BH90210 Makes Camp an Art Form with Meta Hilarity

90210 breaks the mold once again.

TV Reviews BH90210
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<i>BH90210</i> Makes Camp an Art Form with Meta Hilarity

I want you all to know that I had made my peace with it.

When Fox first announced the reboot of the seminal Beverly Hills, 90210 my first thought was, “well this sounds like a cluster and I will watch every blessed minute of it.”

90210 went off the air in 2000. I remember thinking I would have watched these characters right into their nursing home years. Sign me up for some octogenarian drama. I have never loved a show the way I loved 90210. Just hearing the iconic opening music puts butterflies in my stomach. When I sat down to watch the screeners, I was downright giddy.

This is all to say you aren’t dealing with a typical review here. I cannot separate my love for the show from any kind of impartial critical analysis. But dare I say BH90210 is wonderful and weird. I’m not exactly sure what I was watching in the first two episodes Fox made available for review (like in a legit WTF is happening kind of way) but I kind of loved it. Just as the original 90210 broke the mold and set the foundation for all teen dramas to follow, this six-episode series breaks the mold on reboots and may very well inform all that follow.

Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering,
Gabrielle Carteris, and Brian Austin Green all return to play heighten versions of themselves. They gather for the 30th anniversary of the show (technically it’s been 29 years since the show premiered by why quibble?) in Las Vegas. Tori has six children (instead of the five she has in real life) and is married to Nate (Ivan Sergei who co-starred with Spelling in the 1996 the Lifetime movie Mother, May I Sleep with Danger a.k.a. the greatest made-for-TV movie ever made). Like the real Tori, TV series Tori has big financial problems and a loving, supportive husband who just doesn’t seem to understand their monetary issues. Jennie Garth is on her third marriage and has a daughter who wants to be an actress. As in real life, Tori and Jennie are best friends and, just like in the series, it was their idea to get the gang back together.

As for Brian Austin Green, he’s married to someone way more famous than he—no, not Megan Fox, but pop singer Shay (La La Anthony). Jason Priestly is a TV director with a hot temper married to a publicist instead of a make-up artist, as he is in real life. They also finally acknowledge just how much older Gabrielle Carteris is than the rest of the gang by making her a grandmother. Ian Ziering is married to a model, just not the one he was married to in real life. Oh and Shannen Doherty? Yes, she’s on the show too, but in the first two episodes she’s not with the rest of the gang. Instead, she’s always shown off somewhere rescuing animals. It’s hard to know if her not appearing with the rest of the cast is the result of some intense contract negotiations or just the show having some more tongue-in-cheek meta fun with us. It at least openly acknowledges Shannen’s reputation for being a trouble maker. “Silver lining, Shannen won’t be there,” Tori says of the reunion

The only one missing, sadly, is Luke Perry, who had not signed on to the show when it was announced and tragically died shortly after from a stroke. He’s mentioned a few times lovingly, though not mentioned as much as I personally would have liked (Dylan McKay forever, people). But having them all gather for his funeral, for example, would have set a completely different tone for the show.

According to the meta version of their characters, most are in unhappy marriages and one character is questioning his/her sexuality. They have been more successful in their post-90210 careers than their fictional counterparts, but the line between real life and the TV version of the characters is decidedly blurred. And what really works is the actors’ willingness to openly mock themselves. “I only went to fake high school,” says Garth. “Know what’s super sexy? A middle-aged white rapper,” Green laments. This is camp as an art form. And yet, there are some surprisingly moving and genuine moments.

You get a sense of what it must be like to live for the last two decades having been part of iconic global phenomenon, one that is still referenced to this day. Everyone, even those who didn’t watch, knows about The Peach Pit and “Donna Martin Graduates.” The show premiered before DVD and streaming, and these guys were young and unknown. They were cast on a new and unproven network. They never truly reaped the financial benefits of the show’s success—something Spelling talks about in the series. But to my delight all seven of them are listed as executive producers of this version, as well they should be. And to my further delight, in this version Andrea, David and Steve get dolls, too.

But, like I said, it’s weird. Not as weird as the time Brandon and Dylan went to a sweat lodge or Kelly joined a cult, but close. You’re not watching them be Donna and David and Kelly and Brandon which, in many ways, is very nice. Those characters can live on as we remember them. Things start to get really bizarre, though, when the series merges this meta version of their real lives with the soap opera antics of the show’s heyday. It’s kind of genius. There’s not just the throwback music (I ,for one, appreciated hearing Color Me Badd one more time) but there are obsessive fans, devious writers, extramarital affairs and who knows what else the show has cooked up for the next four episodes.

“We’re not going to be here forever, but we made something that will be,” Tori says in the premiere.

Damn straight you did, Tori. Damn straight.

BH90210 premieres Wednesday, July 7th on FOX.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).