Amanda Woodward's back, but she provides neither drama nor facial expression for The CW
The new "Melrose Place," alas, needs a good deal more than Heather Locklear, as was evidenced in Amanda Woodward
's disappointing and largely superfluous return on Tuesday (Nov. 17) night.
[Thoughts on Locklear's "Melrose Place" premiere, including spoilers, if anybody out there cares, after the break...]
When Heather Locklear was added to the original "Melrose Place," it was a more innocent time. That is to say that nobody was under the illusion that the "Dynasty" and "T.J. Hooker" star was magical. Yes, she was brought in to shake things up and ratings followed, but she wasn't viewed as a messiah. She was just something new to add spice to the show, just a piece of its shifting creative direction.
On the new "Melrose Place," she's a human floatation device and The CW is hoping that she's a full-on life raft. Given the ratings for "Melrose Place," she isn't being offered up as a spicy new condiment or even a rich, flavorful appetizer. She's being offered up as the main course entire. All apologies to the sexy young cast of the show, but you've already proven what you can do in the ratings. The CW is looking back to the future.
The CW has practically been advertising this as a new-new "Melrose Place," with Locklear making her first appearances in advertisements a couple weeks back and taking over completely even before last week's episode. In fact, last Tuesday's episode already included chyrons in the lower right corner of the screen letting viewers know to tune in on Nov. 17 when "Amanda's Back." The only message to be gleaned from those chyrons was, "Yes, we know what you're actually watching now is dreadful, but if you just come back one more time... We're going to start over!"
Last Tuesday's "Melrose Place" drew just over 1.3 million viewers, an audience so small that The CW couldn't even spin it.
The problem, though, goes back to the first two sentences of this column: The CW needed Heather Locklear back, for the sake of ratings, but the creative team behind "Melrose Place" didn't have any real use for her. There weren't dramatic corners that the show had written itself into that only a divine power like Ms. Locklear's could circumvent.
Once Locklear was finally signed on to return as "special guest star," the show's writers should have been spending the past four weeks building Amanda's name into every whispered conversation, like a figure of myth. She should have been treated like Harry Lime in "The Third Man," build up to a degree that we all let out cheers when she arrived. Instead, she was dropped into a series that had no immediate void for her to fill and where the only people excited to have her back were Gen-X fans of the original and The CW's marketing department.
Locklear certainly got the star entrance on Tuesday's episode, introduced with her clacking heels and short skirt well before she arrived in the offices at WPK, a PR company she apparently owned all along. "Melrose Place" didn't tease viewers with Locklear's debut. She was introduced in the opening two minutes.
She showed up with a few pithy, homophobic lines, teasing Victor Webster's character with "You could have been a leader, Caleb, but Your focus shifted from your clients assets to your clients' ass. You're fired."
They were the best lines Locklear got all episode, but I'm assuming more than a few viewers weren't able to concentrate, watching with a single, unified response: Ummm... Why can't Heather Locklear move any muscle in her face?
The bitch may be back, but what kind of bitch is this resurrected Amanda Woodward if the actress playing her is incapable of sneering or arching her eyebrows? Or smiling. Or expressing confusion, contempt, anger or disappointment. Her frozen lips, marble forehead and tightly pulled eyes were just a harsh reminder of what Hollywood forces upon actresses of a certain age. The work that Locklear has had done is sure to settle and we'll soon be talking about how stunning she is again, but ignoring the artificiality of her altered visage, especially in this high definition age, was impossible.
And for whatever reason, the episode's director kept shooting her in unflattering light and in close-ups. We didn't see a full-body shot of Locklear until the very end of the episode and it was the best she looked all hour. It was almost like the director was hiding Locklear's body, while parading Katie Cassidy in impossibly short skirts, Jessica Lucas in a bikini, Stephanie Jacobsen in skimpy jogging gear and Ashlee Simpson-Wentz in as little as the censors will allow. In a mini-skirt, from a safe distance, with some shadowing, Locklear still puts her new CW colleagues to shame.
I understand that complaining about Locklear's appearance (or, rather, the way "Melrose Place" handled it) is superficial and only feeds into the beauty myth that made one of the world's sexiest women do what she did in the first place. But what choice did the writers give me? Really, I couldn't care less how Locklear looked on Tuesday night (a minor lie). What I cared about was what she did and how she improved the moribund storytelling (another minor lie). And the answer? Not at all. Since Locklear can't do subtle expressions, she should have been given broad actions. If she's going to be Amanda Woodward, she might as well have flown into the episode on a broomstick, cackling and detonating tiny grenades along the way.
Instead, she stone-facedly fired Caleb, stone-facedly threatened Ella and then stone-facedly attempted to entrap Ella by luring her to another job, which was only an excuse (not unappreciated) for Katie Cassidy to make out with a woman. She made more stone-faced threats at the end, but that was it.
The episode closed with Amanda uncovering a safe in the back of Sydney's closet. It wasn't such a flawlessly hidden safe that the LAPD shouldn't have been able to find it, but they haven't really been doing a bang-up job on this whole investigation, have they? In the safe was a note to Amanda from Sydney, reading "You'll never find it."
Oooh. Intriguing. Slightly. Barely. But is it enough?
"Melrose Place" didn't need an injection of penicillin, a promise that sooner or later this rash of boredom would clear up. It needed a shot of adrenaline. Dramatically, Amanda Woodward provided no such adrenaline jolt. We're going to look at the ratings tomorrow morning and if there's no improvement at all, The CW's order of an additional five episodes may not mean a whole lot. My hunch? There actually will be a bump, though Locklear probably didn't do enough to perpetuate curiosity for another episode, especially with "Melrose Place" airing a repeat next week. That's not really the way to sustain hypothetical momentum anyway.
Since I'm writing about Tuesday night's "Melrose Place" anyway, ohther thoughts on the episode...
*** Ashlee Simpson is as bad an actress as you're likely to see in primetime, but she's bad in such a specific and "Melrose Place"-ian way that it almost saddens me that she's moving on. Her scene at the end trying to distract Auggie from his bottle of booze was the kind of sleazy trashiness the show needs more of. "You don't need that. You need somebody who believes in you." Followed by a musical sting, a camera push-in and Violet ripping her shirt off. Nice!
*** Locklear wasn't providing any heat, but "Melrose Place" was getting steamy all over the place on Tuesday. Ella made out with a striking Aussie lass. Violet distracted Auggie from alcohol. And the unlikely (and poorly explained) romance between David the Cat Burglar and Dr. Lauren the Worst Hooker in the World progressed, as all romances do, with fake deciduous leaves and air-mailed Cincinnati chili.
*** What, Riley didn't anticipate potential repercussions for being a first grade teacher appearing topless on the sides of busses? She was going to be fired anyway, whether Amanda had anything to do with it or not. Perhaps she didn't expect her ad campaign to be launching within a couple weeks of when the photos were shot.
*** Amanda's going to have to do another one of those "Oh by the way, in an incredible coincidence, I have a bit of history with that apartment complex you're living in" monologues, which we've previously heard from Thomas Calabro and Daphne Zuniga.
*** I don't suspect that *any* of these people are capable of murder. Part of me hopes that Sydney was just killed by a random drifter and that all of the main characters have just been red herrings.
What did y'all think of Locklear and Amanda Woodward's return? Is there any saving "Melrose Place"?