The new Melrose Place reviewed.

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Sept. 4 2009 10:33 AM

Feel Like I've Been Here Before

The new Melrose Place.

Melrose Place 2009.
Melrose Place

Melrose Place (The CW, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET) is an update of the Aaron Spelling soap that aired on Fox from 1992 to 1999, may it rest in peace. The premise remains the same, with a collection of young people living on top of one another in the most intrigue-ridden apartment complex in all of Los Angeles, where they struggle to complicate one another's sex lives and occasionally manifest symptoms of florid psychosis. In short, living in a Melrose Place apartment closely resembles living in a college dorm room.

It seems a statement of the obvious to call the new Melrose trash, but a reviewer must observe certain formalities—and at least it is trash we can dig into and learn something from, as if we were archaeologists at the dumps of Pompeii or garbologists in the dustbins of Dylan. We might note, for instance, how TV's idea of juicy career fantasies has changed since the Clinton era. The original Melrose tenants worked in the fields of medicine, advertising, writing, and teaching aerobics, with gay Matt Fielding somewhat condescendingly given a career in a social work and blue-collar Jake Hanson accorded wild-one status as a rugged biker.

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The new gang comprises an inner-city schoolteacher, a brooding chef, a lissome restaurant employee, a blackmailing filmmaker, a whoring med-school student, a thieving ne'er-do-well, and a publicist who'll stop at nothing to become "the next Pat Kingsley." Is this what it's come to? I hope that this name-drop is an instance of the CW, home of the prodigiously hyped Gossip Girl, pandering to us nitwits in the coastal media. The alternative is a bit too much to bear. To imagine that normal viewers of trashy soaps care about Hollywood PR firms is to envisage a green cloud of inside-showbiz smog billowing across the continent—the Entourage-ing of America. In any event, in her role as the PR girl, young actress Katie Cassidy delivers regular bitchery in the manner of Locklear, queen of brittle.

The first Melrosewas conceived as "a middle-class Dallas," and the new one places its who-shot-J.R. moment right up front. Sydney Andrews—the copper-haired nutball from the original—begins Tuesday's episode as the landlady and ends it floating in the swimming pool, having pulled a Sunset Boulevard. Leading suspects in her murder include the chef, described as a "sensitive sous-chef with a dark past," and his copper-haired newest neighbor, "a seemingly naive young woman with a dark side." Unspeakable secrets, shady behavior, midnight-blue emotional bruises. It can't be long before the inner-city teacher gets caught up in a murky conspiracy to steal school supplies.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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