When the original Melrose Place debuted in 1992–when there were roughly four channels worth watching–it became nothing short of a national obsession. Within its first few seasons, Aaron Spelling and Darren Star’s neighbor-coveting vision became a permanent fixture of pop culture. It was a generation gap-closer, and teenagers and their moms ceased fire for one hour a week to sit together and watch the psychotic sexcapades of a group of hot Angelenos living in a mythical apartment building in West Hollywood. The show launched the careers of several of its resident crazy bitches into stardom (Kristin Davis, Marcia Cross) and obscurity (Laura Leighton–who made a brief cameo on the new Melrose Place, only to be instantly killed off before viewers had a chance to refill their wine glass). The prime time soap eventually got too ridiculous for its own good (quite a feat), and the show was put down in 1999 to the chagrin of nobody.
Fast forward ten years, the residents of Melrose Place have all moved out of the building (except poor Laura Leighton, also known as Sydney) and, in their place, a fresh crop of chiseled young things. Times have changed–mom jeans have been traded in for skinnys, Doc Martens for Louboutins, and herpes is more of a concern than AIDS. Will relevant issues of the day be brought into story lines like they were on the original? It was hard to tell from the premiere alone, which focused on Sydney’s murder and introducing the new residents. Much like the old tenants, there appears to be one “normal” (read: not totally crazy) couple living in the building. Instead of struggling writer, Billy, and D&D office slave girlfriend, Alison, it’s Jonah the aspiring filmmaker–his big gushing heart filled with deep, virtuous midwest morals–and his school teacher girlfriend, Riley. Also, the token gay character, Matt, has been replaced by bisexual and self-proclaimed publicist, agent, and manager Ella. At least in Ella’s quintessentially 90’s orientation, the show is staying true to its roots.
Will the new Melrose Place resonate with low-culture aficionados enough to prompt a gathering around the proverbial water cooler? Probably not. In this contemporary television renaissance, with competition from shows that are both scandal-laden and well-produced (Mad Men, anyone?), it doesn’t seem that the new Melrose will be able to live up to the hype and fascination of its predecessor. The premiere didn’t warrant a spot in the “Trending Topics” section of our new, big water cooler–Twitter–though unscientific research indicates that at least some of the viewing public felt that some of the show’s more absurd lines warranted a Tuesday night Facebook status update. Maybe, in the fickle world of 2009, with its limitless options, that’s all our new neighbors can ask for.