If you’re watching Fox’s “BH90210” to see if Donna and David got hitched or more pressingly Dylan’s fate, you’ll have to save such fantasies for fan fiction.
That’s because this “Beverly Hills, 90210” revival, which premieres tonight, is more of a soapy parody, giving the actors behind our favorite characters the space to play versions of themselves while poking fun at the public personas, rabid fans and roles that made them famous. The end result is a mostly fun but sometimes uneven venture into territory in which not all of the surviving headliners are creatively comfortable. Making things more complicated, all of the stars are executive producers on the series so the breadth of relatable vulnerability is limited.
For instance, Jason Priestly could actually be the worst guy in the world but his performance as a hot head who punches actors and cheats on his fictional wife (Vanessa Lachey) falls flat. Shannen Doherty also serves very little purpose in the first two installments the network previewed for critics other than to pop in and out and loom over her former costars like a bad smell. A couple of quick nods to the late Luke Perry, who died following the complications from a stroke earlier this year, are also too few and far between.
In contrast, Brian Austin Green is quite likeable as a stay-at-home dad who embraces the realization that his wife Shay (La La Anthony) is a pop singer with more star power and influence than him. The real Green is of course married to cinematic siren Megan Fox.
Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth, are also very convincing as a couple of friends and former teen stars trying to deftly navigate life as grown women, wives and mothers. Every exchange between them feels heartfelt and even when Garth insults Spelling for her lack of practical life skills during an argument, the dig isn’t mean-spirited. If anything, Spelling and Garth embrace the schadenfreude of their real lives to an excruciating extent.
Like her “BH90210” persona, Spelling has had problems with money and keeping a job and Garth has been married three times and has a daughter who is pursuing an acting career. Rumors and innuendo about Spelling’s actual husband Dean McDermott have also been tossed about in the tabloids, with some wondering if he married the daughter of super producer Aaron Spelling for financial reasons. Spelling toys with this notion as well as her fictionalized husband’s career stability. It’s as if such semblances to reality further propel Spelling to revel in the muck.
In another particularly awkward scene, Garth attempts to get over her soon-to-be ex-husband by flirting with a random member of the hoi polloi. While the painful but comedic effect of the moment works, you can’t help but wonder how much more Garth, Spelling, Green and all the others will suffer for our merriment. Instead of giving fans the actual character reunion they crave, this is a show about an imagined revamp the stars try to get off the ground and all the mishaps and personal revelations that ensue.
The latter is also predicated on the underbaked conceit that fans know all of the pratfalls each star has experienced behind the scenes. It’s common knowledge that Gabrielle Carteris is older than her costars so it feels natural that she’d mock that age difference by often lecturing and chastising the others. Green and Spelling’s short-lived romance and Ian Ziering’s fitness obsession are also fair game. But for those of us who forgot about Green’s failed and brief attempt as a white rapper, jokes about the professional misstep miss the beat. A subplot involving a stalker is equally misplaced.
After all, Hollywood self-parodying in the vein of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the lesser known “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and “I’m Sorry” works better when absurdity eclipses the truth. But when “BH90210” satirizes its stars’ desire to revamp their dormant careers, the truth is a little too real to be funny.