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Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'Melrose Place': '90s ludicrousness at '00s prices

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melrose-place-clubFor this week’s Pop Culture Club assignment, I picked The CW’s update of Melrose Place, but made it clear that I was coming to it without ever having seen more than ten minutes of the original series. This will likely aggravate fans of the original who will wonder what right I have judging Melrose without intimate familiarity with the original show’s lunatic mythology. How dare I saunter in here without knowing who had amnesia, who pulled hair, and who pulled amnesia hair? There is a history here, damn it! While you’re at it, Wolk, why not just start reading the Bible at Numbers?

Well, I thought it would be interesting to have people weighing in on this from all different perspectives: From those who know every Heather Locklear hair toss to those who wouldn’t know a Billy from a Matt. (Those names brought to you by a quick check of IMDB!) The opinions of people like me who came to it fresh are just as valid as MP veterans, as The CW was hoping this show would appeal to new, untried viewers, too. (And considering the premiere only averaged 2.3 million viewers, they’ll take anyone they can get.)

I do wish I were more familiar with The Place, as nobody calls it, for one reason: I’d like to know whether it was equally, more, or less inane than this reboot. Was the acting this bad back in the day? Probably; I have a vague memory from the ’90s of catching glimpses of Andrew Shue as I channel surfed and wondering why Fox was now airing student films. But him aside, was everyone’s dialogue this bad? Here are just some of the clichés I jotted down during the course of the program:

“What we had together, that was real.”

(From a cop to David the suspect) “Looks like you’re free to go. But don’t go far.”

“All you have to do is be yourself.”

I would have thought that when you buy these three banalities, they throw in a grizzled detective who’s getting too old for this s— for free. (Wait, silly me: There are no old people allowed on Melrose Place, unless they’re the ailing mothers of rich guys trying to turn out medical students for $5,000. You’re allowed to stick around if you at least draft someone else into the world of skankdom.)

The producers seemed in danger of hernias from their obvious efforts to push the new Melrose into exciting territory. (A murder mystery! That guy’s an art thief! The bitchy publicist is bi!) But surprises are not the same as excitement; getting hit in the face with a ball is surprising, but not all that rewarding for anybody. And for all the show’s efforts to suck us in with unpredictable characters, the Melrosians were mostly saddled with overly familiar nighttime-drama tropes. But to give them the illusion of freshness, the writers scattered obvious faddish touchstones on top of the scripts, like sprinkling grated cheese on old bread to cover up mold. Like, let’s put a bitchy woman in the complex who doesn’t like to show her feelings…but then have her say something like, “It gives them something to tweet about.” Kids love tweeting! And, and…we’ll put in a central good guy who refuses to sell out and his fiancée loves him all the more for it…but then someone will reference Lady Gaga! Mmmm, now it’s got that new-show smell!

So let me ask the other first-timers: Taken as a stand-alone show, would you want to watch the new Melrose Place again? And now to fans of the old Melrose: Did the new version bring back memories of the original? Was it a pale imitation, or did it capture the over-the-top foolishness that made the ’90s edition so addictive? And try to look at it objectively: If you didn’t like this, but loved the original, what’s the difference? Do you think that Melrose was really that good, or it was just a “you had to be there” sign of the times that in retrospect seems kind of silly?

Before we throw open Thunderdome, it’s time for next week’s assignment: FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Season 2 just started, so let’s catch the second episode, which airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. The gritty motorcycle-gang series was created by Kurt Sutter, one of the minds behind one of my favorite shows, The Shield, and Michael Calabro’s character wouldn’t last a minute in it. All right, now to the boards!

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Desmond/The CW

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