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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
MELROSE PLACE (The CW)
(Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c starting this fall; TRT: 42:16)
The network's description: "In an elegant Spanish-style apartment building in the trendy Melrose neighborhood of Los Angeles, a diverse group of 20-somethings have formed a close-knit surrogate family. Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton, the original "Melrose Place") is the landlady, still beautiful at 40, and a central figure in the lives of all her tenants, especially handsome and rebellious David Breck (Shaun Sipos, "Shark"). Sydney started an affair with David despite her turbulent history with his estranged father, Dr. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro, the original "Melrose Place"). Both father and son learned through experience that Sydney was not above using blackmail to control people. Another tenant, high-powered publicist Ella Simms (Katie Cassidy, "Supernatural"), once considered Sydney her mentor, but their friendship was destroyed by betrayal, and Sydney threatened to evict Ella and ruin her career. Sydney also played a pivotal role in the career of Auggie Kirkpatrick (Colin Egglesfield, "All My Children"). After they met at an AA meeting, she became Auggie's sponsor and encouraged his dream to become a chef. Now a successful sous chef at the trendy restaurant Coal, Auggie has been avoiding Sydney since she began drinking again. The other tenants include Lauren Yung (Stephanie Jacobsen, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"), a medical student in desperate need of money to pay her student loans, and Jonah Miller (Michael Rady, "Swingtown"), an aspiring filmmaker who has just proposed to his live-in girlfriend Riley Richmond (Jessica Lucas, "Cloverfield"), a first-grade teacher. The newest tenant, 18-year-old Violet Foster (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, "7th Heaven"), has just arrived in LA with her own secret connection to Sydney. When a bloody body is found floating in the courtyard pool, David is the leading suspect. However, as the police are soon to discover, almost everyone living at Melrose Place had a reason to want the deceased out of the way. An updated version of the popular 1990s series, MELROSE PLACE is from CBS Television Studios with executive producers Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer ("Smallville"). Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") is the director and executive producer of the pilot."
What did they leave out? One of said cast is the bloody body.
The plot in a nutshell: 4616 Melrose Place is home to seven twentysomethings all trying to make a go at adulthood. There's Jonah Miller (Michael Rady), a videographer/aspiring filmmaker who's ready to pop the question to his girlfriend of five years, first-grade teacher Riley Richmond (Jessica Lucas); Lauren Yung (Stephanie Jacobsen), a med student who learns her father can no longer cover her tuition; Ella Simms (Katie Cassidy), an ambitious publicist who plays for both teams; Auggie Kirkpatrick (Colin Egglesfield), a sous chef that has finally put his drinking days behind him; David Breck (Shaun Sipos), the resident heartbreaker who's mysteriously wealthy; and Violet Foster (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz), a recent transplant to LA. Serving as their collective den mother/landlord then is original cast member/no-I-don't-know-how-she's-back-either Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton). In said capacity she's managed to help or push just about everyone in their respective directions - whether it be sponsoring Auggie at AA, telling Jonah to make Riley an honest woman, finding Ella her job or sleeping with David.
Not surprisingly then everyone is mortified to wake up to the news that she's been murdered, her body found by Violet floating in the courtyard pool. Having responded to her barrage of texts the night before, David quickly emerges as the chief suspect. He's however not the only one with a motive as flashbacks fill us in on some less than clandestine facts about some of the Melrose clan - past and present - including Sydney's affair with David's happily-married father, Dr. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro). Everyone however has their own individual troubles: Riley is worried about saying yes to Jonah as he hasn't quite grown up yet; Jonah is offered his dream job, but at the cost of his integrity; Ella isn't exactly thrilled about Jonah's impending commitment; and Lauren, after sharing her money troubles with a date, is shocked when he offers to give her money to sleep with him. And just when you think you've seen all of the kids' troubles: the final minutes rip the lid off even more secrets.
What works: "Melrose," for better or worse, tries to capture the spirit of the original - that being watching twentysomethings wrestling with increasingly crazier problems. I wasn't a huge fan of the 1990s series but I could definitely appreciate its escapist, camp value. With that in mind if you enjoyed said incarnation you'll probably find something to like in what's going on here. If you aren't however or are new to the franchise...
What doesn't: ...you'll probably find it a hodgepodge of conflicting tones, bad dialogue and painfully stilted acting. This may again be the point but it doesn't make it any more enjoyable. Everything just feels very soapy - a scene in which Lauren talks herself into having sex for money literally leads into one in which Jonah gives a heartfelt speech to Riley about who he is and how much he loves her. That, mixed with people saying things like "If you were happy you wouldn't have called me. You definitely wouldn't have been sleeping with me." or pouring themselves drinks before they talk and you have all your boilerplate soap elements covered. Rady and Jacobsen do their best to give their characters a human spark but boy if they aren't sidelined by Cassidy, Simpson-Wentz and Leighton doing your stereotypical ice queen, just-off-the-bus ingenue and velvety cougar, respectively. The real problem is that no one seems to be having any fun - most scenes either awkwardly force their points (hey everybody look - Riley and Lauren are friends! Violet announces she's a "good girl!") or overplay their hands (David's money comes from... art thievery!) to the point that you just don't really care about what's going on. After all, it's one thing to show that anything can happen on "Melrose." It's entirely another to make us actually interested in what that "anything" is.
The bottom line: Just below what you're probably expecting.