Beverly Hills Doesn't Live Here Anymore

The California soap that's not 90210

The swaying palms! The ripped, sea-misted abdomens! The slowed-down theme music accompanying the "Big Speech" at the close of each episode! When reduced to the sum of its parts, Summerland looked like a promising, seasonally appropriate treat from the WB. Hell, the fronds and abs and grandstanding worked for Beverly Hills, 90210. (Did it ever: An entire generation still remembers Brenda's benign breast tumor, Kelly's speed-freak mom, and the way Dylan's hair plugs looked when he emerged from the Baja surf.)

Unfortunately, while the past season of Summerland featured the production expertise of Aaron Spelling, it lacked the creamy mouth-feel of a summer junk classic like our beloved 9-0. Summerland offers no guilty hookups or hilarious mafia subplots--only psychobabble about regret and the true meaning of family. In other words, Brenda has left the cabana.

There's no need to rehash Summerland's shellshocked-hotties-inherit-kids plot. If you ever watched Party of Five--don't play like you didn't--the situation should be familiar. All you need to know is that fashion designer Ava, played by Lori Loughlin, has really hard-looking breasts and arms. It's like Spelling forcibly injected her with liquid adamantium in homage to his equally hard daughter Tori. Gone is the ripe, rouged Finola Hughes doppelgänger you recall from Full House, replaced with a tanorexic cyborg that would scare Uncle Jesse into his basement apartment. Loughlin is still wicked hot, but she needs to fire Kate Bosworth's stylist and start wearing those sexy Wake Up, San Francisco blazers again.

Loughlin's will-they-or-won't-they counterpart on this show is a guy named Johnny (Sean Christian) who's supposed to look tough or something. He may have the haphazard facial hair that traditionally signifies "rebel," but he's still lame enough to play "Unchained Melody" in an attempt to lure Ava into the sack. Johnny and Ava engage in a tired mating dance, but alas, never wind up humping to "Dip It Low" in Ava's California king.

Perhaps this is due to the meddlesome litter of kids that Ava has been compelled to mommy: whiny tween Nikki (Kay Panabaker), pompous teen Braiden (Jesse McCartney), and young Derrick (Nicholas J. Benson), who shall hereafter be referred to as "Seed of Chucky." There's also some toothy babe named Erika (Taylor Cole) who's always around; she looks like a younger Courteney Cox-Arquette but has the acting chops of David Arquette.

The kid-centered action is so bland and pedestrian that it makes Seventh Heaven look like Gummo: Nikki likes Cameron, but he likes Jordan! Another brat with a gender-ambiguous name wants to win a surfing competition! These wheezing kiddie subplots--will Braiden ever get laid-en?--lack the attention of the Ava/Johnny saga. Yet this tiresome focus on the boring grownups takes all the fun out of what could have been a Valencia-juicy high school soap. Think about it: Would 90210 have been as enjoyable if Mrs. Teasley had been the marquee star?

The recent Summerland season finale found Ava and Johnny confronting their very adult feelings again (long, languorous yawn) following Ava's involvement with some dude who obviously only has a six-episode contract. Of course, this all culminates in conflicted Ava gazing soulfully into Johnny's eyes, since people on television are only allowed to love one person, ever. (I don't remember Lori Loughlin having eyes like a Gund teddy bear in the '80s, but these days they're all glassy and buttony and weird. Side effects of the adamantium regimen? Other theories?)

It's interesting that in the era where ironic pop trash reigns, a network would take a chance on a show that offers so few guilty pleasures. Where are the catfights? Where's the fire-breathing alpha bitch? The Nicole Richie cameo? The lack of sleaze would make sense if this was quality drama, but quality it ain't. Summerland exists in a tepid purgatory poised between the pleasant family friction of The Gilmore Girls and the hedonistic charms of The O.C. The grade-D dialogue could be forgiven if the plots were racier, and the limping plots could be forgiven if the writing was sweetened (okay, totally overhauled).

Pick your poison, Summerland, and maybe you'll float on in the WB commode. Keep sucking like this, and the luau's over for good.

 
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