You are the most disgusting primitive I’ve ever met, and that includes corpses,” says Cheryl Ladd’s Dr. Dawn Holliday to a sexist jerk of a police officer on One West Waikiki. Holliday is a medical examiner, so she’s seen more than her share of dead bodies, but her peculiar equation of corpses with ”disgusting primitives” is a bigger mystery than any of the murders to be solved in this two-hour premiere of a summer crime-busting series.
And after your brain has turned into baked Alaska from watching the former Charlie’s Angel scamper across hot Honolulu beaches (she goes skinny-dipping before the opening credits are even finished!), you can slide right into Hotel Malibu, a new nighttime soap opera from the creators of the World War II drama Homefront. The Hotel Malibu is a family-owned luxury establishment overseen by Joanna Cassidy (Buffalo Bill), who manages to be both imperious and heartwarming as chief executive Ellie Mayfield.
One West Waikiki and Hotel Malibu are the television equivalents of summer beach novels: video Danielle Steels and Sue Graftons. Waikiki was created by the prolific TV hack Glen A. Larson (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., and so many more). Larson has taken one of his own old shows, Quincy, M.E. (1976-83), with Jack Klugman as a sleuthing medical examiner, and reshaped it for Ladd.
Ladd’s Dr. Holliday — yes, someone makes a ”Doc Holliday” joke in the first episode — is a Los Angeles M.E. who gets involved in a murder case while visiting Honolulu. She tangles with what a CBS press release calls ”a good cop with some rough edges.” He is Mack Wolfe, played by Richard Burgi (Viper) as sort of a young James Caan injected with Bruce Willis’ obnoxiousness. Since we know that Ladd and Burgi are the costars, their initial dislike of each other — she’s by-the-book, he’s a rebellious yahoo — is tedious. The pilot is overloaded with plot: something about Amerasian women whose kidneys are snatched when they undergo plastic surgery (!).
Ladd does as best she can in the sort of role that doesn’t exist for film actresses but at which TV stars excel: the middle-aged pro, still attractive enough to elicit come-ons from men but coolly professional enough to repel such advances while solving the crime at hand. Still, the best performance in One West Waikiki is turned in by veteran character actor Paul Gleason, who does an amusing turn on the exasperated police captain.
Hotel Malibu is at once more offbeat and more predictable than Waikiki. It straddles a number of standard TV genres — the family saga, the frothy soap, the romantic comedy — while providing just enough originality to keep viewers hooked. Malibu’s large cast includes Cheryl Pollak (The Marla Hanson Story) as Joanna Cassidy’s virtuous daughter, caught up in a helpless attraction to a hotel bartender (sensitive doughboy Harry O’Reilly, from Homefront); John Dye (Jack’s Place) as Cassidy’s devious business-partner son; Romy Walthall (Civil Wars) as the bartender’s disconcertingly curvy sister; and — of least interest as written — Jennifer Lopez as a newly hired employee with a big ethnic chip on her shoulder. She holds a grudge against nearly everyone, assuming discrimination because she’s ”a woman and a Mexican.”
It’s easy to see why neither Waikiki nor Malibu was chosen as a fall-schedule prospect by CBS: The characterizations are thin, the plot developments banal (at one point, Pollak and O’Reilly get to know each other because they’re trapped in a stuck elevator together). Still, as brain-baking summer escapism goes, they ain’t that bad. Hotel Malibu: C+