A year after reviving the popular 1990s FOX primetime soap opera Beverly Hills 90210, the CW is back with a follow-up, a new series remake of another ’90s FOX primetime soap, Melrose Place (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EDT). Like its predecessor, the new Melrose Place is set among young Hollywood strivers living at the apartment complex that provides the show’s title, along with various sinister moneyed people and a small number of relatively decent sorts.
As the pilot episode begins, we follow a beautiful young woman into a glamorous nightclub–where a variety of attractive young people find their fun being interrupted by personal crises.
This leads to one of those incredibly snarled soap-opera plots in which several sets of characters are plunged into disaster after catastrophe. Thus a gooey-tender scene in which a young man asks his girlfriend to narry him is interrupted by an offscreen woman’s terrified scream and the discovery of a corpse bleeding into a nearby swimming pool.
Two-thirds of the way through the episode, things get quite interesting as a couple of the decent characters are presented with serious moral dilemmas involving financial and career temptations. A nurse is offered an urgently needed $5,000 to sleep with a man she has just met, and a young filmmaker is offered $100,000 to keep quiet about witnessing an extramarital affair.
The moral implications of these dilemmas are made so clear and taken so seriously that it doesn’t really matter what the characters choose; the viewer will be nonetheless encouraged to think about how they would react in such a situation and thus contemplate their own moral probity. That’s a good thing, and it’s what popular fiction at its best always does.
And, yes, there is a happy ending–for the good characters. This being television, however, the happy scene is of course followed by a coda sequence full of fear, longing, venery, and crime, to remind the viewer to return next week. All in all, the show seems rather more serious than one might expect, with a suitably modern noir approach to the cinematography, direction, story, and performances.
The biggest question is whether the producers–who also make the CW series Smallville–will retain the moral seriousness shown in the pilot as Melrose Place continues. So far, it’s not great art, but it might turn out to be good popular fiction.
—S. T. Karnick