For as much as he wanted it to be so, Judge Brett Cullum found that Houston's West Chase Place could never live up to the conflama that those crazy West Hollywood kids had.
Our reviews of Melrose Place: The Final Season, Volume 1 (published July 29th, 2012), Melrose Place: The Final Season, Volume 2 (published July 29th, 2012), Melrose Place: The Sixth Season, Volume Two (published August 11th, 2011), and Melrose Place: The Third Season (published November 28th, 2007) are also available.
Dr. Michael Mancini: It's this building…it makes people nuts. It must be something in the water, something to do with the pool. Come to think of it, I was normal when I moved in.
If any show says "I love the '90s" it would have to be the sudsy shocker Melrose Place. With humble beginnings as a spin-off of Beverly Hills 90210 in July of 1992, the series began earnestly in a West Hollywood apartment building concentrating on a group of twenty somethings trying to find their way as they started out in life. The cast was young and fresh, while the tone was upbeat and optimistic. You had Grant Show (Jake) starting off shirtless and slightly unshaven claiming the title of resident hottie; Courtney Thorne-Smith (Allison) worked as the blonde in advertising; Andrew Shue (Billy) moved in to become the new nice guy platonic roommate; Doug Savant (Matt) played the token gay guy who never had a boyfriend; Amy Locane (Sandy) tried to find work as the blonde actress who tended bar to survive; Vanessa Williams (Rhonda) taught an aerobics class as the only African American woman; and Thomas Calabro (Michael) and Josie Bisett (Jane) filled in the sweet newlyweds role. They were a pretty boring group, to be honest—simple, moral, and trying to do right, while every week had a nice message about the time in your life when things are always a struggle. Oh brother, was this show a cheesy piece of fluffy clean drama when it started. Half the cast of 90210 showed up to help inaugurate Melrose Place as part of their world, with a crossover plot involving Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Jake. The ratings weren't great and something had to be done or these kids would be evicted by the network.
Changes were made in short order, and Melrose Place became something else entirely. Producer Aarron Spelling called in Heather Locklear—who was fresh off a stint at his '80s night time hit Dynasty—and moved her into the apartment complex. Things would never be the same. Heather's character strolled in to teach the kids how to do tawdry plot lines and inspired a revolution. All the characters discovered sex, lies, and fantastic secrets that would rock the building every week. Some of the more plain personalities would have to move out, while others would find their roles completely overhauled becoming more outlandish to fit the new salacious tone. By the time half the first season aired, the West Hollywood apartment complex was filled with enough high drama to be mistaken for something more fabulous than it ever could be in those first episodes. Gone were Amy Locane and Vanessa Williams, and in their place sprang up sensational replacements. New characters streamed in such as Laura Leighton's Syndey, Daphne Zuniga's Jo, and Rob Etses as Kyle. Dr. Michael Mancini morphed from the sweet newlywed doctor and landlord into a monstrous egomaniac with three women fighting over him and a scheming nature that became black as pitch. Amanda bought the apartment complex outright, and soon had control of everyone's destiny both at work and home. Soon it seemed everyone worked for D&D Advertising and came home only to be separated by thin walls barely more substantial than their cubicles. Every week promised a new pairing, a bitter feud, and a shocking reveal (usually in the last few minutes) that changed everything for the characters.
If anything, Melrose Place became a retro throwback with Spelling's team cranking out yet one more nighttime drama when it seemed the '80s had seen prime time melodramas run their course. There was nothing new about attractive people scheming and sleeping with each other, and critics were harsh saying Dallas and Dynasty did all of this far better. But here was a show aimed at a young audience and not at "women over 35." That was the thing about Melrose Place, it made a night time soap hot and hip for a young demographic. Instead of rich oil barons or wine producers, the cast was a group of young struggling Generation X-ers out to make it in the big city. It created a compelling drama that hooked enough viewers to be branded a smash and even a phenomenon. Even though it began simply enough, soon the story lines transformed from all too obvious life lessons into the most bizarre outlandish scenarios you could imagine, including psychotic twin sisters, rising from the dead, kidnappings, secret abuse, explosions, marriages of convenience, and too many affairs to count.
Melrose Place: The Complete First Season showcases the "mild to wild" inaugural run on eight discs with a couple of extra features to round things out. We get to see the ill-fated beginnings of the show, and then we're off to the races, once Heather Locklear comes on as Amanda and Marcia Cross enters as Kimberly. It's striking and slightly jarring to watch the pilot and first twelve episodes after all these years. With the Season One set you get the show as it was originally conceived, and get to witness as it slowly evolves into outlandish soap opera. For fans and neophytes, this is definitely the place to start, and it's a whole lot of fun to see the first season unfold. You've got all the characters in place by the end, and there are hints of what's to come. The fullscreen transfers are unmistakably early '90s in look. Colors are slightly washed out, dirt and grain pop up time to time, but overall the episodes look as good as when they first aired with little done to beef them up for a digital presentation. The stereo track is often flat with only a few directional elements. Unfortunately some of the music has been replaced in order to avoid the royalty fees, but it's not going to ruin the experience for fans. Extras include two vintage "Behind the Scenes" featurettes produced by Fox as the show debuted on the network. Four short segments provide recent input from executive writer and producer Darren Star (Sex and the City) coupled with vintage interviews with the actors. These bonus features are evenly spread out across the eight disc set, and they provide a nice look back at the early days of the series.
Melrose Place: The Complete Second Season captures the even wilder sophomore year of the soap. Again we have thirty-one episodes spread out across eight discs housed in slim packaging with two discs in each case. The Season Two set is where things start getting truly bizarre with the death and return of Kimberly taking centerstage as the most bold turn of events for the show. Though the stories are light years more dramatic, the presentation remains technically the same with a little less offered for extras. The picture and sound remain flat and typical to the early '90s production for television. Musical tracks have been switched out here and there again, but nothing too blatant that will spoil the show for fans. This time around Darren Star gets to provide commentary on two episodes both focusing on Michael and Kimberly's characters—the car crash that kills Kimberly, and her fantastic return. His comments are good natured, but we don't learn much about the show other than some surface production tidbits and praise for the future stars. Three featurettes offer up condensed explanations of the Season Two plot lines, but these will prove of little use if you actually watch the episodes. Also included are two segments that collect the most memorable scenes, and a text explanation of each character's motivations.
There are many reasons why a return trip to Melrose Place is a fun ride. We get to see the humble start of the show, and watch it ramp up to the ridiculous highs of the second season where things went nuts. The series becomes more and more outrageous as it goes, seeming to gleefully never know when to stop. The whole thing is dangerously addictive, and once you start watching you'll curse as you drift from one disc to the next just to see what the gang is going to do next. Fans should be glad to finally have these two seasons out even if we're not given much extra material to add to the experience. It would have been nice to see the actors return to talk about their experiences, but most have moved on to bigger and better things such as the deliriously similar Desperate Housewives. Seems every decade has to have its own prime time soap opera to champion, and what Spelling and Star knew was the genre would never die. For some reason we enjoy seeing beautiful people take each down in myriad ways, and something like Melrose Place satisfies the need. It's like a human Indy 500, and you come for the explosive wrecks. This is guilty pleasure television at its best and worst, and it's still somehow charming even a decade or so later.
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Scales of Justice, Melrose Place
Perp Profile, Melrose Place
Distinguishing Marks, Melrose Place
• Vintage Fox Featurettes
Scales of Justice, Melrose Place
Perp Profile, Melrose Place
Distinguishing Marks, Melrose Place
• Text Profile of Characters
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