More than just a famous zip code, “90210” is easily the CW’s most-hyped show of the fall season, and the struggling netlet is banking on all of the buzz to draw big ratings. This spinoff, eight years after the first series ended, is a pallid copy of the original fish-out-of-water story, only with shinier cars, fancier clothes and Botox aplenty.
Sticking absurdly close to the same formula as the original, down to the opening theme and the filming style, the new version lacks that same sense of wonder and awe that Beverly Hills decadence and excesses once held over viewers. Thanks to Paris Hilton and reality TV, not much of what happens at the fictional West Beverly Hills High School seems all that shocking. As it is, the show coasts by mainly on a wave of nostalgia and stunt casting.
The two-hour premiere, a combination of the first and second episodes, sets the stage for plenty of drama for Kansas natives Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) and her adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds) as they navigate their way among the brazen bloggers and posh cliques of their new school. Making matters worse, their dad, Harry Wilson (Rob Estes) is the new principal.
Before the day is out, there’s unmentionable extracurricular activity in the parking lot, two reunions with old flames, a drug deal and a showdown between resident bad girl Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) and Silver (Jessica Stroup), the school’s gossip blogger.
The second hour gets a big boost from the appearance of Shannen Doherty returning as Brenda, who reunites with Jennie Garth’s Kelly for a multi-episode story arc. Kelly is Silver’s big sis as well as the school’s guidance counselor (no doubt drawing from her high school experiences with stalkers, cults, substance abuse and eating disorders in the first “90210”). Beyond the curiosity factor, there’s not much plot that can draw these characters out, let alone infuse them with the new blood.
Even the biggest fan of the original would be hard-pressed to call it realistic, but that earlier incarnation did deal with many topical issues of the day. This version doesn’t cover issues as much as exploit them. With shows like “The Hills” and “Gossip Girl,” exploring the upscale teenage lifestyle, this “90210” doesn’t really offer any fresh zip.
Grimes and Wild have a nice rapport and, unlike the Walshes of the original series, Rob Estes and Lori Loughlin have comparatively active roles as the parents in the series. As wacky grandma Tabitha, Jessica Walter is wasted and left to scenery chewing. At this point, adding Tori Spelling to the mix would have a calming effect.