‘Melrose Place’ offers guilty fun with its dysfunction

The fall season starts early — with a flashy, sexy bang no less — with the return of “Melrose Place” (9 p.m. Tuesday, KVCW-TV, Channel 33), and I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl.

A troubled, runaway schoolgirl, raised on a steady diet of deceit and betrayal, who’s harboring a devastating secret that will be uncovered just in time for May sweeps.

Unlike last year’s reboot of “90210” (8 p.m. Tuesday, Channel 33) — which spent most of its first season trying to dig out from under its squeaky-clean, golly-gee veneer and is only just now somewhat edgier, though no more engaging — “Melrose” arrives fully formed. And fully dysfunctional.

Most of the tenants’ morals are only slightly less flexible than a Chinese gymnast. One of them is murdered — found bloodied and floating face down in the show’s iconic swimming pool — before the first commercial break. And there’s enough madness and debauchery in the two-minute montage that closes out Tuesday’s premiere to keep the Parents Television Council and other busybodies tied in knots for weeks.

It’s a far cry from the debut of the original, which focused on earnest characters facing actual struggles, like whether they could pay the rent on time. Yet there’s still plenty of room for the new “Melrose” to grow as bat-excrement crazy as its predecessor eventually became.

Bridging both shows are Dr. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro) and Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton), even though she was run over and killed on her wedding day back in 1997.

But then death always has held about as little sway over the residents of “Melrose Place” as it did early on over the Cylons on “Battlestar Galactica.” (Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a resurrection ship stashed somewhere deep in the bowels of D&D Advertising.)

And that continues in the new version, as the murder victim remains a full-fledged member of the cast, appearing in flashbacks as detectives keep returning to the apartments searching for clues. Although with so many unnatural deaths linked to that complex, you’d think it would have its own police substation by now.

Among the new crop of tenants are Michael’s bad-boy son, David Breck (Shaun Sipos), who, like his dad, has a romantic past with Sydney; brooding chef Auggie Kirkpatrick (Colin Egglesfield), who also has been involved with Sydney; and publicist Ella Simms (Katie Cassidy), an Amanda Woodward-in-training, and if she hasn’t been involved with Sydney, it likely wasn’t for a lack of trying.

The tenants are rounded out by Ella’s roommate, cash-strapped medical student Lauren Yung (Stephanie Jacobsen); filmmaker Jonah Miller (Michael Rady) and his live-in girlfriend, teacher Riley Richmond (Jessica Lucas); and new-in-town Violet Foster (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz).

And if you’re wondering why a powerful Hollywood publicist has a roommate, yet a fresh-off-the-bus, cutoffs-and-sneakers girl with no job prospects can afford to live alone, well, that’s just one of the anything-can-happen, logic-be-damned plot lines that make “Melrose” so much guilty fun.

Like the fact that the apartments seem far more elegant, not to mention more spacious, than they did in the original. That easily could be explained away — there’s no telling how many times some nutcase blew them up in the decade since they were last seen on TV — but sometimes you can’t help but think the whole thing was built on one of those crazy, magnetic energy pockets like the island from “Lost.”

It felt more than a little forced last season when “90210” kept shoehorning original cast members into episodes. But when Sydney and Michael show up in the “Melrose” premiere, it’s like seeing old friends. Old, criminally insane friends who should have been locked away years ago, but friends nonetheless.

“You’re evicting me?” a stunned Ella says during an argument with Sydney, who’s also the landlady. “You can’t do that!”

“Actually, I can do a lot worse,” Syd replies, relishing every syllable. “Just ask the people who used to live here.”

Oh, sweet trashy goodness!

That’s one of the highest compliments you could ever pay a prime-time soap. And “Melrose Place” is near perfect at what it sets out to be: a rollicking good time.

It’s also the best-looking new show of the fall, and not just because of its hot young cast. It’s sleek, vibrant, and its colors burst off the screen.

So dive right in. The water’s fine.

It just gets a little bloody at times.

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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