Twenty-five years ago this week, “Melrose Place” premiered on Fox. It managed to be a must-watch pop culture phenomenon for a few years before it became a parody of itself and its ratings imploded. But like “Star Wars” and “The X-Files,” “Melrose Place” is just as defined by its bad years as it is by its good ones. As we celebrate a quarter century of the apartment complex and its sex-crazed inhabitants, it’s worth revisiting the characters. They were all shady people, but not all “Melrose Place” characters are equal.
For this ranking, I am only including characters who appeared on the opening credits of the original series for at least one episode. Thus, Richard Hart or Eve Cleary don’t count. But to be honest, I never thought they should have counted in the first place. Nor do any of the characters from the 2009 reboot count. That series might be canon, but that doesn’t mean I have to pollute my list with it.
I’ll start the list with the characters I deem to be the worst characters, the ones who had neutral or negative impacts on the show, working my way down to the characters who were the best.
23. Craig Field (David Charvet)
“Melrose Place” had no shortage of smarmy assholes over the years, but Craig Field was the whiniest and most douchetastic. That is an impressive feat, considering the competition and the fact that he was a flat, boring character. His only role was to be the entitled son of Arthur Field and serve as a foil to Amanda at D&D. He ended up sleeping around a bit, as one is wont to do on this show, but he had the sex appeal of a group of fratbros singing “Margaritaville” while spilling Coors Light on each other. That Sydney’s last episodes on the series were wasted on this asshole is a huge tragedy.
22. Ryan McBride (John Haymes Newton)
In reviewing Jet’s album “Shine On” for Pitchfork, Ray Suzuki gave the album a 0.0 rating, and instead of giving any text to explain that appraisal, he simply shared a Youtube video of a monkey peeing in his own mouth. This has nothing to do with “Melrose Place,” of course, but I bring it up because I’m jealous that I didn’t come up with that concept myself to describe Ryan McBride. Except that would have been an insult to that poor monkey.
21. Brett Cooper (Linden Ashby)
The season after Kimberly was killed off, the writers tried to milk whatever more storyline they could from her, so they introduced a long-lost doctor who had nursed her back to health while she had been recuperating from the car accident years earlier. His introduction to the series seemed too late and too forced. With Kimberly already gone, Coop was an attempt to create a love triangle based on a character who was dead. It didn’t help that Coop’s only personality trait seemed be that he did not like Michael, but the writers tried to flesh that into a character. It did not work.
20. Sandy Harling (Amy Locane)
Sandy was one of the original characters on the show, and she left before the show ever got interesting. The only reason she’s not higher on this list is because Craig, Ryan, and Coop were that shitty.
19. Rhonda Blair (Vanessa A. Williams)
Rhonda suffered from the same fate as Sandy, appearing on the show before it had become worthwhile. The only reason she edges out Sandy is that a few scenes in season one indicate that had she stuck around, she could have been Grace to Matt’s Will.
18. Samantha Reilly (Brooke Langton)
The post-Alison era of Billy Campbell’s tenure on the show was wasted on Samantha, who was never given any depth or character. She and Billy were supposed to be some tortured couple, but they might as well have been cardboard cutouts. That she and her dipshit father caused the accident that wrote Sydney off the show is a true tragedy: if Syd were to leave the show, she deserved to at least be hit by Kimberly.
17. Kyle McBride (Rob Estes)
Like his brother Ryan, Kyle fit the mold of most of the men cast on this show: vaguely attractive men who had vacant looks in their eyes. The only reason he’s fared this well on the list is because his relationships with Taylor and Amanda made him a little more interesting than some of the shitheads previously on the list. In a way, he was just a replacement for Jake in the later seasons: the good-hearted but not interesting man who was attractive and whose business served as an alternate location to D&D and the apartment complex.
16. Brooke Armstrong (Kristin Davis)
She was the quintessential entitled, spoiled daddy’s girl, unapologetically rude and bratty to everyone. The fact that Billy put up with her as long as he did only further proved what a shithead he was. By the time they broke up, Brooke had run her course; she was like a whiny chihuahua who barks a lot but can’t inflict much damage. Her best storyline was her death, when her alcohol-fueled pity party led her to trip and fall in the pool. The writers had her come back for one more episode, as a sex ghost who both seduces and haunts Billy.
15. Lexi Sterling (Jamie Luner)
Lexi was brought on as the plus-one of Coop, who in turn had been introduced as a way to spin Kimberly’s death into new storylines. Initially she was no more than a timid version of Brooke: a rich daddy’s girl whose relationship with her father strained her relationships with men. When Taylor and Jennifer left, Lexi was remolded to try to be a bad girl who locked horns with Amanda. It was mildly entertaining, at best.
14. Alison Parker (Courtney Thorne-Smith)
Alison was introduced as neurotic, anal-retentive, and controlling. The writers tried to make her somewhat more complex by giving her some intense storylines about child abuse and addiction, but she was never able to come off as anything other than a whiny nudge who after a while was only good for being the butt of Amanda’s jokes. Amanda was a cruel, manipulative bully, but Alison was such a putz that we gladly rooted for the bully.
13. Billy Campbell (Andrew Shue)
There was a brief period when Billy and Alison were the show’s defining couple, not unlike the way Ross and Rachel defined “Friends” or Mike and Susan defined “Melrose Place.” Their on-again/off-again nature dragged out over several seasons, with each character deciding at inopportune moments to profess an undying love for the other. The problem is that after their failed wedding at the end of season two, these two were boring, and there was no reason to root for them. She was as fun as a hall monitor, and he was about as appealing as a guy who shows up at a party with an acoustic guitar and starts earnestly playing Poison’s “Every Rose Has His Thorn.” Gah.
12. Jo Reynolds (Daphne Zuniga)
Though Jo was not in the original cast, she came into the series early enough that she might as well be lumped in with those characters. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but by being a photographer who had moved to Los Angeles, she managed to be more interesting than buzzkills Alison or Jane. Which says more about those characters than it does about Jo.
11. Jake Hanson (Grant Show)
In a show where the only qualification for most of the men seemed to be being good-looking and acting like a sad puppy, Jake had a little more charm than most of his male counterparts. His role as owner of Shooter’s meant he got to be bartender-turned-therapist for most of the characters, making him one of the more decent humans to live at the complex. Unfortunately, his penchant for doing the right thing led him to date some of the more boring characters, and his storyline usually involved him in a love triangle with other boring characters.
10. Jane Mancini (Josie Bissett)
At her best, Jane was a foil to both Michael and Sydney. Her most compelling storylines came from her proximity to those two characters. But as the writers tried to move her away from her sister and ex-husband, she became needy, neurotic, and whiny. She — and the series’ writers — spent way too much time and energy on Richard, who could have and should have been gone by early on in the fourth season. When the writers tried to reinvent Jane as Jake’s obsessed stalker a la “Fatal Attraction,” the writing was on the wall: Any relevance that Jane — and “Melrose Place” as a whole — once had was quickly disappearing.
9. Megan Lewis (Kelly Rutherford)
Perhaps the most decent human being to have ever been written into the show, Megan was introduced when Kimberly set her up with Michael so that he would not be lonely when Kimberly eventually died. Compared to the other characters on “Melrose Place,” Megan was the one who seemed like she could live a somewhat normal life if she ever managed to get away from these shitheads. That the kindest and most genuine character was paired with Michael Mancini was an inspired move on the part of the writers, and a rare stroke of brilliance for the later seasons.
8. Matt Fielding (Doug Savant)
Matt was a trailblazing character, as he was openly gay. He was also not beholden to any stereotypes: Rather than being an actor, dancer, or hairdresser, Matt worked at a hospital. He did not have any quirky idiosyncrasies or flamboyant affectations. The showrunners did not overplay his orientation as a gimmick the way other series had tended to do with LGBTQ characters. Matt Fielding was as generic, plain, and boring as most of the other men on the show, which made him kind of refreshing.
7. Jennifer Mancini (Alyssa Milano)
By the fifth and sixth seasons, “Melrose Place” was starting to appear long in the tooth. The cast had swollen to a comically absurd size, with characters getting scarce screen time per episode. Many of the original characters had left, and the newer characters had all the charm and character of an airport Starbucks. One of the few exceptions was Jennifer Mancini, Michael’s younger sister. She could stand up to the other alpha females on the show, and she offered us a new dynamic: a character that shared screen time with Michael Mancini but who had zero possibility of appearing in bed with him.
6. Peter Burns (Jack Wagner)
Peter had a superpower in which he could date the iciest of the women on the show and make them vulnerable enough to break their hearts. Amanda, Kimberly, Taylor, and Lexi were each some of the nastiest characters on the show, but when romantically paired with each of them, he was able to emotionally destroy them. He would have been a much less interesting character — and much less important — if he had not been cast as the Spencer Tracy to Amanda’s Katharine Hepburn. He was her Kryptonite, showing that underneath her mean coping mechanisms, she was just as fractured and fragile as the rest of them.
5. Taylor McBride (Lisa Rinna)
As I noted above, the last few seasons of “Melrose Place” suffered from a revolving door of bland characters coming in as original characters left, but Taylor McBride was one of the highlights of the latter-day seasons. She was brazen enough to take on Amanda, insecure enough to fight with Sydney, obsessed enough with Peter to move across the country for him, weird enough to role-play as her dead sister, and manipulative enough to team with Michael to make Peter think he had beaten her. In a “Melrose Place” void of both Sydney and Kimberly, Taylor did her damnedest to keep up the tradition of with women who were conniving enough to scare Peter and Michael.
4. Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton)
“Melrose Place” had an uneven track record when it came to introducing characters who were siblings of previously established characters: Alison’s sister wasn’t compelling; Jake’s brother was just a cartoonish portrayal of domestic abuse; Jennifer’s storylines were uneven; and Ryan was a dud. But Sydney managed to have a chemistry — good or bad — with everyone with whom she shared a scene.
3. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro)
Michael Mancini was the only character to appear on all the episodes of the series’ seven-season run. I’m not sure whether that’s something for which Thomas Calabro should feel pride or shame, but we’re guessing he feels both. And he should: Michael Mancini was a delightfully awful character, who had no self control or sense of decency. And yet he was adorable enough to always work his way back into his wives’ — and viewers’ — hearts.
2. Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear)
On a show known for hookups and altercations, Amanda might have had more of each than any other character. She married, dated, or slept with almost all of the male characters, and had at least one run-in with most of the women on the show. Her role with D&D, as well as her appetites for men and catfights, meant she got to share scenes and storylines with everyone on the series. Billy and Alison? She was a wedge in their relationship. Michael and Kimberly? A wedge there, too. The character she had the least to do with was probably Matt, though she did have a fight with his 16-year-old niece, because fuck it, she fought with everyone.
1. Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross)
Kimberly appeared on the series until the middle of season five, but perhaps Kimberly’s legacy is one she shares with Sydney: Kimberly, Sydney, Jane, and Michael were the perfect four-way love rhombus, in part because Sydney and Kimberly were more interesting than either member of the couple whose marriage they were disrupting. On their own, Jane and Michael were kind of a run-of-the-mill bickering couple. The addition of Kimberly and Sydney as a perversely destructive set of Wonder Twins who made the Michael and Jane storylines take off. The storyline where Kimberly framed both Jane and Sydney for Michael’s accident was the perfect payoff for a storyline that had been patiently building up over two seasons.
But Kimberly makes it to the top of this list over Sydney, Michael, and even Amanda because while those characters were dependable for sarcasm and one-liners, it was Kimberly who made “Melose Place” the most unpredictable. In the history of batshit characters on soapy TV shows, no character was more desperate, unhinged, or untethered to any sense of morality than Kimberly Shaw. In an apartment complex full of self-serving shitheads, Kimberly stood out because at least those characters seemed driven whatever logic they thought would help their interests. But as interested as Kimberly was in protecting herself, she seemed more interested in chaos and inflicting injury, even if that meant putting herself in some of the crossfire. “Melrose Place” was at its best when it had creepy storylines, and those always included Kimberly, whether it be her nursing Jo’s baby, threatening to electrocute Michael and Amanda with a lamp in a hot tub, setting a bomb in the complex because a man named Henry in her head told her to do it, trying to give Peter a lobotomy, or taking off her wig after having “I’m not actually dead” love session with Michael. As one does.