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90210h No

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Yeah, I watched 90210. What.

I’m a little put out to realize that Lifting Fog’s televisual efforts are so far concentrated solely on The CW. Last week, DJ Steve brought you a quickie dissertation on the reasons we watch Gossip Girl; today our focus is 90210, a remake/update of a show that made Han Solo vests and floral leggings a popular fashion choice in the early 90’s. Forgetting the fact that we already watch too much television to begin with, it’s important to note that both these shows are targeted primarily to adolescent girls. We’re clearly spending our post-collegiate days wisely.

Jerry: “What kind of lives are these? We’re like children. We’re not men.”
George: “No we’re not. We’re not men.”

But cut us some slack, yeah? With the Big Three (NBC, ABC and CBS) leaving the premieres of their best shows until the end of September (at least), there’s a dearth of prime time programming and thus the perfect opportunity for teen dramas to really sparkle. Who can’t get behind a good love triangle? An awesomely predictable “I’m addicted to dangerous-looking pills” plot line? Without Liz Lemon and Barney Stinson, anyway, there’s really no choice but to embrace a bunch of horny teens. And we sure have! In an unplanned cross-coastal exercise, LA-based DJ Steve has tackled the Upper East Side; I’m now responsible for your driving tour of Beverly Hills.

Appropriately, I guess, the first episode opens with a driving scene: a decidedly midwestern-looking minivan navigating the streets of our titular zip code, bopping along to the dramatic sound of Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida.” Needless to say I nearly tuned out right here. A few minutes later we’ve met the Wilson family – hot mom, dorky dad, cherubic daughter, black son – and their matriarch, Tabitha… who is actually Lucille Bluth, only with less incisive verbal jabs.

Many of the show’s elements, in fact, feel like lesser versions of those on more accomplished series. The dialogue strives for OC pop-cultural relevance but reads as lazy name-dropping. Rapid-fire editing works on more realistic shows like Friday Night Lights, but makes for some confusing scenes here. And sets seem stolen from Saved By The Bell, a show I hoped never to describe as “accomplished.” You made me do it, 90210. Happy?

I wasn’t really old enough during the original’s heyday to appreciate its “edginess,” but I remember hearing all about it from friends’ siblings or drunk babysitters. From teen pregnancy to teen graduation rights, the show covered a wide range of topical and controversial issues. Since hardly anything they could tackle today would really be considered shocking (we’re living in a post-Nipplegate world, people!), 90210’s producers opt instead for a few nonsensical WTF moments. Take this saucy exchange between Debbie Wilson (Lori Laughlin) and one of her husband’s old flames:

Stacey: “Harry, why don’t you drive me home?”
Debbie: “Better yet, I’LL drive you home and we could swap stories about Harry’s penis!”

It’s sort of shocking, yeah, for the fact that Becky Donaldson-Katsopolis would have never said anything like that to Michelle or DJ (maybe Stephanie) on Full House, but it rings more weird than anything else. Ditto the scene where Head Bitch In Charge Naomi tells someone to “clean out his vagina.” Or Evan’s pre-homeroom BJ. Yeah, the show’s kind of hung up on genitalia.

But it’s never dangerous. For a show allegedly concerned with the corrupting influence of upper-crust SoCal society, the stakes are surprisingly low. Our hero, Annie Wilson, has her midwestern background mocked with jokes about cows and overalls. SO MEAN! A frenemy creates a mildly annoying flash video. WHY, GOD? There’s a flash of a moment where Annie seems legitimately flustered, possibly angry… but all her problems are quickly solved and her unwavering moral compass reaffirmed. Then everyone decides to dance in the ocean. If the characters didn’t spend half their time smiling and laughing at each other’s jokes, they might actually risk doing something dramatic.

Then again, I could be misreading the whole intention of 90210. Undercooked dialogue. Characters who act without regard to story. Scenes that end abruptly or without explanation. You know what? 90210 might be less a mediocre teen drama… than one of the best avant-garde television programs ever made. Not bad, but purposefully bad – designed to test the patience of its target audience like a community theater production of “Waiting for Godot.” Masochistic in the BEST way.

… So yes, I’ll be watching next week. Who’s coming with?

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7 Responses to “90210h No”

  1. DJ Steve Says:

    in reference to the premiers happening before the networks, it seems the old adages are still true: hook em early, or get em while they’re young, both seem to apply

  2. jean b. Says:

    hi henning,
    so it is possibly creepy that i read your blog, but it’s on facebook so it’s fair game. i’m enjoying your musings thus far, but haven’t been driven to comment until now. on a post about the new 90210. which shows you where my priorities lie. but here’s my take: it served all necessary purposes: it introduced characters/settings/”plot” and brought back brenda walsh. i left satisfied but for the heartbreakingly abridged and “modernized” theme song.
    the pilot was clearly a desperate attempt at proving relevance, a reason to exist other than the fact that the first incarnation was excellent, though i don’t think it’s really necessary. i mean, why not bring 90210 back? do they need another reason? i’m not terribly excited about the rest of the cw’s lineup (and GG was merely okay these past two weeks), so i think there’s certainly a place for another teen drama. i don’t tune in to the cw for sophisticated writing/plot development (with the exception of the dearly departed veronica mars). if you look at the show as an entertaining way to spend 42 minutes, it succeeds just fine. and the second episode was definitely an improvement over the first. i think it deserves a chance.
    go dawgs! hmhs ’04!
    -jean

  3. Henning Says:

    Hi Jean!

    1) Not creepy at all. Flattering, actually, especially if you’ve read this far into my “musings” without running for the exit. They’re getting better all the time, I swear – keep reading!

    2) I would agree that there’s plenty of room on TV for comfort shows, programs that are merely entertaining (hell, a lot of shows can’t even do that) and without grand designs on “high art” or something else. I actually kind of respect The CW for building a base around modern teen dramas (90210, GG, Privileged), a move that may be looked down on by some but will probably work to their benefit as they continue to expand their audience. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with fun.

    At the same time, the producers have to realize that a lot has changed in the near decade since the original Beverly Hills 90210 went off the air. In my head I keep coming back to The OC, in my opinion one of the best teen dramas ever made. That show employed the basic formula set up by BH – outsider kid trying to fit in, hot babes, killer soundtrack – but raised the bar with greater (IMO) attention to character and social landscape. While it floundered in seasons 2 and 3, The OC bookended those with an awesome first round (do you remember giving me episodes 1-8 on VHS?) and underrated final season. To me, at least, The OC is the benchmark by which shows like GG, 90210, Privileged, etc. should be judged.

    I’ll be honest with you – I never really watched the original Beverly Hills 90210. I’ve seen snippets, yeah, and heard about it from various cool, older kids, but never seen an episode in its entirety. Watching this CW update, I’m a total n00b. So when Brenda shows up or Kelly mentions the father of her child, I’m totally in the dark. Things that might mean something to you have no significance for me. I think the show can succeed on its own (just caught the second episode and you’re right – way better than the pilot), but it needs to embrace its own elements, not those of the original show. And I do mean what I wrote at the end of the post – sucker for teen dramas, I’ll definitely keep watching.

    Don’t Stop Believin’, Jean.

  4. jean b. Says:

    all valid points. i am pretty well-versed in teen entertainment, and think i have a pretty discerning palate when it comes to things that are bad in the good way and just plain bad. then again, i just moved to williamsburg and i think my sense of irony has been thrown so far askew it may never recover. so once the novelty of the old characters returning wears off, perhaps i will better be able to judge v 2.0 on its own merits.
    can’t wait to read your takes on the rest of the fall premieres.
    -jean

  5. Pre-Week Brain Dump (Part 2 of 2) « Lifting Fog Says:

    […] More importantly, though, it means the start of the fall television schedule. New shows. Old shows. Old shows disguised as new shows. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, really; one that I never hesitate to get lost in. […]

  6. Alex Q Says:

    While 90210 is indeed addictive, and i’ll most likely be watching all season…
    It is no where near the huge guilty pleasure of the original, nor anywhere near The OC or Gossip Girl. Meh, its fun but not astounding.

    Plus, its trying extremely hard to make itself scream “We’re hip! We’re so damn hip!” With shameless mentions of Spring Awakening, Ethan getting car bop (always skipping around using the word “head”), all of these teens being far too skinny for their own good, having a cool black kid in a teen drama (often using Y-gen slang as well, OMFG!), etc…

    But damn I’ll continue to watch every week. Hopefully they’ll iron some of their issues out and settle into a groove, where its not trying to mimc the original but rather be a guilty pleasure of its own. The episodes keep getting stronger, characters continue to find their own place in the plot. Just cut out some of those classic teen drama cliches and possibly become GG status.

  7. Henning Says:

    Alex – The “Spring Awakening” subplot was at times painful, especially when Lucille Bluth decided to serenade the production (and worse, us) with her dulcimer tones. I don’t say this often, but I nearly vommed. Also, I try to take a shot every time Dixon starts up with his “people ’round here just won’t understand the whole adoption thing..” soliloquy. You don’t look like the rest of your family, guy – I think they get it.

    It IS improving, and I read somewhere that they’ve nabbed one of the executive producers of Gilmore Girls to be the new show-runner. GG (wow, TWO shows with the same shorthand?) may have made me want to kill myself, but I know that for a certain portion of liberal women on the east coast it was an hour of heaven every week. Hopefully that quality can be brought west to Beverly Hills.

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