Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giant-Size Melrose Memo XI: San Vicente

The facts: the original Melrose Place is probably my favorite television show of all time. I could write an essay on why, but let's just leave it at "it is" for now. I have waited patiently for a decade, and now at long last my beloved Melrose has been remade for a new generation...but will it be any good? That is what I will explore here each Tuesday night (or Wednesday evening) in the Melrose Memo. I understand that those of you coming here for comics, movie or general geek news probably have little to no interest in hearing my thoughts on this program, but people--it's Melrose Place.

Now, as my friend Sean would say, read on if you wish, but do not allow me to spoil the elaborate mythology of this show for you; in other words, watch before reading!

-Before I begin, I have to say that after she read last week's Memo, my darling wife, Megan, scolded me, claiming it was "too analytical" and that she "just wants to laugh." That she would consider my ruminations Colin Egglesfield's acting ability observative and/or comedic is just one of the many reasons I love her.

-Well, this turned out to be quite the episode, as it truly was the mid-season finale, revealing Sydney's killer and giving closure to pretty much every major plotline from the first half of the season, though certainly none of this was promoted at all in either last week's trailer or in any commercials I saw. Indeed, if I had any doubts The CW had thrown in the towel on Melrose 2009 v.1, they were erased over the course of tonight's 42 minutes. On a practical level, I understand the show underperformed in the ratings and changes were made, but that certainly didn't make this abrupt and in many cases ham-fisted clearing of the decks any less frustrating. From what I've seen and heard about the rebooted reboot coming in January, it certainly seems appealing and intriguing, but so did this version, and seeing how decisively it was dismissed certainly hurt my faith in the execs running the show. Yeah, changes were certainly necessary, as evidenced by ongoing criticisms I had in this space, but the way it was all handled just leaves a bad taste in my mouth that was hard to get out as I watched tonight. I definitely feel that those of us who invested from week one got a bit shafted.

-I'd say the lack of confidence in this show from The CW is evident right from the recap, as it's the exact same one from last week with like one new scene added; clearly they don't think anybody watched the last episode. Ok, given the numbers not that many people did watch last week, but I did, dammit, and I do not deserve to be punished by hearing "Jonah, you are a hugely talented filmmaker" again. Alright, time to stop grinding the axe and get down to business...

-The arc of Katie Cassidy of Ella is actually pretty symptomatic of what isn't working about the show and why I do get the need for a pretty hard reboot. She's a "bitch" who never really acts like one and ostensibly only is one because she and the people around her say she is. Whatever potential the character had at the beginning of the season faded pretty quick because it became clear the writers don't know how to create a new Sydney or Amanda in this television age of everybody needing to have some redeeming/sympathetic quality and, while Cassidy can act, she's no Laura Leighton or Heather Locklear and can't play "love to hate," something of a lost art in this day and age (even Leighton Meester on Gossip Girl, who I friggin' adore, makes Blair as vulnerable as she is devious, which you never saw with Amanda until the show really went off the tracks). I was originally against moving forward with the Ella/Jonah pairing as anything other than an Amanda/Billy-style fling, but y'know what, if they can't pull off the man-eater, I guess giving her a shot with a dude she's got solid chemistry with isn't the worst move. Basically, accepting Ella/Jonah means accepting this can't be the Melrose Place of yore, but maybe it can be a different but decent show set in the same building.

-Running parallel to that last paragraph, finally the Jonah/Riley relationship gets the mercy killing it needed. Again, it goes back to having to let go of what the show could have been and accepting what it's going to be, as the end of their long-suffering engagement came out of nowhere after they spent the first nine weeks or so being terrible for/to one another then actually seemed to rebound in the last two episodes, but in order for the show to get better, it was needed. Ultimately I think the biggest mistake made with the whole thing was having them start the show as such an established couple. As Megan and I noted time and again while watching, there is just no way they dated for five stress-free years and then just suddenly started having these huge problems and doubts the minute the show started, engagement or not. See if they were going the full surreality root of the original Melrose, perhaps it could have worked in the way the rapid deterioration of Michael and Jane's happy marriage went down, but even that was more the result of Michael having been a shitheel all along and just finally getting caught. Regardless of how it ended, it's done, and I think this is a good thing. Not only are Ella and Jonah a better couple, and not only will it be nice not to endure the ridiculousness of Jonah and Riley's relationship, I actually think going the bad girl angle with Riley is the only way to salvage that character, and "my fiance slept with the chick I hate" angle could be just what's necessary to get her there. I don't know why, but I have a weird faith in Jessica Lucas to pull that off.

-"You don't get any presents that way." -recent bride Megan's immediate reaction to Jonah and Riley's plans to elope in Vegas.

-The opening makeout montage reminded me that Auggie was MIA again last week. What the fuck does Colin Egglesfield do on his weeks of, Shakespeare in the Park?

-"Yes! Time to hooker!" -Megan on the long-awaited return of Lauren's day job.

-Ah the time-honored Melrose tradition of crowded streets and lots of horns equalling New York City. They did that several times in the original series and it was always money. It's not like they're far off, but the extremes they push it to make me chuckle. I guess Heather brought back the old sound effects guy with her.

-Ok, I've been waffling the last couple weeks over whether or not Heather Locklear has aged well, but putting her next to the pristinely-preserved Laura Leigton certainly does her no favors. Much as I'll miss Ashlee Simpson and (making fun of) Colin Egglesfield, the departure of the lovely Ms. Leighton is the real heartbreaker of this episode. The weird flashback with her and Amanda in the church gave me a slight glimmer of hope maybe she'd still play at least a similar beyond the grave role in the season's second half, but again, they seemed to tie all her loose ends up in bows a bit too neatly. Too bad.

-Still, Amanda & Sydney as international art thiefs? What? Did anybody on the writing staff watch the original series? Sydney maybe, but Amanda Woodward knows how to make money legitimately!

-"Even the Lord rested on the seventh day." -Sydney dissing Amanda with sadly most likely her last great line for awhile.

-I love that Amanda justifies sleeping with Michael (what?!) by saying he's married now so obviously neither she nor Syd had a chance anyways. Because Michael has always been an exemplary husband.

-Oh come on...another super prestigious Hollywood producer wants to hear Jonah's pitch? Dude, why are you surprised given that every power player in town apparently wants to do business with you until you sabotage yourself with your completel lack of talent and professionalism! This is seriously the equivalent of me or Rickey or Kiel managing to pitch a comic to Marvel, DC and Image, and despite all of them having interest and one of us screwing it up every time, Dark Horse still wants to hear from us (still a comics blog, gang, thanks for reading).

-And of course Michael makes my statement from two paragraphs up seem dumb by apparently having morphed into a total family man who just wants what's best for his kids. This I do not like. I was praying for a swerve that never came the rest of the episode.

-It struck me when Riley walked in on Auggie doing his midday cooking that over 50% of the residents of this very pricey L.A. apartment complex is unemployed and seemingly not even looking for work unless you count Jonah tripping over his own feet into high-powered meetings every five minutes (which I do not). Riley is out jogging instead of teaching, David has given up thievery to become Batman and Auggie is making ramen primavera or something. I'm going to recommend to TJ that he move to Melrose Place ASAP.

-Good for you, Lauren, on really putting the "pro" in prostitute by finally not giving up kisses for free. Too bad I can see you getting a drugged coming a mile away. Yep. There it is. Worst. Hooker. Ever.

-"Why is he not working then, Riles?" -Megan in response to Riley calling Jonah "the greatest storyteller [she has] ever met" or whatever.

-Holy shit! I knew I recognized Nolan North's name in the credits, but couldn't remmber from where--the dude playing Jonah's latest would-be boss is the guy who voiced Giant-Man in the Ultimate Avengers movies! I totally moderated a panel with that guy on it at Wizard World L.A. one year and then chatted with him during interviews some time. Megan and her friend Ashleigh got him to record a voice mail message after because he does a killer Christopher Walken. He's a really cool guy--good for you, Nolan North!

-It is both hilarious and insulting but mostly hilarious that after eleven weeks of build, we learn that Jonah's ballyhooed Life in Reverse pitch is The Butterfly Effect. A thousand points for this show if they cast Ashton Kutcher to play the lead in that shit.

-"Is he just going to leave her there on the floor?" "Of course. That's what you do with hookers." -Megan and I's exchange after Lauren's client ducks out after drugging her.

-Not nearly enough David in this episode, but I think that's perhaps a testament to the folks making the show realizing he's the character who needs the least tinkering.

-"You're not under-employed, Jonah, you are unemployed." Megan, speaking from experience.

-Jeez, is there anything little Noah doesn't like? He is seriously pacified by the offer of just about anything. Outer space, crayons, crazy reheads, you name it.

-"I would sooner leave him with the homeless guy around the corner." -Megan on David's choice of Vi as babysitter.

-David accuses a new person of killing Sydney every week, but each time with such utter conviction. He could point the finger at Noah and I'd believe him.

-Holy shit! The reveal of Michael's wife as Sydney's killer was both predictable and a total let-down, but the revelation that Noah is actually David's son came damn close to redeeming the whole sequence! Sure as hell a lot to play with in terms of that for the rest of the season at least. Does David know? Does Michael know? Very cool and very Melrose.

-On the flipside and getting back to my original point, the anticlimatic placement of the Sydney resolution about three quarters into the episode just reinforces how much everybody gave up on the original direction of the show, given how that was supposed to be the season-long driving point and ended up playing second fiddle to Jonah and Riley breaking up instead.

-"I heard peasant skirts are totally in for weddings in Vegas." -Megan taking aim at Riles per usual.

-Blackberry clearly sponsored the show tonight given how many times Jonah and Ella went on about that fucking Looped In program.

-Jonah is being totally irrational about thinking Riley wanting him to stay in town and work on his movie after somehow it got picked up (argh) rather than getting married that night means she isn't committed to their relationship, and yet of course he's also completely right. Really I think he was just looking for another way to sabotage his career and was being pissy that Riles forced him to perhaps enjoy his completely undeserved success. Poor Jonah.

-There was no more clear example in my eyes of the script for this episode being thrown together last minute and major plot points being shuffled off for the sake of starting over than the revised Violet/Sydney encounter where apparently moments after Sydney denied having a daughther, she rushes to Vi's apartment to tell her she's totally her mom and loves her and bleh. There was no better moment on this show than episode two's fantastically creepy one-two punch of Sydney's punch and Vi's nutjob denial followed by that great closeup of Ashlee Simpson swimming eye-first into the camera and this just totally shit on all of that. It really irked me as there was no good reason to throw that all away. Violet was absolutely insane enough that she would have drowned Vanessa over Sydney's death whether Syd actually admitted to being her mom or not, and not doing that dumb weepy junk would have left a far better door open had they wanted to revisit her maternity down the line. Sure you could make the argument that Vi is still nuts and hallucinated the new scene with Sydney, but since the episode didn't really do much in the aftermath to demonstrate that, I doubt it. Not only does it spoil what could have been, it also forces me to retroactively not enjoy all those freaky scenes of Vi wearing Syd's dresses and whatnot since she did in fact know she was her mom that whole time. Hated this.

-However, Violet and Vanessa fighting in the pool in what I can only hope was an homage to Sydney and Jane's wedding dress aquatic brawl (but now with drowning) was a nice touch. Well done, Melrose crew.

-Wow, Amanda was barely in this episode. Again, I would assume that as with David, this is because there's really not much about her character that needs altering and this was the week of change, but still, how much are they paying her again? I do hope her saving Violet from a murder rap is the gateway to a Vi return at some point, but I think you can kinda gather I'm grasping at straws here.

-Nothing conveys the gravity of a murder scene like Auggie and his extreme v-neck. I also appreciate how he used this romantic setting to hit on newly-unengaged Riley. Oh Colin Egglesfield, there are certainly no shortage of straight-to-DVD parts as date raping fraternity members awaiting you. Best of luck in your future endeavors, sir!

-Lauren should really take note of Ella's great hooker wardrobe. Those boots are perfect!

-Megan and I were both in absolute hysterics as Violet burned her crayon portrait of Auggie. Sidenote: who was watching Noah while his babysitter was drowning his mother in a pool ten feet away from where he was drawing, his fake dad was in jail and his real dad was rushing his prostitute girlfriend to the hospital following her drug overdose? Hey...reading that sentence back just made me feel like this was the Melrose glory days again! We have hope!

-"That picture showed more emotion than the real Auggie. It's smiling." -Megan on Crayola Auggie during its funeral pyre.

-Final comment on the final scene with scantily clad Jonah and Ella heading to bed: Jonah is a handsy mofo.

-I guess my final final thought is that I felt a distinct lack of closure and proper climax to this first dozen episodes of the new Melrose, but the preview for what's ahead did show promise, not just of some cool stuff, but really of a whole new show. Will it be closer to the original? That would be nice, but I'll settle for a decent enterprise the network can believe in and folks will watch. Regardless, this first twelve episodes were certainly not a total wash, as if nothing else I got some decent posts out of it, baffled my co-bloggers who don't understand why I spend my Tuesdays doing this, and cemented my place as the comic book industry's leading expert in all things Melrose Place, a title I shall defend with honor. Not too shabby. See you next year!


Nightwing said...

Thanks for the great recaps!

Few things: Still not convinced that Syd s Violet's mom. Syd seemed distracted during that excahnge. I'm guessing that Syd would say ANYTHING to get Violet to.... house her stolen art. You follow?

Ella has done some outright bitchy things-- like last week, selling out Jonah for her job. Hopefully, they will dial it up if she becomes Amanda's protege and hides her treacherous acts from Jonah. Which has got to happen, right?

And I'm not completely convinced that David is Noah's daddy... Syd could have been guessing. Or maybe no one knows for sure. But good stuff!!

Also, has the show forgotten that David is in possession of Michael's secret iles on everyone? What's in them? PLEASE revisit this, MP!!

Ben Morse said...

Thanks for reading!

I'd be more convinced about the Violet thing if they'd gone to any effort to show Vi acting nuts after, but it just seemed too neatly wrapped. Couple that with all the scuttlebutt about Ashlee's departure and I'm just not optimistic. She does have one ep left though.

Ella does bitchy things, but she doesn't revel in them like a true bitch would. You think Amanda would bat an eyelash if Billy found out she had played him, even when they were dating? Fuck no, she never did. Ella has interesting layers and I think they're better off exploring those than pushing her to be the bitch that she's not. That said, the show needs a new bitch.

Totally forgot about those files! Good call!