90210 is a ZIP code hardly worthy the hype
And I'll admit being a little put off by the CW's decision not to let critics have an early look at one of the fall season's most talked-about new shows: a contemporizing of TV's first nighttime soap for young folks, Beverly Hills 90210.
But what surprised me most after sitting through the two-episode kickoff of 90210 last night was how much I didn't hate it. 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.
The paper-thin excuse for all these shenanigans is the move by the Wilson family from Kansas City to the show's infamous ZIP code when Rob Estes' Harry Wilson takes a job as principal of West Beverly Hills High School. (One of the show's oddest ironies is that the two biggest grown-up roles are held by Estes and Lori Loughlin, two actors who have starred in everything but the original 90210).
Super-appealing Shenae Grimes is Annie Wilson, Harry's daughter and the down-to-earth character whom viewers are meant to sympathize with most. Grimes has the same wholesome beauty as Secret Life of an American Teenager's Shailene Woodley -- an earnest appeal that will serve this show well in the weeks to come.
It's just unfortunate that so much talent -- including a surprisingly wholesome turn by the Wire alum Tristan Wilds as the Wilsons' adopted African-American son Dixon -- is squandered on such predictable plots. From the moment Annie meets dreamboat Ethan Ward, a kid she kissed years ago during a summer trip, you know he'll have a girlfriend and their love will go unrequited a while.
You know Annie will find herself torn between the popular girls and the nerds. You know there will be a rich smoothie who woos her with wealth; you know there will be a party with a hip band whose record just happens to be available at CWTV.com.
Even the much-ballyhooed meeting between old school 90210 alums and former foes Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty was anti-climactic; a quick makeup between Garth's Kelly Taylor, now a single mom guidance counselor and Doherty's Brenda Walsh, now an actress who will wind up directing the school musical.
"We wasted a lot of time over the last few years," squeaked Doherty's Walsh, in a line meant to resonate with Doherty's and Garth's real-life fights. Just made me realize how much time I'd wasted waiting for this moment.
Yeah, this is exactly the kind of review the CW didn't want hitting newspapers before last night's debut. Armed with likely blockbuster ratings, they'll blanket the pop culture press with ads trying to turn 90210 into the next Gossip Girl. Which is, I suppose, exactly what 90210 has become -- a hip-ified showcase with an added twinge of nostalgia for the grown-ups.