Perhaps the revival of the 1990s pop cultural phenomenon Beverly Hills 90210 could have been simply titled The Way We Were off of the old Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand flick from 1973. Instead, FOX decided on a more Millennial sounding BH90210. Depending on your mileage, the revamped title alone either sounds like a menu item at a fast food burger joint or a computer coding program for a new slew of emoji ideograms. That is neither here or there, however: What ultimately stands at the end of the day after watching the premiere episode this past Wednesday evening is that yes, sometimes you can and should go home again; BH90210 is fast and sly fun, perhaps one of the better show revivals in recent memory (Sorry Still the Beaver; you’ll always be simply Leave It to Beaver in my book).
The premise is simple enough and echoes some of the best Christopher Guest movies: After an appearance at a thirty year reunion panel at a fan convention, the original cast of the hit series Beverly Hills 90210 decides that there’s gold in them there hills and set about reuniting the band for an honest-to-Pete series revival. That’s the simple launching pad for this six episode meta look at the former youth landscape for Generation X and it pays off in huge dividends.
Almost all of the original cast returns – Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Ian Ziering, Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth, Brian Austin Green and Gabrielle Carteris – and the real appeal of the show is to see the actual actors playing distorted fun house mirror images of themselves as they prepare to take on the fictional characters they essayed in the original series from 1990 until 2000. It’s meta at its finest and even Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and Kevin Williamson (Scream) would be hard pressed to out-meta the gonzo happenings of BH90210.
So what has the gang who haunted the Peach Pit been up to in the nearly twenty years since the show left the air? Or, at the very least, what are the versions of the real actors portraying their fictional selves up to in 2019? Most of the group in the series are at low-ebb in their careers and it is this fallowness which spurs them on to do an ill-advised reunion show: Brian Austin Green (who began his 90210 career as the poster child for Geeks With No Hope and ended it as a sort of well-coifed second cousin to Frankie Avalon) is a stay at home father now married to Shay, a huge pop star whose popularity has eclipsed his own. Ian “Sharknado” Ziering runs, appropriately enough, a fitness empire. Tori Spelling has money problems and has been reduced to renting a house and dreaming of a reunion with her former onscreen romantic foil, Green. Shannen Doherty is an animal rights activist while Jason Priestley longs for a directing career while surreptitiously sneaking around on his wife. Gabrielle Carteris has landed slightly better professionally than the rest of her cohorts; she is president of the “Actors Guild of America.” And Jennie Garth, who as the character of Kelly Taylor held the hearts of Brandon, Dylan and Steve in her privileged hand? She is now fending off bad romantic decisions just as quickly as she creates more.
Every actor in this sort-of revival is having a great deal of fun poking fun at their own public images and their joie de vivre is contagious. They’re all in on the joke and mercilessly drop enough digs at themselves and the phenomenon of Beverly Hills 90210 to make even the staunchest hater of the original show laugh alongside the most vocal fans and supporters of the gang from West Beverly High.
BH90210 will not rake in Emmys or even set television ratings on fire. But, in a day and age where everyone seems way too uptight and on edge, it just might make those of us who still enjoy quality and well-written television relax and laugh a little bit. And that is simply enough.