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Melrose Place: The Fifth Season, Vol. 1

(Fox; US DVD: 10 Feb 2009)

Amanda discovers that her husband Peter is wanted for murder by police in Kansas City. Jane and sister Sydney obsess over the murder of Richard, who claws his way out of a shallow grave in the next scene. All this in the three-minute teaser to the season five opener of Melrose Place.


Melrose premiered in 1992, vying for a spot somewhere between Beverley Hills 90210 and Thirtysomething: a group of attractive young adults who all lived together and were gainfully employed, but whose lives were unencumbered by children or aging.


They were diverse: in the first season, the apartment complex boasted an African American woman and a gay man. And it was dull, dull, dull. Enter Heather Locklear. Credited as Special Guest Star through the show’s run, Locklear enjoyed the same haughty superiority to the rest of the cast that her character exhibited toward the other residents of Melrose Place, as if at any moment she might turn up her adorable nose at the whole enterprise and leave.


As advertising executive and Melrose Place owner Amanda, ruthless at work and in love, Locklear gave the series the edge it needed. If she had a catchphrase on the show, it was “get out”—typically spoken to someone in her office, her apartment, her bed.


Creator Darren Starr always kept the cast fresh, introducing new characters each season and letting others move on. Season five welcomed 1990s B-list hunk Rob Estes (Silk Stalkings) as chef Kyle McBride, and Lisa Rinna as his wife and restaurant manager Taylor. Of course, new arrivals require departures, and season five witnesses the death of two Melrose women.


The head-trauma-plagued Kimberly (Marcia Cross) succumbs to a brain tumor in a time-honored soap demise. Sydney (Laura Leighton), another mid-season arrival from the first year of the show, is struck by a car. Original cast members Jake (Grant Show), Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith), and Matt (Doug Savant) leave the series alive.


But fans will have to wait for volume two to view these developments. It’s unclear exactly why the fifth season has been divided into two DVDs; seasons one through four came out as complete eight-DVD sets. The four-DVD season five volume one package has half the episodes and no extras.


Despite the constant cast changes, by season five the show seems stale. The on and off relationship between Billy (Andrew Shue) and Alison has grown tiresome, especially Billy’s alternately whiny and angry confrontations with his former fiancée, and Alison’s self-righteous justifications for her impulsive behavior and fear of commitment.


Since almost all the possible permutations of couplings among the original cast have already taken place, responsibility for making the show fresh falls to the newcomers—in addition to Estes and Rinna, Brooke Langton as ingénue and painter Samantha, and David Charvet as Craig, the son of Amanda’s boss—who can’t deliver the oversized personalities required of primetime soap characters.


There’s still plenty to like about the fifth season. The show’s signature style remains. The yearning overdriven guitar of the Melrose theme follows an economical three-minute teaser. Grainy street scenes play behind the opening credits; a tilting camera captures traffic, shots of pedestrians, and the odd close-up of shoes and other accessories, accompanied by a catchy pop song. Slow-motion black-and-white shots replay the climax of a key scene before each commercial break.


Amanda sports icy power suits and short skirts, while Billy parades around in hybrid jock-business wear. And the shameless product placement that Melrose Place helped pioneer continues (Coors Light, anyone?).


Apparently a remake of Melrose Place is in the works, following the success of the new 90210. Please, leave me alone with my memories.

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