By Gillian Flynn
Updated May 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Justin Lubin

The CW’s Hidden Palms wants to be The O.C. meets Twin Peaks. Or maybe that’s One Tree Hill meets Veronica Mars. What About Brian mixed with a dash of Columbo? Whatever its muddled aspirations, Palms, from Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson, is an un-eerie, under-soapy misfire, no matter how many girls sun themselves in bikinis, no matter how many cocktails are gulped, no matter how goosey-gotcha the ”mystery” gets.

After witnessing his dad’s suicide, high schooler Johnny (The O.C.‘s Taylor Handley) relocates to Palm Springs, Calif., with his mom (NYPD Blue‘s Gail O’Grady) and her new hubby. Trying to stay sober after a rehab stint, Johnny soon falls in with a troublesome crowd, including his invasive next-door neighbor Cliff (The O.C.‘s Michael Cassidy) and hot, tearful Greta (Amber Heard, who, I must add, played a ”salesgirl” on one episode of The O.C.). It’s a bit bizarre watching these former O.C. secondaries in lead roles: Handley played obsessive Oliver Trask; Cassidy was that goody boy Zach Stevens. Cassidy’s elevated, nasal delivery works much better here. As a sinister prepster with a passel of secrets — all madras and muscle tension — he’s the most interesting thing about the show.

Soon after his arrival, Johnny starts receiving instant messages. They say things like ”Be careful.” (Yikes!) Then he writes things like ”WHO IS THIS?” (Tedium building.) After many such unproductive exchanges, the IMer claims to be Eddie, the dead teen who used to live in Johnny’s room. So did Eddie kill himself? Was he murdered? Or is he still alive? And what do Greta and Cliff — who have many cryptic conversations on the topic — know? Hey, great thrillers have been made from slimmer plotlines. But they usually had something else to offer. Palms, even in its first few episodes, feels like it’s padding scenes — playing for time with shots of swimming pools and kids dancing and Greta weepily collapsing on a golf course, all with underlying pop songs. It’s like one long, inane music video. Damien Rice’s ”The Blower’s Daughter” makes a predictable early appearance, threatening to overtake Jeff Buckley’s ”Hallelujah” as TV’s most overused ”song of poignancy.”

Even the dialogue is mediocre, a surprise coming from Williamson, who virtually created knowing teen articulators with Dawson’s. Here, the characters yak a lot but say nothing, which is either Williamson’s commentary on the over-wired, self-involved e-generation, or…mediocre dialogue. ”Moments work really great — anything beyond that really doesn’t,” opines Greta in a slap-a-seagull-on-it-and-you’ve-got-a-poster bit of wisdom. Palms is ultimately just that trite.