It was a time of transition; the decade of our childhood, the ‘80s, was fading behind us, the only vice president we’d ever known was soon to lose the Oval Office, and whilst some were proudly declaring, “U Can’t Touch This,” the rest of us were just content to be “Hangin’ Tough.” It was the 1990s and we were all living in the ZIP code of 90210.
As I’m writing this, it’s only a few short hours until the next generation of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” titled simply “90210,” debuts on The CW. And to paraphrase Canadian band Moxy Fruvous, I’m reluctant to find I’m stuck in the ‘90s again.
Along with New Kids On The Block and other holdovers from the decade past, “90210” launches a weird nostalgia for the late 20th century. But I almost missed the West Beverly High School’s crowd the first time around.
I was a latecomer to Beverly Hills. Right after the show’s premiere, my older sister was following the drama of twins Brenda and Brandon Walsh. Meanwhile, my tastes were more caught up in the explorations of the Starship Enterprise helmed by Picard, and the new “Flash” TV show. In fact, the only reason I cared about Beverly Hills was because that’s where Jed and, more importantly, Elly May, lived.
Once I entered high school, and I was deemed old enough to watch, “Beverly Hills, 90210” became my adolescent pop-culture fix. The lockers and hallways of my school were the student equivalent of the water cooler, and that’s where we re-hashed the previous night’s episodes. I was never a fanatical devotee, but I did grow monster sideburns that could give Luke Perry a run for his bad boy money.
The show, while not a reflection of my own high school life (“My So-Called Life” and “Freaks and Geeks” are probably better fits), was operatic in nature, and like any good opera, it did touch on relatable themes. There was an “issue of the week” vibe to the show for a time, and teenagers got the Aaron Spelling treatment on date rape, suicide, sex and drugs. Plus, the characters were caricatures of real life people. After all, who doesn’t have friend who’s sort of like Steve, a jerk but one you keep around anyhow?
But as is typical for an entertainment landscape that spawned “Gossip Girls” and “The Hills,” the new incarnation is a hyper-sexualized, self-aware, bizarro version of the original.
Similar to “90210,” version 1.0, the focus of the new show is on a family with a son and daughter who relocate from the Midwest to the land of swimming pools and movie stars. The parents are still supportive and accomplished, and there is still a wild child, bad girl, aspiring reporter and jock character. And they still hang out at The Peach Pit, though it’s just “The Pit” now.
Instead of twins, the brother is an adopted child from the wrong side of the Amtrak lines, and the family comes equipped with a plotline-generating boozy grandma. Plus, the school’s English teacher is a little stubbly with a lot of mystery (remind you of any particular bad boy with sideburns?). Just to show its lineage, the show also features Shannen Doherty’s Brenda, back from the exiled land of London, and Jennie Garth’s Kelly as a guidance counselor and single mom.
From what I’ve seen, there’s not much about this show that reflects any teenager’s life. Unless, that is, “My Super Sweet 16” is a blueprint for how real teenagers behave, or the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue could pass as a yearbook for the typical school. There are no awkward teens scrambling through puberty, and the overarching plot _ and this is a word I’m using very liberally _ has little to do with “issues” and everything to do with “drama.”
That’s not to say that the new “90210” isn’t entertaining in spots, but it’s a distant cousin, at best, to the source material. It is a branding effort, and a smart one, to update a previously successful show concept to a new generation.
And kudos to The CW for doing it, but if one or two recognizable cast members from the original show, with references to the same place names and a few modern, sexy tweaks, is all it takes to update the ‘90s, I’m loathe to see what’s next. After all, my childhood in the ‘80s was already robbed by Michael Bay, and my memories poisoned by George Lucas returning to the well too many times.
Now, it’s my adolescence and young adulthood that’s threatened. I imagine a dramatic new “Saved By The Bell” starring Mario Lopez as principal A.C. of Bayside who mentors a rag-tag group of lovable gangbangers, preps and Screech’s son – who is, ironically, the school stud? Is a “Perfect Strangers” revamp starring Balki’s lesbian niece, who moves back to Mypos after a life in the U.S., coming soon? Should I expect an update of a beloved T.G.I.F. staple starring Mary Kate and Ashley as Michelle Tanner _ a character with multiple personalities and a drug problem _ called “Cracked House?” Will David Hasselhoff’s Mitch Buchanan retire from his Baywatch unit only to be chief lifeguard on Lake Michigan, and will beloved Native Alaskan Ed Chigliak relocate to the nudist resort in Cicely, Ga., for the new hit show, “Southern Exposure?” Should I fear re-launch of “Seinfeld,” as a show about something?
The 1990s may not have produced the best of entertainment, but indeed, you can’t touch this _ well, at least I wish the entertainment industry wouldn’t. Because if The CW’s “90210” is an example of the new ‘90s nostalgia, I’m going to move along to a new ZIP code. I hear they’re accepting tenants at Melrose Place anyhow.
Entertainment columnist Aaron Sagers writes weekly about all things pop-culture. He can be reached at sagers.aaron AT gmail.com.