It would be too easy to use their own words against them: “This sucks.”
Those were the first two words uttered on the newly-retooled, updated version of Beverly Hills 90210, now truncated to just the zip code, 90210. And many of the professional TV critics – some of whom had their undies in a bunch  because they weren’t given advance copies of the 90210 premiere – echoed that sentiment. “Really, the original Beverly Hills 90210 was pretty bad . . . And 90210, the CW remake that premiered Tuesday night, is bad, too,” remarked the Boston Globe . “Watching the show is sort of like being assaulted by the contents of a slightly tacky mall jewelry store: Everything you see is shiny, pretty and just a little bit too loud,” said the Chicago Tribune . “Instead, the new version of 90210 is simply unremarkable -- a glittery showpiece for twentysomething actors playing teens with impossibly white teeth and improbably large bank accounts,” said the St. Petersburg Times critic .
But you know what? I had very low expectations going into this. After all, it’s 90210 , a primetime, teen soap opera. During its first go-round, from 1990-2000, it was not an uber-slick, intelligent drama. It was not even close to glamorous and much buzzed-about shows like Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, or Grey’s Anatomy, even though they may share a similar soundtrack. This show is about unreal teens living in the posh, surreal Beverly Hills area where people are dripping with money. It’s about magazine-cover good looking, sophisticated “teens.” (The St. Petersburg Times critic was right. The actors playing the teens range in age from 19-23.) It’s not meant to be good. It’s meant to be mind candy.
Even when 90210 attempted to portray a “normal,” middle American family – in the premiere, the Wilson family moved from Kansas to the dad’s family home (*cough*) . . . to his mother’s freakin’ huge mansion to “help” his wise-crackin,’ aging mother, who’s never seen without a cocktail (preferably a Long Island iced tea) in hand – is better off than most folks, even if they did pull up to the mansion’s driveway in a dented, dirty mini-van. The average American family doesn’t have an in-ground pool and palatial estate. And we’re well aware of that fact, thank you very much.
But 90210 is meant to be silly, soapy fun. It’s empty calories about which you feel guilty about consuming the morning afterwards. So, serious pop culture critics, let’s take 90210 for what it’s supposed to be: Entertainment which requires about as much intellectual heft as reading the coupon section of the Sunday paper. (Actually, the coupons require more concentration because the expiration dates are written in teeny, tiny print and your brain has actually instruct your eyes to squint.)
So, given its charge – to entertain – how did the premiere of 90210 fare? It was okay. Didn’t blow my socks off, but I can see myself tuning in to the show when I need a fix of mindless entertainment. Like People Magazine on TV.
You’ve got the “good girl” Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) who’s smart and can sing (like Gabriella Montez in High School Musical) and whose family just moved to her grandmother’s mansion. Her dad, Harry Wilson (Rob Estes), attended West Beverly High and is the nice-guy-who-sticks-to-his-guns high school principal. The Kansas-born mom, Debbie Wilson (Lori Loughlin) who is hated by the hard-drinking mother-in-law with whom she now lives, is a photographer and worried parent. Debbie and Harry (wonder if the writers are Blondie fans?) adopted a son, Dixon (Tristan Wilds), eight years ago. Dixon, who attends school with Annie, is a likewise “good boy” who’s out to prove that he’s not going to benefit from special treatment because he’s the new principal’s son.
The premise had potential. Then the soap suds poured forth in the form of heartbreaker-bad-boy-with-a-heart Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan) who was seen receiving a blow job from his girlfriend while he was in the driver’s seat of his SUV parked in front of the school. Viewers then met his girlfriend Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord), who wore inappropriate, sexy, expensive outfits and behaved like the West Beverly queen bee. Naomi’s got rich helicopter parents who pamper her, make excuses for her and bail her out of any inconvenient pinch. Her dad plays an entitled, bullying Alpha male who tried to force the school principal into letting his daughter off the hook from writing her English paper because she’d been stressed to the max from planning her elaborate 16th birthday party. Naomi’s mother is principal Harry’s ex-sweetheart and the mother of their baby whom she gave up for adoption without informing Harry . . . until he moved back to Beverly Hills.
But that’s not all folks. There’s a dark, moody, artsy chick. Two of ‘em actually. One’s a drug addict with a mom can’t pay the mortgage. The other’s into alt rock and has a nasty video blog featuring gossip about her fellow students. The latter is the half-sister of 90210 veteran Kelly Taylor. (Yes, Jennie Garth is back.) Kelly is now West Beverly’s school guidance counselor and the single mom of a preschooler. There’s also a jaded, scruffy-faced English teacher, Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold), who has the hots for Kelly, even though he’s not thrilled to learn she’s a mom.
Putting aside the teen angst stories – about cheating boyfriends and girlfriends, hurtful gossip, trying to fit in on a new team and being flown to dinner on a private jet by the richest kid in school without telling the ‘rents – there are a few storylines for the grown-ups. The principal has to deal with news that he has another kid. The mom-photographer laments the numerous teen temptations in Beverly Hills. The guidance counselor hasn’t really told many people at work about her son. Wait a second. Aren’t all of those stories REALLY about parenting, and about the kids? Yes, they are, because at its heart, 90210 is a TV program about kids, with a bit of nod to the fact that parents are people too. (Show creators claim the adults will get more face time in this version rather than the 1990-2000 one.)
Don’t tell my more high-brow media brethrens . . . but I’ll be visiting the 90210 zip code again, if, for nothing more than to see if the adult storylines get any more play, as well as to amp up my anxiety, as the mom of tweens, about what those crazy teens are up to. When I’m on the hunt for something serious, like a well done dramatization of contemporary teenage life and parental situations, I’m with the Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert and I’ll be making a regular date to watch Friday Night Lights.
90210 airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.