"Melrose Place" is pure '90s excitement! Do you remember this super-cool 90210 spin-off? I sure do. I loved this show. Although, like many fans I didn't start watching until the mid-second season. When I used to watch repeats of the first season I never really enjoyed it. Because it was so different from the rest of the series (it's sorta like the difference between the first season of "The Facts of Life" compared to the rest of that series.) There were different characters and the stories were nowhere near over-the-top. There was no trashy sex or backstabbing. Although, now when I watch the first season I have a whole new fondness for this show. It's almost like looking at baby pictures of an old friend. She may have looked like an "ugly duckling" but I know that she's gonna turn out to be a knock-out!
I like to think of the first season of "Melrose" more as 3 mini-seasons. Because the entire first season is rather diverse and unique. I suppose the producers and writers (not to mention the actors and actresses) were still trying to find their way (i. e. make the show a hit,) which made them retool it more than once during that first faithful season. Let's see... There's the Sandy Era (Amy Locane,) which is the shortest of all season one's mini-seasons. This only lasted 14 eps (technically, 12 since the pilot is actually 1 ep and Sandy wasn't on the ep prior to her last one.) Then there's The Jo Reynolds (Daphne Zuniga) Era, which picks up right after Sandy leaves for NY (actually, 1 ep later.) The Jo Reynolds Era takes us through the end of '92 and the beginning of '93 which is also the start of the third and final season 1 mini-season. Then God said, "let there be Heather" and a "special Guest Star" was born! Of course, I'm talking about Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear) who totally assisted in transforming season 1 into it's final incarnation, The Amanda Era!
The Sandy Era was when we got introduced to the entire cast (or should I say residents?) of 4616 Melrose Place. There was Billy Campbell (Andrew Shue) and Allison Parker (Courtney Thorne-Smith,) the building's sweet and sometimes homely roommates. Dr. Michael (Thomas Calabro) and Jane Mancini (Josie Bissett) were almost like the parents of the apartment. They were like an old married couple that everyone came to for help or advice; after all they were married for almost a whole 2 years! There was the resident hearthrob and cool loner, Jake Hanson (Grant Show.) As you may recall, Jake parlayed his tie-in role on "90210" first. In the first few eps of "Melrose" Jake could often be seen shooing away Kelly Taylor (Jenny Garth.) Then there was Matt Fielding (Doug Savant,) who really didn't have much to say or do during season one. Although this was one of the first times that an (openly) g-a-y character ever had a recurring role on an American coast-to-coast series. The only thing unbelievable about the character of Matt was his sense of style. Wouldn't you think a g-a-y man living in West Hollywood would understand the importance of fashion and dressing well a little better? (It makes me gag to think that poor Matt wore that hideous sandal-sock combo more than once.) Rhonda Blair (Vanessa Williams, not the Miss America) was the sexy, outspoken resident in this trendy building. During The Sandy Era her character was very well developed and we got to know Rhonda rather well; she was a sweet and sexy fitness instructor (teaching "cardio funk.") And, finally completing The Sandy Era was none other than Sandy Louise Harling (Amy Locane.) Sandy we hardly knew ya! Sanda is sorta like the Lana Shields of "Melrose Place" because she seemed so sexy, yet rather sexually frusterated. Sandy was an aspiring actress, who got her "big break" and left 4616 for the bright lights of the Big Apple to star on "Forever & Tomorrow." My favorite episode with Sandy is "Lonely Hearts." This is the one when she gets stalked. I always thought that Sandy and Jake would have made a great couple, and they did date, but nothing ever came of it. And, before we got a good chance to get to know her she was gone! Halfway through The Sandy Era, it also seemed that this mini-season was slightly retooled. Did you notice how the stories started to get more serious, however insignificant; Jane's pregnancy, Alison's married lover and Billy's attack.
The Jo Reynolds Era is when the series was completely retooled. Gone were the pool parties, barbecues, friendly chats in the laundry room, group parties and fun-loving get-togethers. The arrival of Jo brought a whole new concept to this soapy drama. The eps got more grittier and serious. I also enjoyed Jo because she was like a breath of fresh air. Jo was very beautiful and always managed to add a bit of common sense to the storylines. In the very beginning (for her first and maybe even second ep,) she had somewhat of a rough exterior. But that was just a facade because Jo was petrified of letting people into her life. Once I got to know Jo, I found a new resident at this complex that was just as likeable (if not more,) than all the others! During this mini-season, we learn that Jake has an estranged son. And another aspect that I noticed was that Rhonda was now being fazed out. Did you notice that Rhonda almost only exclusively had dialogue with Matt or with Terrence Haggard (John Marshall Jones,) who was her future hubby? Also during The Jo Reynolds Era we got to meet some more supporting/recurring cast members. Dr. Kimberly Shaw's (Marcia Cross) character was more developed. You may remember that she actaully spent X-Mas with the other tenants at "Melrose!" And we got to meet Jane's pesky little sister, Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton.) Although, not much was really learned about Syd during The Jo Reynolds Era, except for the fact that she was obviously a bottle redhead during season 2!
The Amanda Season was the final and very best mini-season of "Melrose's" season 1 because the storylines got so much deeper and more serious. The actors were also much more polished and they seemed more confident. As it's been said many times before, Amanda Woodward was what "Melrose" was all about! She really helped make this show! During this era, we saw a rather entertaining love-triangle develop between Billy, Alison and Amanda. Of course that was after Alison left her on-again/off-again lover, Keith Gray (William R. Moses.) (Keith is actually introduced to Alison during The Sandy Era, but the most interesting eps with him are during The Amanda Era.) Alison even quit her job and moved to Seattle to be with Keith! I loved it when Amanda said to Alison, "and when it was obvious that Billy wasn't going to run to Seattle to chase after you you came back!" During this time, the character of Lucy Cabot (Deborah Adair) was also more prominently seen. Yes, Lucy was the typical cliche of the "modern American professional lady" but she also showed a lot of compassion to Alison. During this era, Jake and Jo have an AIDS scare when one of Jake's former lovers contracts the virus. We also got to see another transformation during The Amanda Season. This was when Jane and Michael's marriage started to unravel. It was also around this time that Michael turned into the sneaky snake that he was known for in following seasons. Of course Michael carried on an illicit affair with Kimberly. And when Alison confronted him (she caught the 2 kissing at the hospital,) he arragantly said to Jane, "this is just malicious gossip." By the way, am I the only one who thought Michael was much more sexier when he was nice? I never found him attractive in following seasons because he just came off as such a dirty cheat.
Everyone always talks about Billy and how he was such a dreamboat. I tend to disagree. I was never crazy about Billy. To me, he seemed like a big kid who was still somewhat immature. My "Melrose" dreamboat was Jake. Jake was the perfect man because he was the perfect balance of sweet and tough. Remember how he cared for Matt and took him to the hospital during the "Dreams Come True" ep; I loved it when the cop assumed that Jake was Matt's lover and Jake said, "he's not my lover" because Jake would have done this for anyone.
By the way, look for Joyce Hyser in the "Responsibly Yours" ep. In this show she played Dawn Bonds, Billy's new girlfriend; a single mother who was tying to ignite her stand-up comedy career. Of course all children of the '80s remember Joyce Hyser as Terry in Just One of the Guys!
Another season 1 character who I enjoyed was Joan Campbell (Salome Jens.) Even though Mrs. Campbell (Billy's mom) was hardly seen, she always managed to make a big splash. She almost reminded of Bea Arthur a little. And Joan absolutely loved Alison. Seeing Joan on season 1 always reminds me of Billy's second marriage to Samantha Reilly (Brooke Langton.) (I never could stand Billy's second wife, I probably hated her the most out of all the "Melrose" girls.) Anywho, during the reception, Joan had a little too much to drink (after all, it's a party, right!) and the old thing starts shooting her mouth off to Samantha telling her about Alison and how much she always liked her. Then Joan brings up Billy's first wife, Brooke (played by none other than Kristen Davis whom I love!!) which caused Samantha to really pout. And Joan said to Samantha in her husky Greta Garbo voice, "don't tell me I can't talk about Brooke now."
"Melrose Place" really was the very best nighttime soap. In my humble opinion it was way better than "Dynasty" and even the granddaddy of all nighttime soaps, "Dallas" because all the stories and characters were always so captivating (even during season 1!) If you want to see how it all began, I recommend getting season 1, you won't be disappointed! ...Remember, you are what you watch!