We were never the biggest 90210 fans. It always seemed too melodramatic and overly serious; as the years have passed on, it’s faded in our memory to blurry fragments from a time when Aaron Spelling ruled the earth–the theme song, the pastels, the awful opening credits and the crush we had on Shannen Doherty (we’ve always preferred brunettes to blondes-sorry Kelly!) 90210, we barely remember thee!
We actually latched onto The O.C. in a much more visceral way, which probably speaks more to our arrested development than anything else (we were already into our 20s when Josh Schwartz’s first hit premiered.) But The O.C. had everything that we felt was missing from the original 90210: it was clever, charming, and had a sense of humor about itself. The O.C. celebrated all the hackneyed accoutrements that the teen shows like 90210 had to offer. Its creators and stars grew up watching those shows, so they knew the beats and the absurdities and were able to take full advantage of the knowledge that their audience did too.
It goes to reason then that we might be the ideal audience for the new version of 90210 (Tuesdays at 8 on The CW.) Created by Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs (they worked together on Freaks and Geeks and our favorite, Undeclared) and Rob Thomas (he of Veronica Mars fame), 90210 might as well be called The O.C.: Beverly Hills Edition. With the exception of a handful of bon mots and extended cameo appearances thrown in for the hard cores, there is nothing here that remotely resembles the 90210 that we remember except for the zip code and the incredibly bad dialogue writing. (These guys worked with Paul Feig and Judd Apatow and this is the best they can come up with?)
The new 90210 centers on the positively Cohen-esque Wilson family: there’s dad, a former West Beverly student, now returning to take on the role of principal (Rob Estes, looking constantly surprised); mom, a fashion photographer not sure about what the move will do to her children (Lori Loughlin, beautiful); daughter Annie, somehow the “outsider” at school despite being positively gorgeous (the lovely Shenae Grimes from Degrassi: The Next Generation); and adopted brother Dixon (The Wire‘s Tristan Wilds, a doppelganger for R&B star Chris Brown.) The Wilson clan moves to Beverly Hills to take care of family matriarch Tabitha, an aging starlet in the Norma Desmond mold played with rakish delight by Jessica Walters.
A word about Mrs. Walters: This woman needs statues erected in her honor. Yes, she’s basically playing Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, but who cares! Every single scene that she appeared in was better for it. Mrs. Walters is so vibrant, brisk and utterly hilarious, that she had us actually clapping our hands with delight. It also helps that she had all the best lines of dialogue in the pilot, leaving us wondering if she helped write some of them. For sheer excellence nothing topped: “Look at her ass. You can crack an egg on it. And I say that because when I was her age, Ricardo Montalban literally cracked an egg on mine. I won’t tell the rest of the story, because I don’t remember it.”
Outside of Mrs. Walters, the biggest thing that stands out about the new 90210 is that when compared with some of the other teen shows, it is incredibly wholesome (Gossip Girl, we’re looking at you.) And yes, we’re saying that even though there was totally a “blow j” within the first five minutes of the pilot. But despite that, 90210 has a real value core rolling underneath it. These kids get grounded! They call their parents to tell them where they’re going! They want to impress their parents, not feed on them! When Annie gets caught by her parents lying about a first date that took place at a San Francisco restaurant (don’t ask), she actually begs them to ground her and she seems to mean it. It’s a stark contrast to Blair Waldorf.
Of course, we’re contractually obliged to reference all the old 90210 landmarks sprinkled in throughout the pilot: the Peach Pit, Nat, “[Brandon] called me from Belize,” mega-burgers, the theme song. They all get their due respect. Unless you live under a rock, you know that Brenda and Kelly are along for the ride as well (as a drama teacher and guidance counselor, respectively.) Jeannie Garth looks positively radiant in her return to network television; like Ms. Loughlin, she’s gotten more beautiful as she’s gotten older. We wish we could say the same thing about Ms. Doherty, our long time crush, but time has not served her well. She used to be really, um, hot; now she just looks like a more bloated Ali Lohan. If you are wondering about how they fared in their first scene together, let’s just say that Heat, it was not (it’s possible the term “stilted” was invented for Ms. Doherty’s line readings.)
Here’s the bigger problem with bringing Brenda and Kelly back to the show: alienation of the audience. No one under the age of 25 watching this series particularly cares about Brenda and Kelly, while everyone over 25 probably wishes the entire series were about them. That’s endemic of the whole show. By trying to be all things to all viewers, 90210 feels rudderless. It lacks the dry wit of The O.C., the trashy snark of Gossip Girl and the pure melodrama of the original 90210. There were actually times when we felt like we were watching a generic teen show on ABC Family (and that’s as bad as it sounds ). We don’t think that’s the result everyone was hoping for. Simply put, 90210 has to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Until it does, it can only be described as middling.