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Friday, September 5, 2008

Fall TV: "9021-No"

All hail fresh episodes! During the next few weeks, Channel Surfing bloggers will place the spotlight on new shows and returning favorites as the Fall 2008 TV season rolls out the red carpet. Thomas Rozwadowski recently watched back-to-back episodes of "90210," which debuted Tuesday night, and subsequently scored pretty nice ratings for The CW.

When we last saw "90210": Brenda's mom caught Kelly's mom doing coke. Brenda and Brandon rescued an alcoholic teenage girl from drowning. Brenda got a bad dye job. Emily Valentine tried to set fire to the homecoming float. Kelly joined a cult, got raped, became addicted to coke, got burned in a fire, got engaged to Brandon, got engaged to Matt, had a miscarriage and caused a lesbian to fall in love with her -- not necessarily in that order. Donna held onto her virginity. And held on. And held on. Ray pushed Donna down a flight of stairs. Andrea offered her geeky bod to Brandon and won on "Jeopardy!" Steve stole the master key to the school and joined a stupid frat. Dylan got scammed out of his money, started drinking more than Lindsay Lohan and almost died in a car crash. David, sweet dance moves and all, flopped as a musician. Kelly Kapowski got a boob job and caused a whole bunch of trouble post-Brenda. Color Me Badd played a couple songs at the Peach Pit.

Background: First off, confession time. I've watched more of Aaron Spelling's "Beverly Hills, 90210" that I'd care to admit, but not because I was a fan myself. I've only caught up during SoapNet and DVD reruns in recent years because my wife was a huge fan back in the day, and naturally, seeing Ian Ziering's curly mullet still makes her weak in the knees. I don't mock her for this. Clearly, I'm allowed to leave the room if I want to. So by proxy, I picked up on enough of the zip-code drama to not be completely lost ... which I'm only revealing here because it means I have a decent "90210" foundation -- "Donna Martin graduates! Donna Martin graduates!" -- to guide me into the new show. However, I'm not a Brian Austin-Green loyalist, which means I also won't judge the "90210" remake -- or as the CW calls it, a "edgy, contemporary spin-off"" -- by comparing it to the original.

That said, the flashy two-hour "90210" premiere was all you needed to see if you're on the fence about whether a nostalgic shot of Jennie Garth as Kelly Taylor: Grown-Up Guidance Counselor will cater to your adult sensibilities. You either love trashy shows about teen drama or you hate them. Guess what ... I'm not a teenager. So I hate them.

It's way too easy for me to dump on a superficial show like "90210," which I realize is supposed to be a trash-filled foray into the lives of too-cool-for-school teenagers. And normally, I'd buy into the logic that it isn't supposed to be made for someone like me -- or at least my wife, who as I said, loves the original version and was somewhat excited to see Garth, Shannen Doherty (Brenda Walsh) and maybe to a lesser extent, Joe E. Tata (Nat from "The Peach Pit") reprise their former roles. But with those casting choices -- though all three are periphery characters more than anything -- clearly the new show is trying to reach out to teens and young adults who grew up loving every minute of the Dylan-Brenda-Kelly love triangle or Brandon's ambitious exploits at the West Beverly Blaze. But this isn't your older sister's "90210." Yeah, Brenda had a pregnancy scare while dating old man Dylan during those early years. But Steve Sanders never had a teen skank go down on him in the front seat of his Corvette. Times have changed that much, eh "90210" producers? Man, no wonder I want to punch 16-year-olds in their stupid faces when I'm at the mall ...

Should you watch: The series is all about catering to the MTV generation -- which means style over substance, or trying WAY too hard to pick up on current trends by rolling them into the daily conversation of rich and spoiled Beverly Hills high school students. Basically, the show plays out like a bunch of 30 and 40-year-old writers and producers (two of which are, shockingly enough, Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs of "Freaks and Geeks") trying to accurately depict how text-happy, "Juno" slang-spewing 16-year-olds function these days. Not pretty.

At one point, Silver, the former friend of vapid rich girl Naomi, reports on her "video blog" that her mortal enemy is still hanging onto cheating heartthrob, Ethan. (That they show these actual videos is even more absurd.) The plot twist boasts that the site gets more than half a million Web hits. Would that many people really care about a video blog solely devoted to student gossip at a Beverly Hills high school? Really?

Worst of all, the plot contrivance that lands the Wilson family (call them the new Walshes) to Beverly Hills is downright ridiculous. Super suave Harry Wilson (Rob Estes of "Melrose Place" and "Silk Stalkings") moves his family from Kansas to the glitzy home town he left behind to take care of his mother (Jessica Walter of "Arrested Development"), a former actress with a booze problem who is so filthy rich ... um, she wouldn't need her son's family to actually take care of her. Walter plays a less funny version of Lucille Bluth, a wise-cracking drunk who, if "90210" blows up, will probably be written off the show and replaced by a super-hot live-in foreign exchange student so that the whole "how the Wilsons ended up in BH" plot arc becomes a complete afterthought. Old people aren't attractive to the MTV or MySpace generation. Ask John McCain.

Oh, and Estes is also the new principal of the school -- or far too good looking to be in any administrative role, really. I mean, c'mon, at least the old show cast someone believable like James Eckhouse in the boring father-knows-best role. And finally, to really differentiate the new "90210" from the old one, they decided to cast a minority in a lead role -- Tristan Wilds, or Michael Lee from "The Wire," as adopted son/lacrosse star, Dixon Wilson.

Yeah, because hayseeds in Wichita -- like those hayseed Walshes from Minnesota -- play freakin' lacrosse. But I said I wouldn't compare shows ...

So yeah, obviously I'm thinking too much while watching "90210" -- which really defeats the whole point of watching it. And not being the authority on such matters, I can only guess that "90210" is trying to roll "The OC," "Gossip Girl" and "The Hills" into one deliriously fun package for teens who have video blogs and apparently dish out BJ's like party favors. And it'll probably work. The plot from the first two episodes barely had anything to do with "fitting in" on a realistic level, but instead, lurched forward into heavy relationship-make out-richy rich-macho in-fighting-drama that kids apparently can't get enough of these days. Even Principal Wilson, ever the responsible authority figure in a school full of Abercrombie and Fitch models, gets thrown into a messy sitch with the "Beverly Hills MILF" character/former teenage love interest who reveals -- GASP! -- they have a kid together. Nice.

The good? At least the teens on the show kinda look like teens -- not 28-year-old Ziering or 45-year-old Luke Perry worrying about that big zit on Prom night. And you can tell I'm getting old when I could care less about the "hot" teen actresses trying to be the new Mischa Barton or ... whoever the hell is on "Gossip Girl." I'll take Mama Wilson, a.k.a. Lori Loughlin, thank you very much. Yowza.

The bad? Everything, including the fact that Beverly Hills teenagers are too uppity to scarf down burgers at the Peach Pit anymore. They go to Peach Pit After Dark to drink wine, look ultra cool and talk about Sweet 16 parties where Tilly and the Wall are performing! (Ugh, don't ask.)

Ah, to be 17 and live in Beverly Hills! Seriously. Could this Calculus homework be any more useless to the glamorous real world full of insanely hot people that actually exists?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Count me among the "90210MG! This Is Terrible'' crowd, too. As a rabid original "90210''er from back in the day, I so wanted to like it, but about 30 minutes into last week's snore of a 2-hour premiere and I had all I could do not to let TiVo just take me to the scene where Shannen Doherty finally shows up. (And then when she does, she offers to babysit for Jennie Garth?! Ugh. They're old. And I'm really old.) The whole thing played like "The OC'' Ultra Lite with some painfully forced nostalgia thrown in to hook us old-school viewers. Sorry, but a shot of Nat mumbling to himself because he can't figure out the espresso machine, isn't enough to do it. Ditto for Sue Ellen Ewing showing up on the bed with Grandma (a complete ripoff of Katherine Chancellor on "The Y&R,'' by the way) in a where-the-heck-did-that-come-from scene? At least under Aaron Spelling's watch, the original West Beverly gang had some substance(Zuckerman!) to back up the beautiful people factor. Sad but true, it looks like this "90210'' alum has moved on to "Dirty Sexy Money.''

By Anonymous Kendra Meinert, At September 8, 2008 at 10:44 AM  

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