Love It or Leave It? Review
August 7, 2019
With the premiere of BH90210 tonight, America’s most famous zip code is back for an all new go-around. Before we get into this nostalgia-filled limited series, some background is necessary for you youngsters out there. Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered almost 29 years ago, on October 4, 1990. I was 12-years-old when the coolest kids from West Beverly High burst onto the scene and this show was everything. We didn’t have Twitter, or any kind of social media at all (not even Facebook), so Friday mornings in the school yard and lunchtime in the cafeteria were devoted to rehashing the previous night’s latest drama amongst the Beverly Hills kids. Beverly Hills, 90210 ushered in a new kind of television, soapy nighttime dramas aimed at teens and America ate it up.
Beverly Hills, 90210 ran for 10 seasons, ending in May 2000, and those teenagers that watched every episode are now in their 40s, with families of their own, and the appetite for 1990’s nostalgia is running high. BH90210 seizes on this 90’s fever with an enthusiastic flourish. But, is it worth the time to watch? Read on to see whether we Love It Or Leave It … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!
The premise of BH90210 is pretty straight forward. Thrown into the same room for a 30-year reunion panel, the original core cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 (sans bad girl Shannen Doherty and the recently deceased, Luke Perry), the older (but not necessarily wiser) castmates discover a few things: time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, life isn’t necessarily all money bags and easy living for former 90s sensations, and old flames can be reignited more easily than you’d imagine.
From the get go, BH90210 is being told, primarily, from the point of view of Tori Spelling (and to a lesser extent, Jennie Garth). The opening scene of the show sets the tone for the series. “Donna Martin” is having a nightmare-esque dream sequence wherein she and the other Beverly Hills, 90210 cast members are all still playing their 90210 characters (they’re at the Peach Pit for God sakes!). The scene is very happy and everyone is full of smiles, as the characters appear one by one in a cheerful reunion. But, when “David” mentions “Brenda,” the jukebox glitches (the jukebox, by the way, is playing “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd (we were so fly in the 90’s, “bad” needed 2 d’s)), the doorway gets all smoky, and “Brenda Walsh” makes a grand entrance. Snap! “Donna” starts screaming and wakes up on a plane in coach as Tori Spelling. She’s with Jennie Garth and they are headed to Las Vegas for a 30th anniversary reunion panel for the show.
The confusing part comes from the fact that the show is really about the actors in a quasi-real life set up. It’s kind of a mashed up reality show within a fictional show. Jason Priestly, in interviews for the release, likened the play on their real selves to a fictional version for the show as ‘meta’ versions of themselves. Tori Spelling has a fictional husband on BH90210 who used to play for the NHL. Gabrielle Carteris is the fictional president of the Actor’s Guild of America. Ian Ziering has a fake wife, as do Jason Priestly and Brian Austin Green. Also, not to nit pick, but to nit pick, but 2020 is the actual 30th anniversary.
The pilot episode’s main purpose is to re-introduce all of the cast members and catch us up on their current state, 19 years after the show’s finale. Most are suffering through some mid-life crisis of a sort and even the ones with everything going right, turns out, are not doing so well. Remember, however, though they are playing themselves, these people are playing heightened, fictionalized versions of themselves. This is most obvious in so far as none of these actors’ real life spouses are appearing on the show (would it have killed Brian to have Megan Fox appear?!?).
Here is a quick run down of where everyone stands:
Tori Spelling (who played Donna Martin): Tori and her husband, Nate (not her real life husband), are struggling financially when their reality show is cancelled. They have a lot of mouths to feed and no real plan on how to support themselves. She’s also incensed by the amount of 90210 merch that exists in the world for which they receive no money. There are frequent innuendos made to Tori’s messy real life personal family drama and her complicated relationship with her mega-producer father (the late Aaron Spelling) and estranged mother, Candy (who famously denied Tori and her brother the sizable inheritance they were supposed to receive after Aaron’s death). Tori is also very nervous about seeing Brian Austin Green, clearly she has unresolved issues from their time on TV together. She’s remained good friends with Jennie Garth. Tori Spelling’s real life is pretty fucked up and she’s been pretty open about her financial and family struggles. Seeing a heightened version of that play out on TV, sometimes for laughs, is not enjoyable.
Jennie Garth (who played Kelly Taylor): Jennie is on the verge of her third divorce as BH90210 begins and dreading seeing Jason Priestley, who she considers an all together, goodie two shoes. Jennie has remained good friends with Tori but neither seem to really keep in touch with anyone else from the old days.
Gabrielle Carteris (who played Andrea Zuckerman): Gabrielle, in a clever nod to her being much older than all of her Beverly Hills, 90210 co-stars during the run of the original series, has just become a grandmother (girlfriend is 58 years old in real life). She’s also president of the (fictional) Actor’s Guild of America. She also maybe is a closeted lesbian?
Jason Priestley (who played Brandon Walsh): Jason is stuck in a career of being a television director and he’s feeling kind of bitter about it, longing to be in front of the camera again. His squeaky clean public image is tarnished as the show begins because he’s recently punched out a (much younger) actor who didn’t want Jason’s acting advice. He’s also married to his PR agent, Camille (Vanessa Lachey), which makes for a messy blurring of professional and personal lives. Over the course of the first episode, we learn Jason is not really happy with his heavily scripted life. He’s ever less happy when he finds out that Camille is pregnant … Dun Dun Dunnnn.
Ian Ziering (who played Steve Sanders): As BH90210 opens, Ian has it the most together. He seems to be in marital bliss with his workout/budding reality star wife, Stacey (Jenna Rosenow), and both of them are releasing a new workout book. Unfortunately, while at the reunion, Ian gets Facetime butt dialed by said wife and finds himself with a front row seat to her fucking a man in their bed. Whoops. She doesn’t know he knows.
Brian Austin Green (who played David Silver): David is a stay at home dad, married to Shay (La La Anthony), a very successful recording artist. He doesn’t seem to mind the role of dad and seems genuinely happy for his wife and her success. That being said, it grates on him that he’s known, essentially, as Mr. Shay, always being asked questions about his wife and not himself. Like Jason, he wants back in front of the camera.
The one thing these six people can all agree on is their dislike of Shannen Doherty (who played Brenda Walsh) and how happy they are that she’s not around for the 30th Anniversary Reunion Panel. So, of course, the panel moderator surprises them all with a livestream interview of Shannen during the reunion. We learn Shannen is off rescuing cute baby tigers and soliciting donations for her cause. <insert epic eye roll> But, we see later that Shannen is headed back to the States and back into these people’s lives.
Of note from the first episode: Jason and Jennie, both disgruntled with their marital lives, hook up. This, despite Jennie’s disdain for Jason’s good boy image which she holds against him before and after the sexy times. Tori has a mental breakdown of sorts when she sees her prom dress from the original series being displayed. She smashes open the case holding the dress and runs off with it. Eventually the entire gang is arrested since Tori insisted on live streaming the entire burglary. Gabrielle kisses a female fan who admits to having a life long crush on Gabrielle’s character, “Andrea.” Gabrielle is totes into the lady love. And, as noted above, Ian finds out his perfect wife is banging someone else.
In the end, Tori and Jennie discuss the state of all of their lives. Tori (while watching her kids watch the original pilot episode of Beverly Hills, 90210) gets an inspiration that rebooting Beverly Hills, 90210 might be a way for all of them to move forward and maybe, fix their lives. This will be what the rest of the series focuses on.
“Maybe going back is just what we all need to move forward.”
I really wanted BH90210 to be great and I’ll highlight some things I liked from the first episode. I was surprised that it had some genuinely funny moments (e.g., Jennie horn-dogging for a pig farmer at the Vegas hotel; Tori, after seeing the bill for a “Mommy and Me yoga class,” exclaims, “Namaste here!”). Also, there were some sweet Easter eggs, like the one involving an actual egg — hardcore fans will remember Steve and Andrea trying to exchange an egg to get directions to an underground club. This was mentioned in the opening dream sequence.
The producers, writers, and cast (rightfully) acknowledged Luke Perry’s absence (Perry was slated to appear in BH90210 before his untimely death). The cast paid tribute to Luke Perry in a few instances. After Tori absconded with the purloined prom dress and they’re on the plane she tells the gang, “We’re not all gonna be here forever, but we made something that will be.” They then toast to Luke. And in the final scene of the show, Tori and Jennie are watching an episode of the original show. There’s a scene where Dylan is driving Brandon in Dylan’s old Porsche. The camera lingers on Luke and reads “For our friend, Luke Perry 1966-2019” Cue those nostalgic feels and some wet eyelashes.
Love It Or Leave It? LEAVE IT! I’m sorry to say, but I’m going to have to leave this one. BH90210 capitalizes on the recent wave of 90s nostalgia — see the recent Lion King and Aladdin live-action remakes and the fact that Doc Martens are making a mainstream comeback. But, nostalgia isn’t enough to sustain interest in this mess.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. In the same way that meeting your heroes almost inevitably leads to let down and disappointment (its hard for someone to live up to an idolized version in your head), nostalgia can make us yearn for something to be resurrected anew only to realize that you cannot capture lightning in a bottle twice. And, in the worst examples, failed attempts at reliving our happiest memories can lead to a diminished memory of the original thing we loved.
Hopefully BH90210 serves as a cautionary tale for future remakes/reboots – before resurrecting an old IP, you better have a better and fresher idea than, “people want to see older, heightened, sad and pathetic versions of characters from their youth.” Because no one wants to see that.
The best thing I have to say for the show is that it does provide a little catharsis in light of Luke Perry’s sudden passing in March. Gals and guys across the globe from about 37 to about 50 were just not okay with his death. Luke Perry’s “Dylan McKay” was the embodiment of a troubled bad boy you couldn’t help but love. Girls wanted to be with him and guys wanted to be him.
Suffice it to say, I was VERY excited for this reboot? … Remake ?… Self-aware parody? Whatever you want to call it, I was very excited for it but after watching the first episode, it just feels like silly, unnecessary shlock. A desperate, and obvious, money grab built on nothing more than good feelings for an era long gone. Truth be told, I’ll probably give this another week because, like a bad wreck on the highway, you can’t quickly look away. With Shannen making her first in-person appearance next week and Christine Elise popping up (she played Emily Valentine in the original show and seems like a villain type here), this may be a hate-watch disaster in the making. But, as far as quality television worth your time? Hard pass.
BH90210‘s limited six episode run airs on Fox, Wednesday nights at 9pm (ET/PT).
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