Getting back in bed with Melrose Place

What Women Really Think
Sept. 8 2009 3:49 PM

Getting back in bed with Melrose Place

Should you doubt that Melrose Place has a unique purchase on the hearts, if not the minds, of longtime television watchers, I direct you to the following positive reviews: "It’s as fresh as yesterday’s daisy ," "It's still not good, mind you, but it's more honest and enthusiastic about its badness , you know?" and "[It’s] operating at the same level of glorious mind gunk as its predecessor." No, really, those are all positive reviews, and they are all totally on the money. The new Melrose Place is exactly as bad as the old Melrose Place , and in the special 2+2=5 hours that occur after a long day of work, that’s entertainment.

Now that Melrose 2.0 exists, it’s hard to remember why anyone was ever "worried" that it wouldn’t come off. Is there any format easier than the nighttime soap opera? All you need, apparently, is a whirling plot, no shame, and some pretty people who can keep a straight face. And yet, Pasadena , Models Inc., Central Park West, and a handful of other quickly cancelled primetime soap operas suggest the previously qualities are not all that is required for success. Mediocrity may be ubiquitous, but addictive mediocrity takes chemistry. Is Melrose just making it look easy?

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Melrose 2.0 has done two very smart things-whether by luck or pluck I cannot say. The first is to understand the importance of the batshit crazy chick to high camp, and therefore to the long term success of any soap opera. In this, the new Melrose really learned from the old Melrose , which, at its over-the-top peak, had three lunatic ladies running around simultaneously: Marcia Cross’s Kimberly, Laura Leighton’s Sydney, and Heather Locklear’s Amanda. The new Melrose only has two loonies on hand (or two and a half, if you count the self-same Sydney, who appears in at least the first two episodes, but only in flashbacks, as she’s been found dead in the pool). One of the new crazies is played by a googly-eyed, possibly sedated Ashlee Simpson and the other by Katie Cassidy (more on her in a minute). Since characters only tend to get crazier as these shows progress (how many car accidents, stalkers, rapes, murders, kidnappings, arsons, hijackings, brainwashings, illnesses, heartbreaks, betrayals, and affairs could you take before you lost it?), two is a promising start. Women are the engine of soap, and unhinged women mean the soap will likely be wackadoo. Wackadoo is good.

The second smart thing Melrose 2.0 has done is to cast a decent Heather Locklear replacement. Katie Cassidy (daughter of teen heartthrob David) plays publicist Ella, in full Locklear mode. (As Slate ’s Troy Patterson puts it, she delivers " regular bitchery in the manner of Locklear , queen of brittle.") At 22, Cassidy’s Ella is basically a young Amanda Woodward, not yet as polished, poised, or as good as getting the guy, (or the girl-Ella’s bisexual) but on her way. Melrose 2.0 is positioned to tell the Amanda Woodward creation myth-Amanda’s name has just been changed to Ella Simms. If it can do that, tell the story of how a young, ambitious, insecure, fearless young adult becomes a Woodward (or a Miranda Priestly), it might start edging away from being good in a bad way toward being good in a good way. Crazier things have happened.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.