The CW’s much-hyped 90210 delivers the nostalgia for fans of the original series along with some clever references, but as the purported 2.0 version, the series lacks a certain oomph for these modern times that requires a little more edge and wittiness a la Gossip Girl.
As far as the familiar goes, the gleeful return of Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) as West Beverly Hills High’s guidance counselor is perhaps the most complete connection to the past. Not only is she revealed to be the half sister of the school’s righteous vlogger Silver (Jessica Stroup), but she also has a toddler son Sammy, whose father’s identity has yet to be revealed. A casual reference to Brandon Walsh by his visiting sister Brenda (Shannen Doherty), who is in town to guest direct the school’s play Spring Awakening, gives a hint or red herring to a paternity possibility.
Several other winks to the original series, such as a comment on how old Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez looks since she’s the purported offspring of Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris), Nat (Joe E. Tata) still presiding over the Peach Pit and visiting Spelling alums like Linda Grey (Melrose Place, Models, Inc.) reward diehard fans. There may even be another Brenda-Kelly rivalry in the offing over a guy, English teacher/lacrosse coach Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold) for that old-timey feeling.
Take away the references and returning characters, however, and 90210 just feels familiar, almost too familiar. You have your fish out of water, the Wilson family, whose patriarch Harry (Rob Estes) is the new principal of West Beverly Hills High, much to the chagrin of this two teenaged kids Annie (Shenae Grimes) and adopted son Dixon (Tristan Wilds), both of whom are appealingly fresh-faced and may as well be the Walsh twins given how much they actually seem to get along.
You also have all the other stereotypical one-dimensional characters, who show slivers of one-dimensional depth to come in the excruciatingly long two-hour premiere. Jessica Walter as the Wilsons’ drunken, former Hollywood starlet grandma Tabitha is a caricature imported from Arrested Development. Look forward to hearing her drop more old Tinseltown names like Ricardo Montalban that the kiddies are sure to appreciate.
At school, there’s the plastic mean girl Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord), troubled jock Ethan (Dustin Milligan), quirky aspiring filmmaker Navid (Michael Steger), the aforementioned rebel chick Silver, jerk jock George (Kellan Lutz), rich pretty boy Ty (Adam Gregory) and jaded addict/aspiring actress Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) who is prime after school special material. The characters are just as predictable as the images of palm trees, candy-colored sports cars and the Beverly Hills sign. Yawn. Once again, the characterizations pale in comparison to Gossip Girl’s juicier Chuck Bass, Blair Waldorf or Jenny Humphrey.
So far, the teenage drama is that mish-mash of school problems (cheating, making the team) and social troubles (dating, curfew, drugs), although the sexual element has certainly been amped up since the ’90s. In the premiere alone, we see some implied oral sex at school, the introduction of Navid’s dad’s profession as a porn producer, Debbie (Lori Loughlin) bluntly using the word "penis" with her rival and one teen revealing that she has cybersex with her bf. Strangely enough, the show’s cheesy, lighthearted tone cancels out any steamy smuttiness in what could have been 9021-Ho.
Although slender actresses are nothing new, the skeletal frames on the Nicole Richie-esque Grimes and Stroup are frightening and rather unflattering, making their heads look too large. Also, in the premiere, McCord’s character supposedly turns 16 but easily looks double her age. Despite all this, everyone is clean and polished, even the token curly-coifed surfer/dealer and Goth girl we see. Wilds and Steger add a refreshing bit of color as main cast members who hopefully will get love interests that will further reflect the face of today’s multicultural Beverly Hills.
Overall, 90210 echoes the original show in tone and format, but will have to prove itself to be something more than just another CW show with attractive people through its future plots and casting. As it stands, it’s a tepidly enjoyable bit of fluff that fails to achieve its own identity, much less the hoped-for water cooler status.
For the blow-by-blow account of the premiere, check out Zap2it’s 90210 recap.
What did you think of the show? Are you hooked? Is it better or worse than the original? Any favorite characters or references?