Lisa Schwarzbaum
May 20, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Scientists at the Camille Paglia Institute of Sexual Politics have identified three predominant audience responses to the sight of a beautiful man in a TV drama: (1) Abject drooling, primarily evoked by sculpted gods with deeply sensitive souls. (2) Enthusiastic hissing, usually directed at total hunks who are evil cads. (3) Indulgent giggling, notably applicable to dreamboats who are dumb as stumps. The Nobel-worthy genius of Melrose Place is its awesome ability to evoke all three responses, all the time, often all at once.

This is, as Ms. Paglia might allow, a radical development in gender representation-the fabulous result of Hollywood fine-tuning in pursuit of completely satisfying, completely contemporary displays of male-pattern dimness. The men of Melrose are easy on the eyes, of course, but they’re not allowed to get by on looks alone. To earn their keep, they have to do something-something well-meaning or something nasty, it doesn’t matter, so long as they don’t just stand there and act noble. (Grant Show tried that as Jake when the show launched and was a big bore, remember? He was styled as a decent, blue-collar he-man of a heartthrob-a handyman who worked shirtless-and the guy was a stiff. It wasn’t until he was dumb enough to get involved with Amanda that he aroused complex compassion.)

The Melrose boys do plenty of stupid things-going into partnership with a drug-dealing ex-con, putting the screws to a boss-but their true talents are for missing all cues about all women, always. Never in the course of TV human events have such sharp-looking males been so dull when it comes to understanding females. Jake is bamboozled by Amanda, a woman serpents avoid out of professional courtesy; Michael cannot protect himself from the warped snare of Sydney (not to mention the demented intentions of Kimberly); Billy, who in the early days radiated some of the heat missing from designated pinup Jake, has become a simpering blockhead under the tutelage of the dunderheaded Alison. Matt, apparently picking up pointers from his straight neighbors, is a clod about relationships.

What a relief, what a blessed freedom, to watch attractive male TV characters behaving as ditzily as attractive female TV characters have been expected to behave since the beginning of TV time! The himbos of Melrose Place are not so much a female revenge fantasy as the ultimate expression of sexual equality: These guys are equal-opportunity airheads. Everyone into the pool!

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