[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for the first two episodes of “BH90210.”]
The opening of “BH90210” is one of those visual storytelling hallmarks where the audience is bounced around from character to character as the group’s mission becomes clear, and they strive to wind up in the same place at the same time. Rounding up the samurai, the posse, the Avengers — you get it.
When the incredibly well-preserved — let’s pause for a moment and give thanks to the work of the dermatological demigods of Los Angeles that is on display in “BH90210” — almost-entirety of the “Beverly Hills 90210” cast reunites in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel, Jason Priestley assesses the group. “This is weird,” he says. “C’mon, we’re all thinking it.”
Weird isn’t even the half of it. By 15 minutes into the debut of “BH90210,” I expected to see clocks melting in the background and trains coming out of fireplaces. It’s a trip, one that’s both baffling and tedious.
Here’s the set up, and bear with me: “BH90210” is a reboot of “Beverly Hills 90210,” the ‘90s kitsch favorite TV show that looked at the foibles of a bunch of privileged rich kids who were beset by DRAMA and FEELINGS despite having every material advantage in the world. It was goofy, it was fun, and we had parties in high school where we’d drive to each other’s house to watch. Sweetness, light, rainbows, the occasional pregnancy scare or eating disorder — you get it.
“BH90210” stars most of those same actors — Priestley, Gabrielle Carteris, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, and Shannen Doherty — playing thinly veiled versions of themselves. No, they are not playing the characters they inhabited at West Beverly High School. They, the actors that portrayed those characters 30 years ago, are playing themselves as the actors who portrayed those characters 30 years ago.
So: Priestley, an indie film director in real life, is a struggling indie film director here. Carteris’ character is head of the actor’s union — which, yes, ditto in our plain of existence. “Garth” has her marriage troubles splashed all over the tabloids — yes. “Spelling” has zero money sense despite being the scion of a television billionaire and has a passel of kids — bingo. “Ziering” is married to an influencer — check. “Green” is married to a gorgeous performer who is more famous than he is — what up, Megan Fox. Doherty had a profoundly moving and public battle with breast cancer — nope, that isn’t mentioned at all in the first two episodes. But “Doherty” is an animal rights advocate, just like she is!
So in “BH90210,” this crew deals with life three decades after fame. They gather in Las Vegas for a fan convention — during which they are oddly dismissive of the fans, frankly, the same people in real life who are going to be turning in for this lunacy — and “Spelling” comes to realize that to save her bottom line she has to get the band back together for — wait for it — a reboot of “Beverly Hills 90210.”
You really want to give them credit for trying a new spin on the nostalgia game. This group of middle-aged adults can’t play teenagers, obviously, and retelling “90210” as a meta story within a meta story is ambitious. But it’s not quite a mockumentary, and not quite a campy bit of high art. What it winds up being is an extended meditation of getting a TV show off the ground, a very insular and kind of dull topic for a show that wants to play well outside of TMZ’s Thirty Mile Zone.
SAG — or the Actor’s Guild of America in this parallel universe — gets brought up often, as do negotiations for becoming a director on TV, as does product placement and brand building and– This is not fun. Yes, there are a few soapy diversions and in-jokes to the original show aplenty, but you’re trying to dance with the most popular kids in the history of high school when you tackle the TV show about a TV show genre: “30 Rock.” “The Larry Sanders Show.” “The Comeback.”
There are three kernels of interest: There is an overt push for this version and the version-within-this-version (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it needs explaining) to be more diverse and inclusive, and yes, “Carteris” addresses those “Is Andrea Zuckerman gay?” questions about her old character head-on. The friendship between “Spelling” and “Garth” — two women of, ahem, a certain age routinely dismissed in Hollywood — is genuine and appealing and, believe it or not, eventually passes the Bechdel test. And the tributes to the late Luke Perry — who was never attached to “BH90210” because of his acting commitments on The CW’s “Riverdale” — are lovely.
“Beverly Hills 90210” is available for streaming on Hulu, so if you want a nostalgia fix, head over there. If you want to see what the actors look like in action now — spoiler alert, they look great — tune in to “BH90210.”
Starting tonight, August 7, “BH90210” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.