On North Shore, one must admire not just the cleavage but the careful tending of the cleavage. I particularly appreciated the June 14 episode, which featured a tricky fade-out on one set of breasts…right into another set, prompting me to shriek, ”Now, there’s a lotta boobs!” I also tallied several bed tumbles, booze binges, and one wonderfully goofy broken-beer-bottle-as-weapon brandishment. Despite these usually reliable devices — plus the we’re in a posh Hawaii hotel, whoop-de-doo! premise — ”North Shore” is a soggy excuse for a soap.
How do you fumble a setup involving wealthy vacationers misbehaving on pretty beaches, their travails aided and alleviated by the sparkly staff of the Grand Waimea Hotel? Methinks much blame lies with exec producer Chris Brancato for insisting that the series be more ”Gosford Park” (the glitzy rich versus the working stiffs who serve them) than ”Melrose”-on-the-beach. Because ”North Shore” hasn’t fully embraced its soap roots, it’s like watching a bottle-blonde boat-show model insist she’s really well edumacated.
The Waimea’s noble staff includes the maniacally chipper hotel heiress Nicole Booth, played by Brooke Burns, deploying fervent nose crinkling and tooth flashing in place of acting. (Burns, a former ”Baywatch” star, did her best work earlier this year posing for paparazzi photos with her now ex-beau Bruce Willis — a gig that didn’t require her to speak.) She’s matched with Kristoffer Polaha as benign hotel manager Jason Matthews, the son of a surfboard carver. Polaha, who played JFK Jr. in the TV movie ”America’s Prince,” is one of those tall, dark, and vaguely handsome guys, in the rich tradition of ”Dharma & Greg”’s Thomas Gibson and ”Ally McBeal”’s Gil Bellows. Nicole and Jason are allegedly ex-lovers, but have such a dearth of chemistry that I dread their inevitable hookup, which will likely have all the heat of naked Barbie and Ken dolls being smushed together by a bored toddler.
Nicole, Jason, and the rest of ”North Shore”’s staff aren’t instigators of any drama — they’re morality players in a post-bubble economy, warning us of the evils of idleness and excess: Nicole shuns her celebutante best friend because she won’t stop partying. Jason finds himself in a couple of what’s-a-hotel-manager-to-do lip-locks with loose celebrities — which he, of course, chastely curtails. Further underscoring how hard it is to just plain work, young Gabriel (Corey Sevier), the hotel lifeguard, becomes the sex pawn in a bet made by (dum-dum-dummmm!) Rich People, and spunky MJ (Nikki DeLoach), an aspiring T-shirt designer earning cash as a Waimea waitress (as in, Why me a waitress?) has her off-duty evening ruined when she’s mistaken for…a waitress at a local watering hole.
The whole class warfare thing is particularly unpalatable in a series that has exactly one native Hawaiian character, bartender Frankie Seau (Jason Momoa), who mostly acts easygoing and ”islandy,” while the rest of ”North Shore”’s Hawaiian population is employed as cleaning ladies or tribal-dancing, fire-swirling back-drops. The series’ other nonwhite or non-straight characters have thus far been a Japanese hotel critic who wants the Waimea to pimp women for him, a cheating Asian ”career woman,” a lesbian tennis pro, and a cloying, plotting gay man with a taste for liquor.
Any aficionado can pinpoint ”North Shore”’s crucial failure: A good soap needs reliable scoundrels! The addition of ”The O.C.”’s Amanda Righetti as a con artist-turned-concierge is a start, but why cast ”Sex and the City”’s James Remar — a man whose voice is like something sticky that you wish were honey but isn’t — as the Waimea’s owner if he’s not going to be a bastard? (Remar replaced Rob Estes, late of ”Melrose Place” and ”Silk Stalkings,” a ’90s neon-and-stiletto detective romp whose silly zip ”Shore” could stand to emulate.) What to make of a soap that features a dorky teen wooing his girlfriend with floating pool candles as smiling staffers spy from the bushes? What to do with a series that unironically puts forth the line ”I’m not anybody’s cabana boy”? What to say of a show that remains prim and stiff despite buff bodies and Hawaiian sunsets aplenty? I think the islanders expressed it best with their quaint phrase, Change the dang channel!