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Melrose Place

Series Premiere
Cast: Katie Cassidy, Colin Egglesfield, Stephanie Jacobsen, Jessica Lucas, Michael Rady, Shaun Sipos, Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, Laura Leighton, Thomas Calabro
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET

(The CW; US: 8 Sep 2009)

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While working at a party, publicist Ella (Katie Cassidy) found herself counseling the British-import actor (Ben Milliken as Jasper) on the necessity of always maintaining public decorum in Hollywood. This after he has propositioned her, dropping trou to make the point. She snaps a picture of his junk on her iPhone as an object lesson, and told him that whenever he’s out in public, “Every single thing you do is one click away from being texted to Perez.”


It’s an apt encapsulation of both what sets this Melrose Place reboot apart from its predecessor. Today, celebrities are stalked incessantly, not only by professional paparazzi, but by cell-phone wielding fans and nattering Twitter-heads. And many stars today contribute to the over-exposure: think of Ashton and Demi’s nonstop Tweeting or Speidi’s routine photogs of their whereabouts and activities.


Or consider Ashlee Simpson-Wentz. Her presence on Melrose Place is just another stop on the over-exposure express. As Violet, Simpson-Wentz isn’t all that bad of an actor. Perhaps it’s the company she keeps on the show: soap operas don’t require very subtle performance skills, after all. In any case, the inclusion of Simpson-Wentz, who comes with a mountain of celebrity baggage and notoriety, extends the show’s incipient commentary on our current culture not only of surveillance but of self-promotion.


Case in point is Ella. As a publicist, she is not only concerned with crafting the public image of her clients, but also of promoting the brand that is “Ella,” and claiming her own celebrity status. It’s also no coincidence that Cassidy resembles Heather Locklear (she’s all blond, blond hair and angular face), or that Ella recalls quite explicitly Locklear’s Amanda in all her conniving and bitchiness.


Ella is prominent in Melrose Place‘s second episode, which aired 15 September. After Sydney (Laura Leighton) was found murdered in the pool in the series premiere, Ella enlisted the help of resident aspiring-film-director Jonah (Michael Rady) to install a camera in the complex for everyone’s safety. Sure, it’s a cheap plot device to give us, and Jonah, access to “private” scenes, but it also suggests the extent to which we are all always being watched or at least recorded, and how difficult it is to resist the temptation to peep in on the lives of others.


Jonah certainly can’t resist. Shortly after he installed the security camera, he found some time alone to spy on the activities of his fellow residents of the apartment complex, especially his fiancée Riley (Jessica Lucas), who, Jonah feared, was a little too friendly with hunky chef Auggie (Colin Egglesfield). When Riley intruded on Jonah’s surreptitious spying, she immediately thought she’s caught him “watching internet porn,” but he admitted that he had been been watching the security camera footage.


Here Melrose Place suggests that with the evolving sophistication and miniaturization of video technology, the distinction between “porn” and “reality” is increasingly blurred. Just ask Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart or any of the legion of celebs connected to sex-tape scandals, or consider the thin differences between “amateur” and “professional” pornography, or between websites that post pictures of naked people reportedly “caught” in public locker rooms. Or even guyswithiphones.com, featuring pictures that men have taken of themselves and then posted for the world to see.


Such slippages also represent a potential barrier to Melrose Place‘s success. How interested will viewers be in its fictional scandals when real life offers much more sensational examples of bad behavior? How can Melrose‘s Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), who prostitutes herself to pay her medical school tuition, compete with the salacious details of California State Assemblyman and “family values” politician Michael Duvall’s caught on tape waxing on about his love of spanking his lobbyist mistress?

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