On TV: Melrose Place
In the pilot episode of the CW's Melrose Place revamp, an uppity bitch is pushed into a pool. Hooray! A return to form! Except this time, the bitch (Sydney from the old series) has been stabbed to death, a plot point which owes more to the new show's more obvious forefather Veronica Mars. In fact, though the Melrose Place premiere poses a mystery to us, it also solves another: You can successfully remake a classic TV show, as long as you amp up the camp.
The original Melrose Place (which took an entire season to evolve into the Heather Locklear rage marathon we remember) is glacially paced, absurd theater compared to its new incarnation. Within 40 minutes, we meet a cutthroat bisexual agent (Katie Cassidy), a discouraged medical student who might whore herself to a sociopath to pay tuition (Stephanie Jacobsen), a hot former bad boy with blond brushfire hair (Shaun Sipos, who is certainly channeling The O.C.'s Ben McKenzie), the overly innocent new resident to the Melrose apartment complex (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz), a po-faced filmmaker who loves love and his art (Swingtown's Michael Rady, so perky that it's only right if he turns out to be a hot-blooded murderer), and his unsure-about-getting-married-after-a-such-a-stressful-day-of-discovering-a-dead-body girlfriend (Jessica Lucas), Everyone's a suspect in the murder, but everyone is also too busy with individual blackmail issues to think about that right now.
Amid the fast-breaking side-plots, each teeming with dirty money, we're bombarded with other minutiae -- for instance, the oppressively up-to-date soundtrack and pop culture references. Lady Gaga's name is dropped, Kevin Rudolf's biggest single opens the show, and Katie Cassidy's character Ella addresses rampant romantic rumors about herself with one outrageous bit of dialogue: "It gives [people] something to Tweet about." That's the precipice where Melrose Place lives: halfway between delicious and just ridiculous, The O.C. mixed with RuPaul's Drag Race, but with enough jewel-toned, Nordstroms costuming to make you think it's closer to the former.
With original stars Laura Leighton, Thomas Calabro, and Josie Bissett returning to the show, Melrose Place ultimately achieves what it sets out to do, advancing upon its ancestor's charm with ease. You dismiss the cloying retorts and uninspired acting -- both, particularly, from Lucas and Simpson-Wentz -- because the story arcs on this show move so swiftly that treacle is a necessary buffer. Fortunately, the pace also makes the show's obvious dialogue ("You're a HUGELY TALENTED FILMMAKER" and "You're a SPLIT SECOND AWAY FROM BEING DISCOVERED") more palatable.
Sure, Melrose Place isn't going to reinvent the CW's relationship drama rubric, but at least its romantic hookups have a sinister frisson. Gossip Girl might have the better actors, but Melrose Place seems poised to deliver more outrageous twists and a reassuring sense of self. This is a show whose bedroom eyes, thankfully, take time to wink at us.