The atrocious new UPN series Sex, Love & Secrets fails to drum up the slightest distinction even to be a guilty pleasure. This wannabe Melrose Place tries a hipper-than-thou aesthetic, repeatedly reminding us, through National Geographic-style documentary voiceover narration, “Be it Santa Claus, Twinkies, infidelity or murder, all humans keep secrets.”
The series follows a handful of late 20somethings orbiting the showbiz sun Los Angeles. None of the characters manage anything more than the barest of attempts to elevate from the stereotypes they are so tightly drawn. There’s the girl-next-door celebrity journalist Rose (Lauren German) and her rocker boyfriend Hank (James Stevenson). In the pilot, she is given her deceased ex-boyfriend’s ashes and told she would know just how he, Billy (Dylan Bruno), wanted his remains dispatched. She figures it out near the end of the episode, when she plays a cassette tape she’s found in a box of mementos, and the song triggers a fuzzed-up flashback showing the two of them rambling down a winding seaside highway, listening to the radio. The scene pinpoints the show’s misguided attempts to be clever and fresh by using production flourishes—like rapid camera zooms, faded-out flashbacks, and quick cuts—better suited for an action show than a relationship drama.
Charlie (Eric Balfour, splendid as Claire’s boyfriend on Six Feet Under) is the show’s most curious misguided effect. The lead ladies’ man in the series, he’s a hairstylist by trade and sexual dynamo by the writers’ good graces (though his own do makes it hard to believe anyone would let him handle hers). Yet it’s hard to fathom women so readily accept his advances. When he accompanies one evening’s prey, Gabrielle (Katie Cassidy), back to her apartment and into the shower, they’re interrupted by her boyfriend’s return. Conveniently, a roommate is summoned and convinced to enter the shower to create the illusion that she’s Charlie’s date. No surprise, the roommate is unable to resist throwing herself at this stranger. Score another one for Charlie and take the show’s believability down another notch.
What plot there is generally focuses on secrets. The ashes Rose ends up spreading over the sea are probably not Billy’s, as the pilot ends when he, or somebody that looks an awful lot like him, is shown sauntering into a bar the characters seem to have made their hang-out. Billy’s reappearance affects multiple lives, including that of bitchy publicist Jolene (Denise Richards), who still believes Rose stole Billy from her. Channeling Melrose‘s Amanda, Jolene sets her sights on Hank as a means to nasty retaliation.
In other words, stock characters in stock situations. To set off the navel-gazers, Love includes an object for their advice-giving, vixen-waiting-to-flower Nina (Tamara Taylor), a frumpily dressed workaholic doctor whose schedule leaves no time for love. She meets nerdy hipster Milo (Lucas Bryant), who is all set to become her roommate, and, because there’s that word “secrets” in the title, Milo is shown unpacking a gun. Through Milo, even the creepy-geek-as-potential-killer cliché gets to stretch its legs.
We don’t expect nighttime relationship dramas to be thrilling, but we have the right to expect an interesting character or two. Sex, Love & Secrets provides almost nothing to entice return viewing, which is probably just as well, since it won’t last past midseason replacements.