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'Melrose Place': Campy or not? Make up your mind, folks

October 21, 2009 |  6:57 am

56057 I know I'm not supposed to compare old "Melrose Place" to new "Melrose Place." The producers would not be pleased.

Old "Melrose" was campy and insane and full of deliciously bad acting, nearly all of it coming from Andrew Shue's surly good guy and eyebrow-raiser Billy Campbell.

But episodes like this one make it hard not to draw parallels.

New "Melrose," after all, has a Billy of its own in Jonah, the well-intentioned aspiring filmmaker with permanent bed head, an adorably geeky guy -- think "Gossip Girl's" Dan Humphrey back in Season 1 -- meant to inspire a chorus of "awww shuckses" week in and week out from the CW's core audience of swooning females.

But Jonah does nothing for me in this determined-not-be-silly reincarnation. In Tuesday's episode, Jonah and Alliso...er, Riley, have yet another blow-up -- really, I actually found myself chanting, "Drink Allison, drink!" -- and Jonah becomes a little too self-righteous for my taste. He finds out that Auggie (who is the new Jake, and they both ride motorcycles!) slipped Riley some tongue once while she was drunk, and after Jonah tries unsuccessfully to get Riley to come clean, He predictably runs into the open arms of the bespectacled-by-day, gorgeous-by-night assistant Kendra (Jenna Dewan). I'll do my best not to compare her to Billy's Brooke (Kristen Davis, who doesn't look that much different from Jenna).

Kendra grew up in Philadelphia, just like Jonah, and she thinks his short film is super cool just as it is -- unlike her boss, who wants to make it commercial and conventional. Jonah doesn't smirk or raise an eyebrow. His reaction to the day's drama is either internalized, or maybe he really is channeling Billy and just doesn't get it. 

And therein lies the problem: The show is stuck in limbo, unsure if it should go for the camp or stick to a mix of light drama with darker moments of tension and suspense. Being older, and having loved the original "Melrose," I say go for the camp.

55821 Speaking of which, where the heck is Sydney? One episode she's there, the next she's not. If we're going to rely on the noir-style flashbacks to set the new "Melrose" tone, we need more of them. Otherwise, we're left with the odd pairing of Jonah and Riley's Billy and Allison-style adventures in doomed relationships (only not as fun yet!) and one creepy crazy neighbor in Violet (who'd fit right in old "Melrose").

And in defense of Ashlee Simpson -- who plays Violet and who has many haters online -- she's the only person on the show who has been able to make the most of her limited range by giving her loony stalker role some awkwardness and some genuine moments of unhinge. It makes her more creepy, and I'm loving it. (Katie Cassidy's Ella and Stephanie Jacobsen's Lauren rock in their own right.)

But again: Does new "Melrose" just want to make us laugh? Or does it want to be genuinely gripping? Either could be good, but a decision one way or the other probably needs to be made. And soon. Amanda Woodward returns Nov. 17 and she doesn't suffer indecision.

Former resident Jo Reynolds (Daphne Zuniga) stopped by too -- and she was bitchier than ever. First Jane, now Jo? What happened to all the good girls? Particularly random for Jo, who returned as a fashion photographer hired to shoot "real girl" Riley for a high-end jeans campaign. Zuniga's older Jo felt more like her "One Tree Hill" character Victoria Davis, an evil mother, than her old pragmatic self.

Jo came around by the end though, announcing that Riley had been right to call her out on selling out. Jo's a photojournalist, dang it. And she's going back to Darfur where she can do some good. And maybe to photograph the hungry children in Latin America too.

See? Camp is sometimes exactly what you need.

-- Denise Martin (follow me on Twitter @denisemartin)

Related:

'Melrose Place' star Katie Cassidy on facing off with Amanda Woodward

'Melrose Place' duo Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro together at last

Complete coverage of 'Melrose Place' on Showtracker

Photo credit: CW

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