90210 returns to the air after a nearly two-month hiatus with an episode full of “shocking” twists that are straight from the original show’s playbook. Despite obvious attempts to inject the ailing revamp of the classic ’90s teen melodrama with excitement, “Life’s a Drag,” is, well, kind of a drag.
Despite the title of the episode, this isn’t a very special transgender episode, or about cross dressing at all, unfortunately, which might have brought the show into the 21st century. Instead, the “next generation” of 90210 has dispensed with the original’s earnest, afterschool special lesson teaching for much more obvious plotting. Just so, this episode focuses almost exclusively on the teens’ repetitive coupling and uncoupling. Unfortunately, the young actors have little in the way of chemistry, and haven’t been in couples long enough that the audience has much stake in their break-ups and make-ups.
While some episodes of this new series at least feature cameos by the first go-round’s stars, instead of a glimpse of Kelly (Jennie Garth) or Brenda (Shannen Doherty), this one delivers plot points reminiscent of the original show. The drama isn’t fresh — it just comes off as desperate when the writers rehash old ideas. The problem is, the remake lacks what, in retrospect, the first Beverly Hills, 90210 ultimately succeeded in developing — characters to care about, with compelling problems.
There’s bad girl Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord), who ends up living in a hotel after tangling with her parents. In “Life’s a Drag,” Naomi’s having steamy dreams about a new mystery man at school, Liam (Matt Lanter). Liam pouts around the hallways, reminiscent of Dylan (Luke Perry), that erstwhile rebel. It turns out that Liam’s an actual drag racer in the “dangerous” mold, and Naomi’s happy to come along for the ride.
Unsurprisingly, their grabby making out does not make this couple charming or sexy. Liam’s proclamations that he’s too smart for school and is just living to experience “the whole world of knowledge outside of school” come off as more laughable than sincere. Back in the day, Dylan could pull off this kind of brooding, but Liam lacks the sideburns. Like the banana that Naomi pulls out of Liam’s pocket during her dream about him, everything about these two is just too obvious, a bit brash and ultimately corny.
The only potentially emotionally resonant storyline in “Life’s a Drag” is the breakdown of Dixon (Tristan Wilds) and Silver’s (Jessica Stroup) nascent love, but even that seems more parodic than tragic. After having sex for the first time, Dixon and Silver are rutting madly all over school and home. Maybe too much sexual activity pushes her over the edge, or maybe it’s being related to the original show’s David Silver (Brian Austin Green), who famously had a mentally ill mother and suffered himself at times. She is pretty clearly “troubled,” however, demonstrated by her talking very, very fast and mooning over Dixon in a way that is clearly not all right.
At first it’s unclear if she’s hyped up on meth or suffering an overdose of love, but Silver’s frenzied energy propels her to secretly tape one of her and Dixon’s sex sessions (in the storeroom of the Peach Pit no less), and then to splice the footage together with her recitation of a Lord Byron poem and rent out a theater to show the “movie” to her friends and favorite teacher. As a metaphor for obsessive teen love, the madness meme works. As a straightforward portrayal of an emotionally disturbed girl, Silver’s breakdown is so overblown that it’s weirdly comical.
When Silver flamboyantly burns the video footage and movie posters she’s somehow managed to design and produce in the span of less than a day in Dixon’s backyard, her outburst has hints of Emily Valentine (Christine Elise), Brandon’s temporarily deranged girlfriend on the original series. Emily was a bit of a weirdo from the start, though, so her odd behavior wasn’t such a shock. Silver’s sudden mania seems out of character, and out of nowhere, that it feels more like a mid-season stunt than anything smacking of a genuine portrayal of mental illness.
At the least, Silver’s issues set the show up for the return of Kelly, who happens to be Silver’s half sister — we look forward to her dispensing meds and TLC, as well as generally straightening things out. Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) is also making a return, which may help keep it afloat a bit longer. Sooner or later, though, these new kids on the block are going to have to hold their own.