TV

90210: Series Premiere

Marisa LaScala

This year's 90210 reboot comes with a Frankenstein-esque patchwork of a pedigree.


90210

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET
Cast: Shenae Grimes, Tristan Wilds, AnnaLynne McCord, Dustin Milligan, Rob Estes, Jessica Walter
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: The CW
US release date: 2008-09-02
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This year's 90210 reboot comes with a Frankenstein-esque patchwork of a pedigree. Most obviously, the show takes its name from the '90s teen soap created by Darren Starr and produced by Aaron Spelling. This go-round sees Freaks and Geeks producers Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs as executive producers and Veronica Mars' Rob Thomas as an early creator.

With all of this talent behind it, we might hope 90210 will be in the mold of the best teen-targeted shows -- full of glamour, fashion, and melodrama, yes, but also intellect and heart. Yet it seems content to trot along a well-worn path. Like the original Beverly Hills, 90210, the 2008 series -- the 2 September series premiere re-airs Thursday night -- begins when siblings Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) and adoptee Dixon Wilson (Tristan Wilds), move from the Midwest (well, Kansas) to a tony zip code in California. Their father, Harrison (Rob Estes), is the new principal of West Beverly Hills High. As the youngsters try to get acclimated to their new surroundings, they find themselves at the center of the usual sort of campus drama: drugs, betrayals, blogs, pranks, oral sex, adoption, theft, porn, anger, and sudden changes of heart. The siblings and their new friends end up in the principal's office more than half a dozen times in the two-hour premiere. Dixon gets kicked off and reinstated on the lacrosse team no less than twice.

It looks as though 90210 -- like so many teen-focused shows before it -- will be dividing its time between the mean girls and the underdogs. Because these sides are equally beautiful, fashionable, and rich, they're differentiated only by expositional dialogue. Some of the players are obscenely wealthy (one of them, who takes a private jet to San Francisco for dinner, remarks that becoming fluent in Italian is "the upside to spending every summer in Italy... There is no downside"), while others merely upper-upper middle class. There are no outsiders -- no witty Veronica Mars to shed light on the absurdity of it all.

While those looking for wittiness will find 90210 lacking, so will those who tune in feeling nostalgia for the original show. Sure, there are a few nods to the first series. "What is that girl, like, 30?" one of the teachers says of a student -- a student named Hannah Zuckerman, presumably Andrea's daughter. (Hannah, by the way, never makes another appearance in the premiere.) But for the most part, 90210 seems unsure what to do with the Gen-X demographic, fitting in an awkward assortment of teachers, guidance counselors, and big sisters alongside the kid stars.

While fans may appreciate the return of Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty, they're crowded out by the good-looking newbies, jetting around California and fretting about their love lives. At the halfway mark of the premiere, it's revealed that Garth (now Kelly Taylor, the guidance counselor) is a young, single mother. Neither she nor her four-year-old is mentioned again for about 30 minutes, moving over to make way for the exploits of the West Beverly lacrosse team and their prank war on a rival high school.

With the teens scheming so hard to sort out their lives and their teachers desperate for attention, it seems almost unfair that the oldest character gets to breeze onto the screen and command her scenes instantaneously. Jessica Walter, who plays Wilson matriarch Tabitha, gives a performance worthy of a better series. The Wilson family moved back to California ostensibly to take care of her, but as she makes her entrance, Long Island iced tea in hand, it's clear that she doesn't need taking care of. "I need to finish my memoir before my friend Virginia does," she says. "We've slept with all the same people."

Tabitha, who bears more than a close resemblance to Walter's Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, possesses the detached cynicism and sharpness missing in everyone around her. "I'm ordering takeout," she says after a home-cooked meal by her daughter-in-law. "Not that your tater tots weren't to die for." We can only hope that her gift for razor-sharp observation rubs off on her granddaughter and grandson, because someone needs to take the popular kids down a peg.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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