Really, the original “Beverly Hills 90210” was pretty bad. Maybe some of us have romanticized the Fox series since it left the air in 2000, and blocked out the fact that it was an overly earnest, obvious teen soap. Maybe time has healed the wounds it left by rubbing our noses in afterschool-special lessons. Maybe the Peach Pit kids have gained an appealing camp cachet, boosted by memories of Shannen Doherty’s bratty behavior, Tori Spelling’s acting non-style, and Luke Perry’s sideburns.
But the show was bad. And “90210,” the CW remake that premiered last night, is pretty bad, too.
The two-hour episode seemed to take forever to set up some remarkably bland plotlines -- stories that might have seemed dull even back in 1990, when the original series premiered. A spoiled rich girl cheats on her English paper, a glassy-eyed teen has a drug problem, Lacrosse jocks pull pranks, a child was given up for adoption many years ago -- we’ve seen them all many times before on other teen soaps, and with more finesse, too.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...
At the first glimpse of the Wilson family driving into Beverly Hills last night, like the Walshes so many years before, you could see just how tiresomely goody-goody and flat they were all going to be. Rob Estes strains to be easygoing as Harry Wilson the “Father Knows Best” who’s hip enough to make gay jokes, while Lori Loughlin barely registers as Debbie, as the ever-responsible wife and mother.
The “90210” writers have tried to dress up their unimaginative material and characters in aughts attitude, to make the show relevant to post-millennial teens who’ve already been exposed to “The O.C.,” “The Hills,” and “Gossip Girl.“ There is a catty gossip website run by alt girl Erin Silver -- that would be Kelly’s half sister, known simply as Silver (Jessica Stroup). There are pop-referential lines about movies such as “Superbad” and about various celebrities, including this take on West Beverly Hills High School: “It’s like the Oscars and everybody is Scarlett Johannson.” There’s a Seth Cohen-like geek named Navid (Michael Steger).
And, of course, there are risqué sexual situations tacked on, most notably one involving oral sex that probably would have been considered outrageous on a network teen series 10 years ago. Maybe even five years ago.
The writers have also tried to spice up the Wilson family with a twist. Instead of twin children with alliterative first names like Brandon and Brenda , they deliver the naïve Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) and her adopted African-American brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds). It’s not a bad alternative to the original setup -- maybe it shows even a hint of a spark of inspiration? But neither character has any depth or distinction. It’s particularly disappointing to see Wilds playing such a nondescript character, after his complex work on “The Wire” as the cold-hearted and yet innocent Michael. Grimes has a Disney Channel-ish perkiness that wears thin by the end of the first hour.
Even the potential teen villain, Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord), is just another “Mean Girl” or “Heather.” If a soap can’t even come up with a juicy troublemaker (see Blair on “Gossip Girl”), it’s in trouble. Yes, Jessica Walter is on hand as Annie and Dixon’s snooty grandmother, an alcoholic actress who remembers the time Ricardo Montalban cracked an egg on her backside. And Walter is somewhat entertaining. But she played a similar eccentric with far more kooky energy in “Arrested Development.”
As promised in the advance publicity, the producers have thrown in characters and references from the original series to goose the audience. Jennie Garth is back, with Kelly now working as the high school guidance counselor; Shannen Doherty showed up briefly last night to babysit for Kelly’s 4-½-year-old boy, whose father’s identity is still a mystery; Nat (Joe E. Tata) is still running the Peach Pit; and there was a quickie appearance by Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez, daughter of Andrea. But the old names and faces were mostly in the background, as the focus stayed on the Wilsons.
Who knows -- maybe the show will find an audience and survive after early curiosity-factor ratings. Maybe, despite its lack of charm, “90210” will go on to be remembered fondly by a new generation of viewers.
What do you think?