Judge Christopher Kulik has since moved to a new neighborhood—Los Feliz, 90027. The rent is better.
New Drama. Same Zip.
In the 1990s, Fox unleashed two shows which would grow to become popular staples on primetime: Beverly Hills 90210, and its spin-off Melrose Place. Both were created by Darren Star and produced by the late Aaron Spelling. However, the real assets of the shows were the cast members, all of whom graced billions of magazine covers.
Recently, The CW decided to rejuvenate both series with a contemporary tone and a "hot young cast." Considering the fact no one asked for an update, is 90210: The First Season still worthwhile viewing?
Facts of the Case
It's been a long drive to Beverly Hills from Kansas, but the Wilson family has finally arrived in their beat-up SUV. Father Harry (Rob Estes, Melrose Place) not only grew up in 90210 but also is preparing to be West Beverly Hills High's new principal. Another reason for the move was so Harry could take care of his mother Tabitha (Jessica Walter, Play Misty For Me), who's suffering from alcoholism. Harry's lovely wife Debbie (Lori Loughlin, Full House) is more than willing to stay at home and watch over her mother-in-law while Harry and kids go to the school every day.
The family's offspring are Annie (Shanae Grimes, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and Dixon (Tristan Wilds, The Wire). Annie is a vivacious, bubbly 15-year-old who is eager to make friends and build a social network. Dixon, who's African-American and adopted, is a bit more insecure about himself and awkward about starting fresh in Beverly Hills. Soon enough, however, they enter a circle of friends which includes influential butterfly Naomi (AnnaLynn McCord, Transporter 2), drug addict Adrienna (Jessica Lowndes, Greek), punk vixen Erin Silver (Jessica Stroup, Prom Night), and hot jock Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan, In The Land Of Women).
Paramount's six-disc set of 90210: The First Season contains all 24 episodes uncut, as well as a healthy selection of bonus features.
I caught Beverly Hills, 90210 in the early '90s when it first started out, watching only a few episodes and then bailing out. Somehow, I couldn't get myself to like any of these privileged, upper-class, materialistic individuals. A lot of people identified with the Walsh family as being out-of-towners, I understand. However, like the other characters on the show, they ended up being just as shallow and superficial. I would call Beverly Hills, 90210 as equally overrated as Friends, since both rely on attractive casts to make one forget how inane and clichéd the stories were. As for the spin-offs Melrose Place and Models, Inc., I ignored them, instead opting to watch re-reruns of Saved By The Bell (which now seems like a parody of Beverly Hills, 90210 if you think about it) instead.
So, now we come to the altogether unnecessary revamp 90210, which seeks to cater to not only the Twitter generation but also fans of the original show. While the first two episodes are based on Darren Star's treatment of the original 1990 premiere, this 90210 goes in an entirely new direction. For starters, we have Annie arrive at West Beverly Hills High, only to discover her ex-boyfriend from Kansas (contrivance #1 of many) sitting in his car and getting oral sex from someone other than his girlfriend. This is really nothing more than a cheap twist to get viewers to keep watching, as it suggests this 90210 will offer more explicit subject matter revolving around these teenagers. Sure enough, Annie immediately becomes friends with said girlfriend and promises to write an English paper for her because she doesn't have the time. (it was at this point I deemed Annie an idiot). By the time we see her longing to have sex with someone she barely knows, I had nothing but contempt for her. When she breaks down and sobs, are we seriously supposed to feel sorry for her?
Okay, I realize I'm not the target audience for this show. However, the creators of 90210 are depending on young viewers who aren't very bright to keep the show on the air. They're the ones who really only care about how the characters look and who they will eventually hook up with. Indeed, every single student in the background looks like they just walked off a TigerBeat or CosmoGirl magazine. Oh, yes, they all have money a lot of money. For instance, Naomi's father throws her sweet sixteen birthday at a five-star hotel, complete with a band, and all the attendees dressed as if they are going to a ball. I get it…it's a fantasy, the ultimate version of what young girls would dream about. In this current economy, however, it makes one sick. The same thing would go for the guy whom Annie hooks up with: Ty, the richest kid in school. This guy has so much money he has his own jet, which he uses to take Annie to San Francisco to have dinner. Aside from the fact the scenario is completely preposterous, do the writers actually want us to believe that he attends a public school with his family's bank account?
And don't even get me started on the dialogue. Many of the actors deliver their lines in a robotic-like manner, rendering many of their performances as dull and wooden in the process. Aside from that, there is just nothing memorable spoken throughout the show, and some of what does get said would cause unintentional chuckles. Just to give you an idea, I'll give you all an example of what the writers seem to deem as clever wordplay. A new female character is introduced and the teacher asks her to tell the class something about herself. She says: "Well, I'm from Las Vegas. Um, I wear size 8 shoes. I have three piercings but I won't say where…oh, and I love tacos!" Get it? If you don't, never mind and move on.
Like it's '90's ancestor, 90210's major problem is none of these characters are likable, funny, or even interesting. Many of them seem have to one motivation: party first, family second. And then the montages…the endless, nauseating montages, each set to the current pop hit of the month. The writers don't even try to generate something fresh or original, instead relying on overused, soapish melodrama to carry the show from beginning to end. A better, more accurate title would have been Lifestyles Of The Rich & Brainless, as the glossy production values and expansive wardrobes are nothing but overkill.
As for the fans of the original show, I'm sure they will pleased to hear of the return of several key characters. There's Brenda (Shannon Doherty, Charmed), who evidently went to Europe at the end of the fourth season and never returned. Now, she's a drama teacher, and her best friend Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth, What I Like About You) is now a counselor. Evidently, she also has a child fathered by the reclusive Dylan (Luke Perry, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), who doesn't appear because he lives out in the Midwest. Of course, that doesn't mean he won't figure in future seasons. Oh, yes, there's also Tori Spelling (The House Of Yes) as the virgin-for-seven-seasons Donna Martin who comes onboard for a couple of episodes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My list of complaints about 90210 could go on and on, but I think you get the point. As bad as the show is, I've seen far worse. If anything, it remains a cut above the usually obnoxious and offensive MTV fare. Some of these young stars have talent being wasted on such blah material. As for the adults, the only one who emerges unscathed would be veteran Jessica Walter who is both funny and hip as the Wilson's liberal grandmother.
Paramount has given full respect and then some to 90210 on DVD. Visually, the show is splendid, showcasing it's rich L.A. colors with hardly any problems. Black levels and flesh tones are practically perfect in every way. The music is also terrific to hear in Surround sound, with the great Liz Phair contributing to the original score. The songs on the soundtrack also come through flawlessly. A 2.0 Stereo track is also provided, along with subtitles in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
The special features are abundant, though not always amusing. The first three discs all have set tours, each running about 10 minutes in length. Two episodes ("Hollywood Forever," "Off The Rails") provide grating audio commentaries by 4 cast members, who do nothing but joke around and act surprised by the interminable actions on screen. Disc Four contains two featurettes, one on actor Ryan Eggold (who plays a teacher) and the other on the show's music (no Phair, unfortunately). Disc Five has another pair of featurettes: "Codes of Behavior" and "Fitting In: The Fashion of 90210." Finally, on the last disc, we have the 14-minute "Revival of a Classic: Making 90210," which has plenty of interviews from cast and crew.
With the passing of John Hughes recently, it's sad that teen entertainment has been reduced to tripe like 90210. While die-hard fans of the original will want to take a look, it's lacks intelligence and originality in practically all areas of production. Trust me, there are other zip codes around the country worth visiting.
Guilty for being dazed, confused and almost worthless.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.