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Despite pretty faces, this 'Sex' is no fun

If a prerequisite for a juicy nighttime soap opera is to gather together an ensemble of despicable characters, then ''Sex, Love & Secrets" gets off to a strong start.

The UPN drama, which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 38, is built around a group of 20-something singles who are so vain they probably think ''You're So Vain" is about them. From Eric Balfour's sex-obsessed hairdresser who models himself after Warren Beatty in ''Shampoo" to Denise Richards's nasty publicist, they personify every negative stereotype about LA.

The show wants to be a grungier version of ''Melrose Place," with a central character, Hank (James Stevenson), who's a local rock singer. No blow-drying on this show. Hank has a girlfriend, Rose (Lauren German), but Richards's Jolene wants to seduce him to spite Rose. That romantic triangle is matched by an inadvertent triangle as Balfour's Charlie and his best friend Coop (Omar Benson Miller) are unknowingly dating the same woman. All these folks are consistently irritatingly superficial. Only Nina (Tamara Taylor) has any maturity, which is why she's the show's resident spinster in the making. Naturally, she's doing online personals while the others are out hooking up.

''Sex, Love & Secrets" is the kind of drama that wants to be a ''guilty pleasure." But it gets too tedious to be much fun, as its denizens leap from bed to bed in their familiar motions of romance and hurt feelings. If the writers and actors were willing to get a little campy, if they lifted the group's obnoxiousness factor over the top, the show might have some entertainment value. But as it stands, it's an hour spent watching dull, pretty people work very hard to be hipper than one another, as well as hipper than you.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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