Or, Keeping Up with the Walshes
If there’s anything the TV industry trusts, it’s precedent, which has brought us a parade of Judge Wapner impersonators, provided sixty-seven variations on CSI and Law and Order, and given Chevy Chase the opportunity to have a late-night talkshow. In other words, precedent is responsible for some of the great travesties in televisual history. Following suit, the new 90210 is monopolizing on the uberhip ’90s original Beverly Hills 90210 and it’s all about being up-to-date.*
The Walshes are not the Walshes this time around; they are the Wilsons. Armed only with their middle-America corn-fed values, the Wilsons arrive in Beverly Hills via Kansas to the house in which Harry Wilson (as portrayed by Rob Estes) grew up in order to assume the role as the new principal in West Beverly Hills High School. Along with him he’s dragged his wife, Debbie, played by the ever foxy Lori Loughlin (Aunt Becky from Full House, or, as I prefer to remember her, the love interest from the gnarly Rad). Shenae Grimesâ€”a Degrassi: The Next Generation alum (though I’m not sure she actually graduated)â€”plays Annie, who’s smart and responsible, but a little wild, and is essentially Brenda. Tristan Wilds (The Wire) is Dixon, a blacker version of Brandonâ€”roughly four times blacker than Jason Priestly, but only twice as black as Brian Austin Green. So the audience wonâ€™t suspect a casting mishap, we learn early on that Dixon is adopted.
It’s not long until the Wilsons are entrenched in Beverly Hills life. Brenda and Brandon (for the ease of the readers, in this paragraph I’ll refer to the characters by the name of the one they’re updating) attend the very school where their father is the new principal. Brenda befriends the popular girl, maybe this is Kelly Taylor, who is the girlfriend of a boyâ€”Dylan McKay?â€” who Brenda kissed two summers before when visiting her grandmother (Jessica Walters, playing a poorly written version of her Arrested Development character). Brandon tries out for the lacrosse team and it turns out that he is totally more awesome than the most awesome players, who include the boyfriend of the popular girl and a guy that might be Steve Sanders.
And in case all of the above â€œupdatesâ€ smack of too much originality, well, not to worry, because 90210 has that covered. Jennie Garth returns as Kelly Taylor (OK, I’m no longer updating; these are the names of characters in 90210 Redux). She’s still in school, but as a guidance counselor. Also, Shannon Dougherty comes back as Brenda and she drinks wine with Garth’s character. Also returning is the Peach Pit, where the original gang used to hang out, as well as the The Pit, which was the Peach Pit’s hip club offshoot. This time, though, it is hipper and clubbier. Plus, Nat is still running both!
For you music lovers, the two-hour premiere featured cuts from MGMT, Franz Ferdinand, the Hives, and the Ting Tings.
This show is not good, but it’s also not terrible. There’s enough melodramatic fodder to make some wander over to the CW for an hour every week. Not me, though. Iâ€™m still waiting for a 21 Jump Street remake.
* You might be thinking that I’m one of those guys. This site has a few of them. You know, a guy that owns a television set but doesnâ€™t watch it or only uses it to watch movies (see Comments of “Please Preserve Ledger’s Dignity”). Well, you’d be wrong. I have a TV and I watch the shit out of it. Sometimes literally.
One thought on “Nine Oh Two One Oh No You Didn’t”
Normally, preemptive strikes are not my thing. In anticipation of the threats I may receive, I’m offering a few explanations of why I watched the series premiere of 90210.
First, though I watch some shows in the reality-TV genre, I much prefer original comedies and dramas that employ professional actors and are generally scripted if not masterfully improvised. The problem with these sorts of the shows is that they are expensive to create, with overhead costs that include paying actors, shooting on sometimes several locations that aren’t McMansions somewhere in the hills of California, and an extensive behind-the-camera crew that have to worry, among other things, about scripts and the wardrobes of everyone in front the camera, not just a host. Such shows become cost prohibitive to even attempt when they categorically cannot command premium prices for commercial space due to unsatisfactory ratings.
Well, you may be thinking, you’ve pointed out in your review that this show is an update and perhaps should not be considered an original drama. Nice thought, but if a clone or a remake fails, there really is no hope for an innovative show to get enough funding to create a pilot. (Part of me secretly worries that supporting a remake sends the wrong message to the ratings and TV people. What if they think I prefer remakes, updates, and spinoffs? That such a misread is possible is troubling.) Reality shows are cheaper and can survive on more meager ratings, which anybody with an MBA can tell you makes them a better investment. Also, if a reality show flops, there are fewer dollars that need recouping as compared to the failure of a highly produced half-hour sitcom or one-hour drama. So, this is a protracted way of saying that I viewed 90210 as a show of solidarity towards more traditionally produced television.
Second, I watched the show in a more academic, cultural-studies-oriented, relativistic, Derridean way in which nearly anything produced can be taken as a text that will reveal something interesting and valuable about a culture regardless of said text’s anticipated quality. The fact that I had to give this a grade may belie this suggestion (also, what this show may tell us about our culture and the TV-producing culture is more worthy of an A than a Câ€“), but Harry likes things graded.
Third, Jessica Walter, the matriarch of the Wilson family, more or less reprises her role as Lucille Bluth, by greeting her family with Long Island iced tea in hand before noon in front of her palatial mansion in Beverly Hills, but her character is more watered-down than liquored-up.
Fourth, maybe the subway advertising was successful.
Fifth, perhaps I was driven by a compulsion similar to that which makes one listen to Scarlett Johansson cover some Tom Waits tunes. (See “<https://www.owlandbear.com/2008/05/01/scarlett-johansson-%e2%80%93-anywhere-i-lay-my-head/>Scarlett Johansson â€“ Anywhere I Lay My Head” review on this very website.)