When I first heard "Hidden Palms," the new CW show that premieres tonight at 8 p.m., described as "Desperate Housewives" crossed with "Dawson's Creek," I figured it would be the perfect breezy, cheesy show for summer.
The good news: "Hidden Palms" is, in fact, a lot like "Desperate" meets "Dawson's." The bad news: It combines the worst parts of those shows, aiming for dark and mysterious but often veering into a poorly written, over-acted mess. Still, there's something weirdly compelling about the show, even if it turns out to be a series I laugh at rather than laugh with.
"Hidden Palms" centers on Johnny (played by Taylor Handley, best known as Oliver from "The OC"), a just-out-of-rehab teen whose family moves to Palm Springs to get a fresh start after Johnny's father's traumatizing suicide. On the outside, it's all plastic surgery and palm trees; on closer inspection, the town is teeming with scandals — chief among them the death of the kid who used to live in Johnny's house. Johnny's introduction to Palm Springs life comes when Cliff (Michael Cassidy, another "The OC" native, Zach), the popped-collar-sporting potential sociopath next door, throws a disembodied plastic hand through Johnny's window. To see where the show can possibly go from there and watch a clip from the first episode,
Shows like this must always have a girl, and in this case, it's Greta (Amber Heard), an inscrutable blonde who runs through the sprinklers on the golf course and says lots of supposedly deep things that actually just sound like nonsense. She and Johnny have a flirtation that mainly involves stealing each other's stuff, and despite Cliff's warnings that Greta is trouble, Johnny's clearly going to fall for her. (Cliff, by the way, kicks puppies, so he's not the most trustworthy adviser anyway.) Add in a few overly rich mothers and a girl who blows up stuff in her chemistry lab, and that's pretty much Palm Springs for ya.
The show comes to us from "Dawson's" creator Kevin Williamson and "My So-Called Life" executive producer Scott Winant, so I suppose it's no surprise that the show is filled with faux-intelligent, "nobody really talks like that!" dialogue. Those earlier shows had better acting than this one, where it feels like the teens are taking all their cues from daytime soaps; in fact, it's almost bad enough to make me wonder if "Hidden Palms" was meant to be a satire of teen shows. Overall, the whole thing feels suspiciously like an '80s movie.
Then again, '80s movies — even the really bad ones — are cult classics for a reason, and I could see "Hidden Palms" developing a following. And, grudgingly, I might be among them; even though the show wasn't the guilty pleasure I was hoping for, it sucked me in just enough that I'm not tuning it out just yet. Check out this clip, then let me know: Will you be watching?