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True Trash Collectors

Lisa Rinna and Heather Locklear
Larry Watson

Queens of the Jungle: The leopard ladies of 'Melrose Place' (Lisa Rinna, left, and Heather Locklear) once again find themselves in the midst of the show's endless parade of scathing catfights while the show's resident stud attempts control.

Humpin', thumpin' and dumpin' on television's nastiest, tackiest shows

By Karen Reardanz

'FESS UP NOW: Even though society preaches the straight and narrow, sometimes our moral standing needs to take a breather, doesn't it? While we may not be willing to get all that down and dirty ourselves, we do like to watch others doing it. We live in a culture of trashy-trashy tabloids, rubberneckers slowing down at crash sites to see if the head's still attached, scab-pickers trying to feel if the pain's still there, those copping a vicarious feel at an illicit public tryst.

We take a perverse pleasure in other people's naughtiness, in other people's misery. And who better to exploit and cater to this human weakness than the grandest purveyor of white-trash sin--television.

Fox Broadcasting may just reign lord and master over this kingdom, more than happy to gratify that dark little troll living in us all. After all, it is the network that brought us years of Al Bundy and the dysfunctional Simpson family. But never has it done the dark side such justice as when it pits Melrose Place back to back against angry animals, tripped-up stuntmen and out-of-control police chases. Never to be outdone, the sheer drama of Melrose Place harks back to the days when television was expected to be impure and mindless--remember Dynasty and Dallas? Melrose captures human nature's nasty and immoral essence, dragging it triumphantly, albeit sleazily, into the '90s.

It's a world where everyone sleeps with everyone--even thy sister's husband is not above being coveted--and good rarely triumphs over evil. But all those evildoers look so damn good. From the moment the micro-mini-powersuit-clad Amanda beckoned her wayward hot stud of a boyfriend, Jake, into her office, then proceeded to boink him on her desk in a round of make-up sex, America was hooked and the Melrose Place writers never looked back.

There's a degree of smugness and security satisfied in living vicariously through a TV show. Why bed your best friend's husband when Melrose's Sydney can do it for you? Why drug a good doctor into making him believe he's blacking out and ruthlessly beating his paramour? Why institutionalize your rival's husband, then come this close to having him lobotomized when the folks of Melrose can do it six times better than you ever could?

Elk Scent Revenge

FOX PUSHES THE LINE between good and bad taste even further when it sporadically, and ingeniously, pairs Melrose Place with such exploitation shows as When Animals Attack, When Stunts Go Bad and The World's Scariest Police Chases. Born out of the jerk-on-the-street concept of America's Funniest Home Videos and Cops, Fox takes it to the limit, daring the American viewing public to watch just how trashy it can get.

Addictive, vile and morally reprehensible, these shows are simply some of the most entertaining hours on television. Where else can you see irritating people toy with nature and get their comeuppance or confirm your hunch that a guy really can't jump over 10 motor homes with a BMX doused in gasoline and walk away with nary a scratch?

There's a certain amount of satisfaction in watching some idiot saturate himself in elk scent, creep up on the mighty creature, then recoil in amazed horror when the animal whacks the bejesus out of him while his wife captures the whole thing on the camcorder. Maybe no one really deserves such violence, but most people wouldn't hesitate to admit the guy was asking for it.

And is it ever fun to watch.

The most wonderful thing about these shows is that few of the victims ever die--almost all remain to narrate the video or cheesy re-enactments. Granted, most survivors are filmed from the neck up, not ruling out the possibility they're paralyzed or without arms and legs, but this is not the point. We need to believe that they've tempted the fates, been absolved and emerged remotely unscathed. Isn't that how America's supposed to be?

Just think how this weekly dose of Monday nastiness tames the inner beast. One can only shudder to think what the state of civilization would be like were it not for devilish Melrose Place or the borderline psychotic re-enactment shows. So it's crude and tasteless. So it has no redeeming value. So what? It's entertainment, baby. And nobody does it better.

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From the Sept. 18-24, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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