Three episodes into BH90210, the FOX Network uber-meta revival of one of their original Evergreens – the iconic paean to disaffected Generation X youth, Beverly Hills 90210 – the show is experiencing an identity crisis of the most delicious and audacious proportions. Let me explain: If episode one was all about picking up all of the loose strands and tightening them into a serviceable reunion piece courtesy of the likes of Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap) and Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman), and the sophomore at bat was Nigel Tufnel meets Kevin Williamson writing a distorted reality version of I Know What You Did Last Summer then this trinal entry in tone is closer to Ordinary People meets The Player keboshed with Born Free. Pragmatists dictate that a singular show with a central theme – the reunion of a beloved cast and a return to their iconic roles that made them stars – should not have so many disparate parts and still be a cohesive whole. Yet somehow, three weeks in and out, BH90210 has successfully presented three different versions of what their show is without betraying the theme and, if anything, has drawn the strands of their story even tighter together to present us with something unlike anything else on network or streaming television.
The big news for this week’s episode is the realization by pretty much everyone that without the participation of former 90s bad girl and honorary Heather Shannen Doherty in the proposed revival of Beverly Hills 90210 then there just is no show. Perhaps because of all of the meta happenings of the last two episodes ye olde writer/critic/essayist might be forgiven for reading into this very notion that the character of Brenda Walsh is now indispensable to a new iteration of the Peach Pit gang. Because there was a time in the early 90s when Brenda was not looked upon as favorably and the character was ultimately exiled to the same limbo that housed other notable television pariahs such as Chuck Cunningham (Richie’s and Joanie’s older brother from Happy Days) and Cousin Oliver and Tiger from The Brady Bunch. And there she would stay until she – and us – could grow up a little bit more. Well, what a difference twenty five years can make because not only is Brenda/Shannen back, she is presented here as sort of an outward bound type who is in touch with Nature and Self. Tori Spelling sets out to bring Shannen back into the fold in an analogy that so parallels coming of age and a reexamination of how age can change us and the way in which we interact with people we’ve known for all of our lives that I had to pause the episode proceedings to make sure I wasn’t watching a slightly wacky PBS documentary instead of a FOX quasi-soap opera. Nope, all good; still watching BH90210, but this does demonstrate the uncanny ability this show has to triumphantly reinvent itself with every episode.
The return of Shannen Doherty and Tori Spelling’s growing confidence as a producer and as a person is really the crux of this episode, but there’s some other neat things going on in this episode of BH90210 that would make any smattering of 1980s After School Specials green with envy: Carol Potter, the sublime actress who played the mother of Brandon and Brenda Walsh in the original show pops up as a version of herself dispensing sound therapist advise to the 90210 alums. There’s a nifty black and white homage to The Big Sleep courtesy of one of Jason Priestley’s stock nightmares. Jennie Garth, weary of an impending threat, takes on a studio assigned bodyguard with sparks of romance all ablaze. And, in one of this episodes funniest bits Ian Ziering navigates the perilous waters of #MeToo in true Steve Sanders style.
At the halfway mark for BH90210 we are stuck with a true and vexing anomaly: A Beverly Hills 90210 revival that is actually good. Aaron Spelling and Luke Perry would justifiably be proud…and delightfully perplexed.
As you read this, HBO Max is finally on Amazon Fire. It’s not on Roku …