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Aaron Spelling's shows

A look at the soaps ”Melrose Place” and ”Savannah”

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Aaron Spelling’s shows

When did watching Melrose Place turn from a gleeful habit into a grueling chore? The soap’s fourth season got off to a dynamite start last fall when psycho doc Kimberly (Marcia Cross) blew up the titular apartment complex. Yet since then, the show has done a slow fizzle. The wilting of Melrose has become even more apparent with the blossoming of another Aaron Spelling serial, (The WB, Sundays, 9-10 p.m.), which is fast growing into the kind of addictive indulgence Melrose (and the long-over-the-hill 90210) used to be. But fear not, Melrose fans; the show isn’t beyond repair. In fact, if Heather Locklear and Co. are looking for hints on how to spruce up their series, Savannah‘s Dixie vixens — Reese (Shannon Sturges), Lane (Robyn Lively), and Peyton (Jamie Luner) — could teach them a thing or two. Or five, actually:

1. Turn up the heat. Melrose seems stuck in a sexual rut. The sight of mostly dressed couples doing it on top of desks or on the floor isn’t exciting anymore (and aren’t any of these people worried about lower-back injuries?). Savannah‘s sex scenes may take place in more traditional settings (beds, showers), but they display more square inches of bare skin than any network prime-time series save NYPD Blue. And the Savannah cast is a lot cuter than, say, Gordon Clapp (Medavoy). What’s more, Savannah‘s romantic encounters resonate because people sleep together for believable reasons. After being devoured in dog-eat-dog New York City, Lane came home and found her ex-high school beau (David Gail) eager to help lick her wounds. The pairings on Melrose are merely random. What do barkeep Jake (Grant Show) and fashion designer Jane (Josie Bissett) have in common, aside from too-short haircuts?

2. The bad can be beautiful. Once home to TV’s most hissable villains, Melrose has allowed its characters to blend into one big amoral ball. Sure, you always hurt the one you love, but Michael (Thomas Calabro) and Kimberly — who tried to kill each other — sappily renewing their wedding vows was really pushing the limit. Worse still, Locklear’s evil edge has been filed down to a nub. Presumably, Patrick Muldoon’s Richard and Andrew Shue’s Billy are the new no-goodniks, but both are such inept actors the most they can muster is peevishness.

Savannah, on the other hand, boasts two of the best fiends to hit the small screen in years. Ray Wise, an old hand at playing creepy dads (remember Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks?), makes a terrific patriarchal tyrant. As we’ve learned, Wise’s Edward fathered not only golden girl Reese but also seething schemer Peyton, who was born out of wedlock to his housekeeper. As Peyton has plotted to get Edward to admit he’s her papa, Luner has infused the character with a palpable working-class rage. If Dynasty‘s Alexis (Joan Collins) was the perfect rich witch for the Reagan Era, Peyton could be the definitive pinup for the Age of Buchanan.

3. Keep the stories moving. In its first episode, Savannah set up a nifty mystery (Reese’s new hubby was murdered). Only two weeks later, the whodunit was surprisingly and satisfyingly resolved (Peyton’s mom dun it). Over at Melrose, story lines are wrapped up too quickly (Jane was paraplegic for, what, a week?) or dragged out endlessly. Will we ever learn why Locklear’s Amanda can’t keep her paws off big palooka Bobby Parezi (John Enos III)? And does anyone care?

4. Maintain a consistent tone. These days, Melrose has two modes: wet kitsch and dry as toast. The same show shouldn’t swing from dumb ghost stories (Kristin Davis’ drowned Brooke spooking Billy) to fiscal doings colorless enough for The Wall Street Journal (Bobby battles to buy up his dad’s shares in a cable-TV company!). Edward may be a textile magnate, but Savannah doesn’t waste time watching him pick out fabrics. The series serves up cheesecake with such a straight face you can hoot at it (Peyton bedded Reese’s husband minutes before his wedding), but it doesn’t take itself so seriously that it gets boring.

5. Get out of L.A. Shooters, D&D Advertising, Wilshire Memorial, even Melrose Place itself — we’ve been there, done that (and if we see Johnny Rockets restaurant in the opening montage one more time…). With its pecan pies, Spanish moss, and columned mansions, Savannah is a much fresher setting. Why not send the Melrosers down South for a breath of smog-free air? Laura Leighton would look better in a Scarlett O’Hara skirt than in those pseudo-retro outfits Sydney’s been wearing. Meanwhile, Luner could go on a mission to L.A. and save Melrose — by turning it into Peyton Place. Savannah: B+ Melrose Place: C-

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