Revenge of The Androids

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THE BOTTOM LINE: Fluffmeister Aaron Spelling is back. Run for your life.

Critics used to deride it as cotton candy for the mind, but TV viewers gorged on it for the better part of a decade. It was the Spelling Style, a frothy entertainment brew featuring pretty people, glossy settings and featherweight romantic plots. Aaron Spelling may have begun his TV producing career with trendy cop shows (The Mod Squad, The Rookies) and helped create one of TV's most acclaimed family dramas (Family), but he will forever be known for a string of fluffy, escapist hits of the late '70s and early '80s: Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart and Dynasty.

Spelling's shows once so dominated ABC's prime-time schedule that a rival producer called him "practically a one-man restraint of trade." But as his programs dropped off the schedule, Spelling dropped out of sight, resurfacing < only occasionally with short-lived duds like NBC's Nightingales. Then in 1990 he made a comeback with a very un-Spelling-like hit: Fox's high school drama, Beverly Hills 90210. Now he has four new series scheduled to air this summer and fall, the first of which, Melrose Place, has just debuted on Fox. No doubt about it, Spelling is back. What's worse, so is the Spelling Style.

Melrose Place is ostensibly a spin-off of Beverly Hills 90210, but the link is tenuous. The new show is set in a trendy Los Angeles apartment complex, where residents include Jake Hanson (Grant Show), a hunky construction worker seen in a few 90210 episodes this season. He is still being pursued by one of the 90210 nymphets but is trying to brush her off. "Kelly," he says ominously, "I have problems that you don't even know about."

One can only hope they are more interesting than the problems we do know about. Jane and Michael (Josie Bissett and Thomas Calabro) are a young married couple having troubles because he works such long hours at the hospital. Rhonda is a sassy, streetwise aerobics instructor (Vanessa Williams, reprising TV's most overworked black stereotype) who can't find dates for Saturday night. Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) is a stupendously naive receptionist who reluctantly takes in a male roommate, then is shocked to find that he wants to bring girls back to the apartment and share the peanut butter.

For all its soap-opera slickness, Beverly Hills 90210 manages to tap into real concerns of contemporary teens: dating, parents, friends, sex. Melrose Place thus far is tapping into nothing more than worn plot lines from The Young and the Restless. The characters are all gorgeous androids, their life- styles witless L.A. cliches: the first episode ends with the gang frolicking in the swimming pool. There's something ludicrous about seeing these fantasy Californians grapple with real-world problems like paying the rent and sexual harassment at work. Sort of like watching a discussion of the Yugoslav civil war on Studs.

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