Morning After Report: 9-0-2-1-OMG! (Episodes 1 & 2)
Eight years ago, loyal fans (because after 10 years on the air, that's all that were left) watched onetime geek David Silver marry longtime love Donna Martin on the series finale of Beverly Hills, 90210. The zip code was silenced, along with the eternal and rotating love triangles, the token bitch, the--gasp!--shocking family secrets, and the pulpy remains of what began as an edgy teen drama about fraternal twins from Minnesota trying to fit in at West Beverly Hills High.
But in a culture obsessed with instant nostalgia, and possibly run dry of originality, we have gone there. We have packed up our bags--this time with Kansas as our starting point--and have set up shop in what is thought to be the swankiest 5 digits in America. That's right, children of Generation X, we've gone back to 90210. It's a faster, raunchier, more technological world now, but before the first sweeping aerial shots (reminiscent of Fox's own attempt at 90210 resuscitation, The OC) could grace our HD teevee sets, the show was destined to have an identity crisis: Is it a remake, a spinoff, or a sequel?
Does that matter? Frankly, yes. Ratings are likely to be high for last night's 2 hour premiere, if only because looky-loos who came of age on the original just couldn't help but set their Tivos to get the intel. Die hards looking to focus in on the old characters were teased mercilessly, with glimpses of old favorites and hint bombs dropping left and right. But if the show is hoping to catch on with a whole new demo and generation, that might prove to be problematic.
The writing is largely weak, and the pace uneven. In the halls and classrooms of the more sunlit-looking high school the characters ramble at breakneck speed about problems and issues and scenarios that haven't had time to be established. In television's new age of needing to come out of the gate winning viewers, shows have absolutely no time to grow or develop before the ax of cancellation is wielded. Now we're immersed rather than introduced, leaving the audience wondering what the hell these strangers are talking about. The only discernable plot lines (besides the obvious "teen siblings from the Midwest move to Beverly Hills to live with a rich, eccentric grandmother and go to high school") were the most cliched in the handbook of teen television: Copying someone's paper, a sweet sixteen party that isn't so dreamy, and an instant love triangle. What makes this any different than any other teen-targeted show that's on now, or come before?
Oh... well, it's the nostalgia factor. So we're back to the old fan base, the gimmick of revisiting old characters. Judging by the amount of Brenda Walsh & Kelly Taylor time in the pilot, the CW might be in for a tough sell. It's a safe bet that the old fans don't give a hoot about Annie and Dixon Wilson (Shenae Grimes and Tristan Wilds), their principal Dad (Rob Estes), their tater-tot cooking wet blanket mom (Lori Loughlin), and the cast of 35-year-olds dressed as teens running around sending text messages, creating "blogisodes," and giving blow jobs in the front seat of expensive SUVs.
Old fans want to know more about the original principal characters--maybe not Nat (Joe E. Tata), who still skulks around his new, breezy, low-fat, organic cafe The Peach Pit at a safe distance from the nubile goddesses in knee socks clutching Sidekicks--and why on earth Kelly (Jennie Garth) wants to work at West Bev (and who is her baby daddy?), how cherubic blonde Erin became blogging bitch Silver (Jessica Stroup), if David (Brian Austin Green) and Donna (Tori Spelling) are still a duo, and why Brenda (Shannen Doherty) looks puffy with the menopause. (That last one is easy; since the o-g "kids" were 18-30 when the show began, they are now well beyond the 32 they should be by the calendar.) We wonder how Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez (Hallee Hirsh), the unplanned progeny of superbrain Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) and her East LA law student lover Jesse (Mark D. Espinoza), ended up at West Bev (in the journalism offices, no less) when she was last known to be living back east with her parents and their troubled young marriage--if we're getting technical she could at most be a freshman, having been born in May of 1994 she'd be 14).
And since the star is also the zip code, Angelenos are already looking to see their city featured prominently, in this the age of the location shoot. When the old 90210 did most of its stuff on a soundstage in Van Nuys (the high school exterior was and remains Torrance High, the Walsh house is in Alhambra, and The Peach Pit's sign flickered possibly in Pasadena) the new 90210 is all over town. The new Peach Pit (where gerber daisies dress up tables and there's nary a MegaBurger in sight) is on Beverly--if not in Beverly--and is the Kokomo Cafe. Spoiled Naomi's (AnnaLynne McCord) Not-So-Sweet-Sixteen (her words!) was at a re-purposed Boulevard3, and featured a live performance from Tilly and the Wall and cameos by Cory Kennedy and Cobra Snake, natch. Santa Monica's pier looked a bit more resplendent when the kids went down to party on the beach, and apparently gatherings complete with a couple of on-the-beach bonfires happen "every weekend" around here; well, maybe not with well-heeled teens, more likely it's SaMo's legendary homeless who are gathering around impromptu fires. (The Times has a Google map of locations.)
Sadly, it seems the execs at the CW are asking their audience to swallow as much as that poor girl whose head popped up over the dashboard in one of the pilot's first sequences--an "OMG!" moment clearly crafted to evoke their other teen suds-fest, Gossip Girl. We're being asked to buy teenagers clubbing and drinking at the same nightspot as their teacher and some tawdry past of one Harry Wilson, played by Rob Estes, (whose inside joke giggles with Kelly are a stretch, since we've never heard of this cat, his ex-girlfriend, and their bastard put-up-for-adoption son). We've got to care why the emo wannabe actress has drugs in her textbook and steals Chanel purses, we've got to believe that a high school can get the rights of a current Broadway musical to perform it in their auditorium. Talk about OMG. More like WTF.
The new 90210 gets an A for effort, though, and an A for the music (great to hear MGMT, Ting Tings, and see Liz Phair's name in the credits). They get an A for casting Jessica Walter as the scotch-lubricated granny diva who says the only truly clever things on the show, but a C for most of the supporting kids in the new class of West Bev, and a B for the bland Kansasites who pulled up in their dusty jalopy. (Sorry, Shenae Grimes, go back to Degrassi!)
The network seems to be banking on 90210 to revive its fledgling viewership. Lots of wagging tongues, however, don't think it's going to happen. Back in early July, the TV Addict observed: "Turns out, while there’s an awful lot of buzz surrounding the CW’s re-boot of 90210, Horizon Media speculates that the talk won’t translate into eyeballs and that America’s favorite zip code doesn’t have what it takes to carry the CW out of the ratings cellar." After last night's premiere, it's going to be a tough call--the numbers might come from the old guard, but if they don't deliver the nostalgia, they're going to lose us, because the new stuff is weak. The LA Times seems to agree with the show's precarious situation: "A spinoff of a pop-culture phenomenon is tricky business, and the new show's success might depend on its ability to both depict and comment on the global culture in which the new West Beverly High crew is growing up, while balancing the beloved elements of the first series."
Only time will tell if they can pull it off, and the clock is already ticking. We may only get heresay on the topic of Donna and David (word has it Tori Spelling is out; we know Tiffani Thiessen is out, too, and most like Luke Perry, Brian Austin Green, and Jason Priestley will steer clear, too) which might not be enough. But they've got our attention for now. If only long enough to find out if it was Dylan or Brandon who fathered Kelly's son.
Some love triangles never get old--just the actors who play them.
90210 airs Tuesdays on the CW.
Cast photo of the new show by Art Streiber, Associated Press