The CW is determined to continue making a niche for itself as the home of teen dramas even though its top rated scripted dramas have been “Smallville” and “Supernatural“, both shows falling well outside of that targeted niche. And both shows continue to hold their own despite lower ratings this year as a result of one being moved to Friday, commonly referred to as the death slot, and the other facing even more Thursday night competition than ever before. Luckily for The CW, their freshman drama “The Vampire Diaries” has proven to be a bona fide hit, as it capitalizes on the Twilight craze, even though technically Vampire Diaries was the novel published first.
In the ever-present cycle of what’s-old-is-new-again, Melrose Place is a reboot of the 1992 series of the same name that featured the sexy misadventures of a diverse group of twenty-something residents at the apartment complex from which the show got its name, and dominated the night-time soap scene of the time despite a rocky introductory year. Along with the original Beverly Hills: 90210, it offered an unbeatable ratings team at the time, which The CW was anxious to recapture with the newly resurrected versions.
The CW has invested a lot of money on Melrose, banking that it would be a ratings winner, but so far that hasn’t been supported by the numbers, even though Melrose is definitely better and smarter than its other remake counterpart, 90210. Its first few episodes have been well done, with all the back-stabbing, bed-hopping, bitchalicious twists & turns that make such guilty pleasures simply pure fun to watch. The characters are likeable (some in the mandatory like-to-hate manner), with writing that is well-paced. And there is even a murder mystery unfolding in the background to really add to the intrigue, although such mysteries are never really the draw of such shows anyways.
Part of what has made for a better formula with this remake is the nice balance between old cast members and new, making it feel like a continuation of the Melrose that had a place in our hearts, rather than something brand new with an old name attached to it. While several of the cast members may seem a bit inexperienced and will no doubt grow into their roles as time progresses, there are other veterans who offer a counterbalance. Returning cast members from the 1992 original include Josie Bissett, reprising her role as Jane Andrews Mancini, Laura Leighton as Sydney Andrews who is owner of the complex having taken it over from Amanda Woodward, and Thomas Calabro (Dr. Michael Mancini, and Jane’s ex). A cameo by Daphne Zuniga will round out the original cast members showing up at the old address for now. And after long negotiations, the ever-beautiful Heather Locklear will be reprising her role as Amanda Woodward, the epitome of Queen Bitch. After all, how can there be a Melrose Place without the return of its sneaky, double-crossing, trouble-making ringleader? Heather makes her first appearance with the Nov. 17 episode and it will be very interesting to see if there will be a long-lasting positive effect on the ratings after that. I sincerely hope so.
Newer actors in the apartment complex include Ashlee Simpson-Wentz (yup, younger sister of Jessica Simpson). She has been given a pivotal role as Violet, who appears to be Sydney’s daughter in that they not only share the same hair color, but they have the same penchant for blackmail as well! My only worry is that the role appears to be bigger than Mrs. Wentz can handle, although it is still early to make that final judgment call so the benefit of the doubt is extended for the time being. With more recent announcements though, it appears this concern will be removed and her days truly are numbered, as she makes her final appearances in January. The cast is also losing Colin Egglesfield who plays Auggie, the cute, love-interest chef and possible murder suspect.
Michael Rady plays Jonah Miller, the nice-guy, wannabe filmmaker. Shaun Sipos is David Breck, the bad-boy, spoiled rich brat, hot-head casanova who just happens to be Dr. Mancini’s son. Stephanie Jacobsen, last seen in a kick-ass role on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, offers a convincing (though unlikely) turn as medical student Lauren Yung who agrees to a rather unlikely side-profession to solve her growing student loan debt problems. Go on, take your best guess at what her new part-time gig might be… she’s beautiful… she’s in Hollywood… and she can check more than your blood pressure for $1000 a night!
And of course, there’s Katie Cassidy, whom we last saw in a very different role (along with dark hair) as the unfortunate bride on the horror mini-series Harper’s Island. She is playing Ella Simms, the conniving, manipulative, ambitious Publicist. At first it appeared that Ms. Cassidy would be the new Ms. Locklear. After all she’s beautiful, blond, rich, wears fantastic clothes, and her actions and words give bitch a whole new meaning. To say that Katie is a scene-stealer would be an understatement, as she appears to really revel in the role of Ella, complete with snark and perpetual wide-eyed bewilderment at having her plans go haywire. There are times when producers strike gold by casting the right actor in the right role, and this is certainly the case with Katie as Ella Simms. Personally, I look forward to having Cassidy and Locklear, the two vixens of the present and past, sparring and locking horns. It will raise the definition of guilty pleasure to a whole new level! If the writers and producers are smart, they will focus on this dynamic duo and truly get viewers hooked.
As for Melrose Place, the big question now becomes: why aren’t more people watching? The CW appeared to be putting all its eggs into one basket by creating multiple shows out of the same mold: Gossip Girl, 90210, The Beautiful Life and Melrose Place. The Beautiful Life, the Ashton Kutcher produced drama focusing on the difficulties of making it in the modeling world, saw an early cancellation after only a couple of episodes, and the other dramas (with the exception of Gossip Girl) have not become the mega-hits that CW was banking on, despite a barrage of advertising.
Part of the problem with these remakes is that they are relying heavily on series name recognition. But that name is only likely to be recognized by those viewers who were originally enthralled with Melrose and 90210 back in the early 90s. Viewers who are now well into their thirties and technically outside of that teen-girl-niche that The CW is banking on. And even if some of the original viewers bring their now-teenaged daughters (or way-younger little sisters) along for the ride, those teens are surrounded by technology, which severely affects their viewing habits. They no longer need to make an appointment with their TV on a specific night and specific time to watch the shows they want. They simply go online to view at their convenience, DVR it for later, or download it to an iPod to watch between classes. And the current rating system has not yet taken into account all those factors in the total viewership numbers. I only hope that CW is keeping track since it appears that most of its shows make a significant ratings jump upwards when that technology is factored in.
I really DO hope that Melrose Place is able to pick up in the ratings and is given a chance to find an audience and grow. It is improving with each week and with Heather Locklear coming back in November, it will hopefully get the boost and attention it desperately needs. At least The CW is showing confidence in it by ordering enough episodes for an entire season. And as far as guilty pleasures go, there should be no guilt in enjoying this show, which offers an enjoyable ride in this genre and a great alternative to the reality monotony showing on opposite channels.
FINAL GRADE: B-
Melrose Place airs Tuesdays at 9:00 pm on The CW. Now is a great time to catch up and prepare for the momentous return of Amanda (Heather Locklear) on Nov. 17. CW released a brief little promo to whet our palate, featuring Heather and a very clever tag line. Take a quick look at it HERE.