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Pretty petulance in 'South Beach'

Pout-a-holism. It's the unacknowledged killer among today's TV youth dramas. Pretty actors and actresses are getting hooked on clenching their lips into varying states of togetherness to look hollow, spoiled, or just plain silly. This is your mouth (smile); this is your mouth on pout (Mischa Barton).

''South Beach," which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 38, operates like a subliminal ad for pout. It's about a bunch of empty glamour-pusses in South Beach, lounging in bathing suits when they're not moping in club fashions. They interconnect at the Hotel Soleil, where some work, some play, some have affairs with the owner's son, and all look like they've been cut and pasted out of a Maxim ad spread. The setup of ''South Beach" is like an old Elvis Presley or Annette Funicello beach movie, except absolutely no carbs are allowed, and no joy, either.

The UPN show, which has a two-hour premiere, opens with a pair of WB-looking buddies from Brooklyn moving to Miami. Good guy Matt (Marcus Coloma) wants to leave his gambler-father and find his ex-girlfriend, Arielle (Odette Yustman), now a South Beach model. He quickly becomes the chief of security at the Hotel Soleil, which is run by the enigmatic Elizabeth Bauer (Vanessa Williams). Bad boy Vincent (Chris Johnson) is just looking for hot adventures in the sun, which he quickly finds as an assistant to a suspicious kingpin (played boringly by Giancarlo Esposito).

In between all the poolside exhibitionism and dance-floor romantic politics, guns appear and faceless thugs are killed. That means our young cast members get to angst about whether they're truly in danger and some villain is going to force them to eat a loaf of bread at gunpoint. The intrigue, which includes the covert activities of Elizabeth's son, Alex (Lee Thompson Young), is just about music-video deep.

You've got to love the idea of setting youth-market soaps in beach and pool settings. It's so much easier for the writers to get the kids out of their clothes without contriving bath-towel mishaps. There's no need for those ''Oops -- I thought you were finished showering" moments. At the sound of waves crashing in the background, or chlorine splashing in the foreground, the fashions just fall off, the muscles flex, the bikini tops cling. Lori Loughlin's ''Summerland," Gregory Harrison's ''Safe Harbor," the needs-no-introduction ''Baywatch" -- they're all prime examples of the genre.

Along with ''South Beach," they're Must Wax TV.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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