First with

Melrose Place

on Tuesday, now with

The Vampire Diaries

tonight at 8, the CW demonstrates a commitment to recycling that would be laudable if it were bagging bushels of bottles instead of inflicting warmed-over drivel on young TV viewers who deserve better.

Like its forebear, the new Melrose has a campy excess that makes it the one to watch, if you're cursed with the compulsion to keep up with CW soaps. Dracula himself would have trouble rising up to check The Vampire Diaries.

"The bad things stay with you," laments pretty teen Elena in The Vampire Diaries. "They follow you. You can't escape them."

Sounds like the litany of the TV critic, forced to watch high-school romance shows on the CW. They're all bad and all kind of the same, and they have been ever since Katie Holmes, playing Joey Potter, climbed through Dawson Leery's window almost 12 years ago, back when the network was called the WB.

The genre was new, and the world went wild over Dawson's Creek. Katie, 18 when the pilot was made, was so cute, a critic could watch, at least for a few episodes.

Now she's a mom, married to Tom Cruise, but the CW has not moved on, even if it does have a new name. It has enlisted Kevin Williamson, creator of Dawson's, to polish up L.J. Smith's young-adult Vampire Diaries fiction series.

Vampires are all the rage these days, but, on TV at least, HBO's True Blood has pretty much cornered the market on new-age, grown-up vamps. And nobody's ever going to match the youthful mythology and fun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So now we have Dawson's Vampires, where the creatures of the night wear magic rings to go to high school in the daytime, and the undead, as well as the living, examine their navels. Instead of passing out after too many drugs with the Gossip Girl kids on the Upper East Side, we get to run around the bonfire at the big teen beer bust in rural Mystic Falls, Va., but don't go into the woods.

Williamson also wrote the Scream trilogy, but there's neither humor nor horror here, unless you count some of the acting and casting. Supposed high schooler (even if his vampire self has been around since before the Civil War) Paul Wesley is certainly gorgeous, with his deep-set eyes and brooding, pale face, but he's 27, for goodness sakes. Ian Somerhalder, the guy who plays his brother, is 30.

Mom and Dad died last spring in a tragic car crash, sending Elena to the perfect depth of melancholia for a sensitive CW high-school romance, so with no mother to warn about older men, she'll apparently have to choose between the vampires instead of sticking with her handsome, blond childhood friend. They tried to date, but there just wasn't any passion.

Joey and Dawson, you remember, had similar problems.

There's passion aplenty on Melrose Place, whose first episode repeats tomorrow and Sunday at 9 p.m. on CW57.

Sydney, now the landlord, turns up dead - for real, this time - in the iconic swimming pool, but Laura Leighton will be around in flashbacks.

There's a standard menu of gorgeous new twentysomethings in the cool little apartment complex: addict, soulless careerist, sad little rich boy, and so forth. You know how strippers say they're just putting themselves through college? Well, there's somebody like that, too.

Plus Ashlee Simpson - not at all as awful an actress as you'd think - as the wide-eyed kid just in from The Sticks. "My mom told me to always carry pepper spray in L. A.," she says.

The slick Angelenos, with all their wild, stylish restaurants and parties, would be smart to keep an eye on her.

It's way less offensive, sometimes even fun, when people in their 20s and 30s, rather than their teens, drink themselves silly, have casual sex, stab each other in the back to get ahead, and generally act like people you're very glad you don't know.

But less offensive isn't much of a goal. The CW might have more success with its niche audience if it gave young women a little more credit, and a lot more originality.

Jonathan Storm:


The Vampire Diaries

8 tonight on CW57

Melrose Place

9 p.m. Tuesdays on CW57