-the reasons, for instance, a woman can't bring herself to say "yes" to a marriage proposal from the man she loves. There's the woman who is a prostitute by night, and a doctor by day. A familiar sort of fantasy, that, but one that plays out intriguingly here. The Los Angeles setting here takes a more prominent role than in the original-one more given to reflecting its world of filmmakers and producers, its angst and unbounded ambition. The new Melrose Place may not be the old, but it is, all told, instantly engaging and-from the evidence-likely to remain so.
The new Melrose Place is as good and sometimes better than the old Melrose Place. Think of it as a renovation, or in LA terms, a facelift. In fact, the new tenants actually made me forget the old tenants rather quickly. Well, I didn't forget all of them, because two of them are back but in a new format. Now the series is an ongoing whodunit. Remember Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton) from the original series — the one we loved to hate so much? Well, she's baaaack — or make that back from the dead, as she gets killed in tonight's episode, but not killed off. The show's writers somehow managed to keep all the cheese we love so much, while supplying us with a solid mystery that's fun to try to solve...
Terrific fun, and much classier than the old show, but still with plenty of cheese. If you're wondering how they turned this old package of individually-sliced cheddar into a fresh slab of brie, you'll be interested to know that the new producers are from Smallville, and tonight's pilot was directed by Davis Guggenheim — the Oscar winner for An Inconvenient Truth. Geez. I hope cheese doesn't pollute the environment!
I "like'' the new Melrose Place,' in that I think it has the potential to be as addictive, and phony, as a can of Pringles potato crisps. The trashy CW series... has none of the hokey moral quandaries of the show that precedes it, 90210, no lesson-learning unless you're a student of chicanery and double-dealing. The new Melrose Place is just a mess of gossipy plotlines about adultery, murder, and secrets. If it has a moral compass, the arrow is stuck pointing down, to hell.
"I wish you'd known me when I first moved here," Laura Leighton's Sydney Andrews says wryly near the start of the Melrose Place reboot, which — given the CW's determination to recycle everything Fox did in the early 1990s — is probably better than it ought to be. That's not saying the premiere is particularly good, only that it has assembled a highly attractive cast and rapidly thrust it into tawdry situations, including a convenient murder mystery to get the ball rolling. Success will ultimately depend on ecology - that is, the level of demand for recycled trash.
By the standards of the original, the remake actually comes off fairly well. Where the 90210 spinoff-about twentysomethings in a Los Angeles apartment complex-took a while to find its decadent, over-the-top tone, the new version skips over its forebear's early attempts at earnestness and goes straight for the trashy stuff. (Mostly. There are a couple misplaced stories about career-crises-of-conscience, particularly one involving aspiring filmmaker Jonah, played by Michael Rady of Swingtown, who seems to mistakenly believe he's in a TV show that requires realistic emotion.) The problem isn't that the new version-which dives right into the pool (literally) with a murder mystery and re-introduces several characters from the original-is bad, exactly. It's competent. It also seems a little familiar and unnecessary. The luridly lit nightclub scenes, for instance, by now seem familiar from the CW playbook of Gossip Girl and 90210.
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.
The current version is slicker-looking than the old; the lighting is sultrier, and the stunned reaction shots are fewer. Much of the acting is marginally improved since the days when Andrew Shue, playing the doltish writer Billy Campbell, approached each scene as if the script demanded that he look like a 6-year-old told that he wasn't getting a puppy for his birthday. No one appearing on Melrose Place 2.0 is nearly that dreadful, and the one-liners that remind us that we are not watching the television of a historic golden age retain the zesty camp of the series's first iteration. "If it wasn't for me," Sydney Andrews tells the young protégé she has schooled in her lunatic brand of venality, "you'd still be wearing Juicy sweatsuits, French tips and a bad dye job."
The old Melrose Place was on Fox, and the new one is on the CW (as is 90210, which precedes the new Melrose Place on the Tuesday-night schedule as of this week), and is a cross between a sequel and a remake-a requel-in that the story includes a couple of the old characters but isn't really about them, and yet the new characters almost completely mirror the old ones. In other words, it's as fresh as yesterday's daisy... Over all, the show has a little something, but it doesn't have outstanding curb appeal, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a foreclosure notice in the window sooner rather than later.