Melrose Place: Season Five vol. 1
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Melrose Place: Season Five vol. 1

The one format of television has all the world records for endurance is the soap opera. Some of the day time versions have managed to run continuously for near half a century. There is a simple reason for the overwhelming success of the format, it is completely addictive. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic strata you happen to come from. There is little concern here for your level of education. Although the soap audience is thought to be predominately female even genre doesn’t make you immune to the siren call of this type of programming. Many television series readily employ elements of the soap opera into their programming. They try to pass themselves off as another type TV series trying to elevate it above the soap. This would imply that there is something wrong about soap operas and the fact is there isn’t. It is great when a show embraces its soap opera nature and relishes in it. As outrageous as the day time soaps have become few can match the over the top antics of one series that captured audiences world wide for much of the nineties; ‘Melrose Place’. This series was a ratings sensation during its seven year run and now has been elevated to the exalted status of cult classic. It was a career maker for its cast and has helped to set the standard for those night time soaps that would follow. It started its life as spin off of another defining series on the annals of primetime soaps; ‘Beverley Hills 90210’. Even though the connection between the two shows was tenuous at best the audience didn’t seem to care much. It came upon the scene just as ‘90210’ was still somewhat in its prime but the audience was being to crave more intense faire during their television time. CBS Paramount has the home theater distribution rights to the series and fans will be grateful to know that they have been releasing it to DVD for a few years now. They are now up to the first half of the fifth season. This does represent a change in CBS Paramount’s methodology. Previously they were releasing full season sets but here they have switched to the volume approach. Now this many not sit well with some fans anxious to get the entire series but times are tough and it costs a lot to come out with a television series with some 32 episodes in a single DVD release. Hopefully they will return to the preferred full season format soon. In any case this is certainly something that you will want to get. It is at times high camp and has some of the most outrageous moments in television history.

The series was created by Darren Star who also was the mind behind ‘Beverley Hills, 90210’. He would late take this experience to a whole new level as a main writer for the ultimate night time soap opera ‘Sex and the City’. There has to be something very exciting even liberating for the writers of a show like this. You do not have to restrict yourself to the mundane rules of reality all that much. It is possible and to some extent expected to blow things up, get gunned down en masse or come back from the dead in increasingly inventive ways. In this series the fundamental plot devices are extremely similar to its counterpart of ‘90210’ but pushed into a more adult setting. Typical of any prime time soap the relationships would require a chart with constantly intersecting lines. Just pick any two characters and you would not have to go to six degrees of separation to connect them through sexual encounters. It is almost impossible to keep up with the shifting sands of romance or at least lust without written documentation. Many die hard fans consider the season presented here near the peak of the show. It may have take a little while for this series to get it legs and start garner its ratings but by the time of season five the audience was hooked for good.

At the conclusion of the forth season Jane (Josie Bissett) finds out that her sister Sydney (Laura Leighton) was responsible for the stroke that Jane suffered. She uses this information to blackmail Sydney to help her kill Richard (Patrick Muldoon) but somehow he survives. A fatal attack during a season finale is rarely all that deadly. As this season begins with a good dose of marital confusion when the power hungry and determined Amanda (Heather Locklear) is told by the police that her new husband Dr. Peter Burns (Jack Wagner) is a fraud and not who he seems to be. Richard is understandably upset with Jane and Sydney’s failed attempt to kill him and stalks them from the shadows not letting on that he is back. He leaves some not to subtle clues to the ‘murder’ around too torment Jane. If you think that your family is dysfunctional just take a look at the people here. Jane and Sydney go to dig up Richard from his grave to find him gone and a note demanding $50,000 to keep quite. They try to use counterfeit money but you know that is going to backfire on them.

One plot device that is extremely popular with any soap opera is a fire. There is nothing like a little arson to pick things up. In this case one breaks out after Jane trips over some continent oily rags at Allison’s (Courtney Thorne-Smith) apartment starting a blaze. Jane winds up saving Allison and Jake (Grant Show) from the fire and apologizes but then tries to seduce Billy (Andrew Shue) to instill some jealousy. These people change moods like most of us do our sox. There are doctors that have to become secretaries when their license is revoked, dirty business dealings galore and betrayal is just part of life in Melrose Place. Characters fall into bed one minute and are out to destroy each other the next. To say that the feelings and interpersonal relationships are mercurial is an gross understatement here. The time period between divorce and remarriage is about one commercial break around these parts. There is even a dream sequence where a character is seen as the devil. Yes, this is completely over the top and unrealistic but that is the key to the format. What made this series one of the best loved of all prime time soaps is the abandon that the cast and crew had in telling this story lines. Insanity in the characters is not a mental illness here; it is a job requirement.

The audience responded extremely well to this season. No matter how bad your life may be it was certain that you could see rich, beautiful people having a much worse time of things here. The discs are overall well mastered although the video is not as bright as you might want. There is some breakup in the shadows and the contrast is just below optimal. The stereo separation is about average for a TV show of its time. This is one to get if you are a fan. If you are unfamiliar with the series it is the definition of its genre and a true guilty pleasure.

Posted 01/26/09

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