North Shore

People ask me why I bother watching FOX’s nighttime soap North Shore. The easy answer is that it is shot in my home state of Hawaii. What’s one hour a week in support of the home team? But the truth is that I watch it because I have an affinity for trash, or opala, as we call it in the 50th State, and North Shore serves it up (often unintentionally) in awful, delicious heaps.

For those of you who missed the summer mini-season, North Shore follows the sudsy exploits of the management and staff of the Grand Waimea, a luxury resort on Oahu’s north shore (there is a beautiful place called Waimea up there, but the hotel name is a play on Maui’s renowned Grand Wailea.) Jason (Kristoffer Polaha), the loyal, easygoing manager and all-around good guy, was right away stunned when owner Vincent Colville (the ever-spooky James Remar) hired Matthews’ long-lost love Nicole Booth (the almost unrecognizable Baywatch: Hawaii survivor Brooke Burns) away from her father’s hotel chain headquarters in New York to be director of guest relations at the Grand Waimea. Would Jason finally learn why Nicole dumped him unceremoniously years ago? Could the staff of the Grand Waimea, utterly protective of Jason, accept Nicole, knowing she’d once broken his heart? Powerful stuff indeed.

This staff appears to have been ripped from the pages of one or another clothing catalog. Tessa (Amanda Righetti, so yummy as The O.C.‘s naughty Hayley) is an ex-con from Detroit who, after trying to hustle the management of the hotel, is hired on as its concierge. Can she be trusted? Maybe, but maybe not! Frankie (Jason Momoa), hotel bartender and official kama’aina among the staff, is as hip as he is wise, but under those dreads and behind that Van Dyke, could something untoward be lurking?

The cast’s ethnic and cultural makeup has raised some eyebrows. While his surname has a Polynesian ring to it, my understanding is that Polaha has Slovakian heritage; Momoa, while born in Honolulu, was reportedly raised in Iowa; and the cast lacks Asian Americans. While I have criticized other Hawaii-based programs on this issue, I’m inclined to give North Shore a limited pass for a number of reasons. First, melodrama is by design exaggerated, ever extending to the realm of the fantastic, all the better to provide those tasty swings of fate that are the hallmark of the genre. Second, the setting — a luxury resort — is all about excess. (That said, North Shore can better avail itself of its primary strength, this location.)

As expected, the thematic tensions of North Shore are a function of the distinction between the shenanigans of the rich, pampered, and ill-mannered, and the earnest proletarian aspirations of the workers. Early episodes saw Nicole’s sleazy fianc√©, a mercenary on assignment from her father’s company, skulking around the Grand Waimea, eyeing the hotel (as well as ex-con Tessa) with hostile takeover in mind. This story was countered by such benign subplots as the emerging relationship between M.J. and Chris (relationships are so confusing!) and Gabriel’s failing efforts to get to work on time. Still, North Shore strains to avoid the appearance of class conflicts. Everyone, from Jason to lowly Gabriel, lives in some kind of beach domicile, and Jason regularly hangs out with the help, having beers with Frankie, M.J., and the gang after a long day’s work.

For all these possible tensions, the show’s trashiest pleasures arise in its absurd casting and characterizations. Polaha is unassuming, and he kind of grows on you in a mossy sort of way, such that the show’s aversion to reality is visible in the sheer number of women who try to score with Jason. This particularly given the close proximity of Frankie; Momoa is a freakishly handsome young man (in real life, he must have very few straight male friends, because you never get laid when guys like that are around — never).

As is usual in the genre, though, the stars are the women. To say Burns is playing against type would be a gross understatement. Her new mahogany mane helps, but there’s little she can do to counteract the effect of her supernaturally prominent teeth, which make Nicole seem so sugary that one wonders if she didn’t spring forth from a can of orange soda. Burns’ mandibular struggle is one of North Shore‘s most perverse pleasures, though it dwindles each week, as she settles into the role.

As the summer run came to a close, it looked like we were in for a solid, if unspectacular, fall of low-quality tropical fun. But FOX has great ambitions for the show. Come 4 November, North Shore moves from Mondays at 8pm to Thursdays at 9pm, immediately following the current heavyweight champ of camp, The O.C. Not since Melrose Place followed Beverly Hills, 90210 has FOX had such a one-two punch for the 18-24 set, and with it, the network hopes to obliterate once and for all NBC’s grip on Thursday night.

Is North Shore up to the task? Not just yet, though as the summer wound down, the producers cast the terrific Christopher McDonald to play Nicole’s father, Walter, the show’s heavy, and for the fall season, weather-beaten Shannen Doherty showed up as Alexandra, Walter’s illegitimate daughter. Although Doherty’s addition recalls the arrival of Heather Locklear as the savior of a then-foundering Melrose Place, Doherty is no Heather Locklear. Whether she and McDonald can generate enough action to keep North Shore from losing The O.C.‘s trash-craving lead-in audience (myself included) is the stuff of high drama.