The SmarK DVD Rant for Melrose Place – Season Four

The SmarK DVD Rant for Melrose Place – Season Four

“It’s not what it looks like…it’s MUCH WORSE!”

– Kimberly Shaw

OK, I admit, I love Melrose Place. If Murtz can come clean, so can I. The thing is that I didn’t even watch it when it was big in the bad old 90s, but as a wrestling fan I probably should have been.

I originally bought the first season on DVD when it came out, as a Christmas present for my wife, and in typical wife-like fashion she guilted me into watching it with her because it was such an important part of her life before. Initially I wasn’t convinced of the greatness of the show, to be sure. The beginning of the series was slow and stupid (like Billy Campbell!), and yet she kept insisting that it got really good by the end of the season and I should stick with it.

Now, those of you who are longtime readers of mine know how much I appreciate some good trashy TV (I watch syndicated reruns of COPS EVERY SINGLE DAY and am not ashamed to say it), and sure enough, midway through that dull first season the studio executives realized that the demographic for the show was hip young soap opera fans, not twentysomethings looking for life lessons. As an example of how insipid this show used to be, here’s a selection of storylines that nearly put me to sleep from the first couple of discs:

– Billy learns a very important lesson about racism when he’s nearly beat up by Bad Black People and turns it into a story for the crappy little paper he writes for.

– Annoying “actress” Sandy gets a bit part in a horror film, but has to show her boobies and decides that dignity is better than fleeting fame.

Sorry, are you already drifting off as well?

But then, something magical happens. And that something is Heather Goddamn LOCKLEAR. Suddenly the token black chick is gone and there’s evil sisters and infidelity everywhere. And the more stupidly over the top that the show gets, the more gloriously wonderful it becomes to watch. By the end of the first season I was hanging on each ridiculous plot twist and openly cheering for Allison to get screwed over. And at a mind-boggling 32 episodes per season, there’s a lot of trash to love here.

But that’s the first season, and now we’re at the fourth one, with the show firmly footed in the sublimely idiotic and no hope of intelligent dialogue appearing ever again. That’s a good thing, by the way. Given the acting “talents” of some of the people featured here (Andrew Shue, I’m looking at YOU) you wouldn’t want them trying to navigate the deeper meanings of “See Spot Run” let alone a serious dramatic TV show. I also have to say that there’s more plot twists in one episode than in an entire season of some “better” shows, so attempting to recap the entire season is an exercise in futility. So just know that I whole-heartedly recommend this season and all the others, and here’s a survival guide so you know what you need to in order to enjoy this for what it is, and possibly play drinking games based on it.

The Premise: See, there’s this building called Melrose Place, where a group of young hip Californians live and screw around with each other in their spare time. In the meantime, stuff happens that might be loosely considered “plot” in better shows, but I say why stand on such formality when it’s hilarious as it is? Look for a pool cleaner in scene transitions and a woman walking her dog in front of the building and take a drink every time you see them. In fact, after the building blows up at the end of season 3 (yes, that’s what you’re getting into here, accept it and you’ll feel better about yourself) one of the first people to return is the pool cleaner. PRIORITIES, people.

The Players: My favorite part of the show! A bad show would be nothing without a host of bad actors to stink it up, and this show doesn’t disappoint. Sure, some like Marcia Cross are pretty good actors on other shows, but given the material and free reign to ham it up, she takes it over the top as quickly and easily as anyone. So here’s who you need to know before jumping in (warning: Spoilers for earlier seasons to come)

Jake Hanson (Grant Show). The main character to begin with, he sort of faded into a smaller role as the series progressed but he’s still pretty awesome(ly bad). Jake loves two things: Motorcyles and vigilante justice. In that order. Sometimes Jo, too. The series was conceived as a star vehicle for him, spun off from his character in Beverly Hills 90210 before it quickly became an ensemble show instead. Jake currently owns the bar Shooters, apparently the only bar in LA judging by how often everyone hangs out there, and he had a brother named Jess who was a douchebag, much like everyone on the show. He’s been linked with many women on the show, but most of the time is seen swapping bodily fluids with…

Jo Reynolds (Daphne Zuniga). She of the trendy goth look and annoying lisp, she moved into the building midway into the first season to replace ditzy blond actress Sandy and quickly became one of the most dull characters on the show. Sure, she got involved with a drug dealer and murdered him in self-defense by shooting him with a harpoon gun and then gave birth to his baby, but that’s a fairly rare bit of interesting plot for her. Generally speaking, her role is to have people tell her to “stay in the car!” and then go off snooping where she shouldn’t be anyway.

Billy Campbell (Andrew Shue). Oh, how I hate Billy. The story goes that he was trying for a bit part and the producers were so impressed by his acting ability that they wrote the Billy Campbell part for him. Let me break down Andrew’s acting range for you: 1) Raise eyebrow. 2) Stare blankly with a smug look on his face. THAT’S IT. That’s all he’s got. And he’s supposed to be the guy that we identify with! The show is based around the “on again off again” supposed chemistry between him and Allison, but he’s such a mannequin that really he’s only good for mocking and derision. He’s gone from aspiring writer to copy editor to goddamn Vice President of the ad agency over the course of the show, all the while wearing JEANS to the office! I’m sure Andrew Shue is a very nice person, but I want to punch Billy Campbell right in the face because I hate him so much. He’s also one of the stupidest and most gullible characters on the show, getting played by everyone from Amanda to his own wife Brooke as the fourth season begins. But my annoyance for Billy is nothing compared to the hatred I hold for his beloved…

Allison Parker (Courtney Thorne-Smith). Another character who we’re supposed to be cheering for, but who basically has one acting trick: Pity. Allison feels betrayed! Allison feels used! Allison is being stalked by a psychotic marine biologist! Allison is an alcoholic who drinks straight vodka like water and sticks her tongue out to indicate how drunk she is! PITY HER! I hate Allison. Everything with her is reactive, not proactive. The character is a whiny, co-dependent pushover who thinks that everything in life should be handed to her and that she has a right to keep her cushy job despite quitting multiple times and an obvious alcohol problem. She starts the fourth season blind because of the bomb that blew up the building and the pity starts flowing from there. You’d think that the revelation that her father raped her would make her interesting, but no, she manages to make you cheer for her pedophile dad by the end of that one, too. That’s how much I hate her.

Michael Mancini (Thomas Caberle). Now here’s my favorite character. Michael is the epitome of evil and the most fun guy on the show by far because he has no conscience and he’s always got a plan. A classic soap opera villain, he started out as a goody-goody doctor happily married to Jane Mancini at the beginning of the show’s run, and by the fourth season he had progressed through two marriages to two evil redheads and had attempted to murder both of them. And then managed to win both of them back again at his whim. That’s how awesome Michael Mancini is. His capacity for great lines and melodrama is only matched by his ex-wife…

Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross). Nobody on primetime was crazier than Dr. Kimberly Shaw. After getting “killed” by Michael to presumably write her off the show, she returned with her famous wig reveal scene and some major brain damage, hatching scheme after scheme to get revenge and make babies with Michael, in that order. She’s tried to steal Jo’s baby, faked her own suicide, and most famously blew up the building at the end of season three in order to quell the evil Russian guy who speaks to her in mirrors. Admittedly the show was getting a bit silly by that point, but go with it. Speaking of silly…

Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton). Probably my second-favorite character on the show, Sydney is the batshit-crazy evil sister of Jane Mancini, who just never learns her lesson no matter how many times she’s kidnapped by lunatic cults (twice in season three, for those counting) or used by Michael as part of a cunning plan (four or five times off the top of my head up until this point) or arrested for being a high-class hooker in her spare time. I love her because no matter how much life beats on her, she’s always ready with the wrong answer to any question and absolutely no common sense to guide her through life. You have to respect that a little bit. She flirted with being a nice person while dating Jake in season three, but everyone knew that wouldn’t work out well for anyone involved. The more ridiculously half-baked and evil her schemes are (trying to sell heroin-loaded stockings on behalf of the mafia, anyone?), the more fun that her character becomes. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for redheads, I dunno.

Matt Fielding (Doug Savant). The token gay character on the show is a bit of a man-whore and another person who doesn’t possess the part of the brain that prevents you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Generally speaking, if you have an important secret that needs to be kept from the world at large, DON’T TELL MATT. Most of his storylines revolve around being gay and not much else, although in the fourth season he protests to a lawyer that he doesn’t want to be the guy known as just being the gay man. He’s kind of dull otherwise, although he’s the one person totally unafraid of Kimberly Shaw for some reason and earned his place in TV history by ripping her wig off in the second season.

And of course…

Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear). Although she’s portrayed as the main villain a lot of the time, she’s really the most rational human being in a building full of headcases. Maybe that’s what’s supposed to make her evil, I dunno, but when she’s putting snotty Allison in her place I’m definitely cheering for her, I’ll tell you that. She’s had cancer, ties to the mafia, a relationship with Billy that ended with a miscarriage, and more verbal catfights with Allison than can be counted on both hands. If you want a role model for strong female leads, look no further. I never thought she was that hot (again, Sydney Andrews FTW) but many people do and thus she spends much of the series in insanely short skirts. Like all professionals wear.

The fourth season picks up with the exploding building and Jake killing his brother and quickly gets right back into the swing of things, going from the third season’s “over the top” and into “leaving the orbit of earth” levels of silliness at times, but that’s part of the charm. People get arrested for murder, committed to insane asylums, declared legally blind, married, divorced…and that’s just on the first disc! Truly this was not a show afraid to screw with the status quo, and that’s why I love it. It also spans a mind-blowing NINE discs, for 34 episodes, so there’s a lot of material to go through here. But it’s worth it, although I’d recommend picking up the other three seasons first. If you, like me, long for a return to FUN TV, this show will more than fulfill your needs. Sure, it’s a soap opera and unapologetically so, but if you’re over 18 and still watch WWE, can you really talk? Get drunk and sit back and enjoy.

Audio and Video

Unfortunately, about as much care was taken with the transfer as was taken with the script supervision and acting coaching. The show’s video quality swings wildly from “mildly grainy” to “nearly unwatchable”, which is weird for a show that’s only a dozen years old. Colors are often blown out and fuzzy and things tend to be too dark a lot of the time. But of course the most telling problem, and the thing that delayed release of the show for so long, is the removal of all the licensed music to save money. 90s anthems have been replaced by generic cock rock, stripping the show of a lot of the personality that the music gave it on original airing. I didn’t see it when it was on the air, but the music choices are pretty annoying a lot of the time. Luckily the songs aren’t an integral part of the plot like they are with, say, WKRP, but the ugly financial truth strikes again and it would have been nice to see the show like it was intended to be seen. The audio itself is presented in plain stereo, and I had to turn it WAY up to hear the dialogue properly. Definitely not a set to use as a home theater demo overall.

Bonus Features

I guess 34 episodes doesn’t leave any room for extras, because there’s nothing here. Not even an eyebrow-maintenance featurette with Andrew Shue or a “What was the hairstylist thinking in season four?” documentary. Not that the features in the previous three sets were anything I’d watch again to begin with, but the thought was nice.

The Ratings:

The Show: *****

The Video: **

The Audio: **

The Extras: DUD

Closing Comments

Hot chicks, catfights, people turning on each other and screwing around, crazy doctors, explosions, cults, murders, evil relatives…truly a show for the whole family. Seriously, if you enjoyed the over-the-top goofiness of Vince Russo’s booking and want to see a context where it would all work, this is it. WWE wishes it could pull off this kind of brilliant stupidity. Highest recommendation without a hint of irony.