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.
The series again focuses on the twentysomething residents of an L.A. apartment complex, in a tinsel-plated town where half the residents independently wind up at the same glitzy party and an aspiring filmmaker will quickly face the moral dilemma of whether it’s prudent to blackmail one of his Hollywood idols.
Said filmmaker, Jonah (Michael Rady), is living with his girlfriend Riley (Jessica Lucas). Meanwhile, a young medical resident (Stephanie Jacobsen) grapples with financial troubles; and party-gal publicist Ella (Katie Cassidy) puts on a brave, flashy exterior while pining for one of her pals. Throw in a slightly gratuitous lesbian encounter and you have a sense that the new “Melrose” won’t be any more popular with the Parents Television Council than the old one was — and that the producers hope someone takes enough umbrage at this wanton debauchery to help promote the damn thing.
The murder provides a clever device by “Smallville” alums Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer to flash back and delve into the characters’ histories. That said, the series’ biggest problem is that if you watch CW dramas sequentially it’s difficult to distinguish where one ends and the next begins — and that only two or three members of the ensemble really register in the “Melrose” premiere.
Nor does the series achieve the kind of inside-Hollywood cred it seems to covet by tossing off references that won’t mean much east of La Brea — like Ella alluding to showbiz publicist Pat Kingsley as she schemes during hour two to land a high-profile client.
Judging such a series is nigh-impossible based on two installments, especially given the show’s reliance on big twists to propel the plot. At this point, about all one can definitively say is whether the cast has potential (they do) and the situations are involving (they aren’t, unless you’re predisposed to such nonsense).
On the plus side, the producers pay sly homage to the program’s roots (Thomas Calabro also turns up as his original character) without appearing beholden to it, indicating that the show will have the latitude to evolve into its own entity — unleashing enough glitz and pulp to make “Entourage” seem relatively weighty and intellectually demanding.
Ultimately, in a fragmented TV neighborhood where the empty new “90210” improbably earned a second term, this latest revival might contain enough of its own zip to linger as well — albeit more by playing to a new generation than those curious to see what they’ve done with the old “Place.”