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'90210' recap: How much more fun is rock-bottom Annie?

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There is no better way to make a character a thousand times more likable than to send them to the dark place. Exhibit A: Annie Wilson. Last year she was the worst combination possible of sunny and whiny. This season, she’s 100-percent emo, having suddenly gone through enough stuff to make even Shenae Grimes’ onetime Degrassi character cringe. (And those Degrassi kids go through a lot.) Somehow I feel so sorry for Annie that she didn’t get to have sex with hot hot Liam — what with taking the blame from jealous Naomi, she ought to have at least gotten to touch his pecs — that I don’t mind at all that she killed a dude in a hit and run on Mulholland that she’s yet to be blamed for. Heck, I feel sorry for her for that, too.

Circumstances really piled onto our anti-heroine this week, though she did have one bit of luck, sorta: Navid’s newly revamped Blaze — now some sort of 20/20 for West Beverly, from what I can determine — considered, but did not ultimately do, a story on the rumored “sext” containing nudie pics of Annie. (News value: principal’s daughter.) Rumer Willis, showing up as a hot red-headed geek on the news staff, pitched a piece on new kid Teddy Montgomery instead — because, get this, he’s the child of a major movie star. Oh, how we love the meta levels. Navid, turned off by the idea of further promoting the dude who took his girlfriend’s virginity, suddenly found the Annie story more intriguing, intoning, “Sex texts are big in high school.” (Yes, we got it, 90210. You’re so on top of the times.) The discussion of journalistic values, however, did alert Silver to the presence of the sext, which allowed her to warn Annie about the existence of it. Which was nice of her, I guess, if crazy-making for dark-place Annie.

Anyway, let’s talk about more fun stuff! Like John Schneider as Liam’s dad! Somehow this guy — totally my favorite Duke of Hazzard — has made a career of playing parental figures on teen shows who, at least so far, eventually die, from Smallville to The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Well done, John, escaping the vanilla confines of playing the Christian doc on that last one to take on this smarmy, perfectionist plastic surgeon instead. More fun in one minute of this dude than a season of that other one. Liking the more centered, matured Adriana this season as well — I honestly didn’t think she was long for this show with last season’s troubled-actress shenanigans. But that whole having-a-baby thing had a nice, gravitas-granting effect this guilty-pleasure show needs.

Teddy, her ex, is a fine addition, too — a fun pot-stirrer in the form of a Mr. Perfect. As Liam said of the quintessential L.A. golden boy, as they hung out at surf team tryouts along with Dixon, “You and Ryan Seacrest have that certain something.” I don’t really know why we needed so much gratuitous surfing in the middle of the show, but there are worse things than these boys without their shirts. (I’m guessing this is a set-up just to turn the three guys into friends, allow them to discuss the girls, etc.) Teddy’s presence has, if nothing else, given us an edgier Navid — who was guilted into doing the story on Teddy — which is also cool. Our little journalist grilled Teddy under the guise of hard-nosed reporting, asking such important questions as: “You have to be pretty arrogant to be an athlete, right? Do you bring that arrogance to your personal life?” Adriana was angry, he was sorry but not really, etc.

But really, it was all about the neat little Naomi/Liam/Annie dilemma this episode. This was, incidentally, exactly the kind of soapy plotline this show was sorely lacking last season: Naomi, jealous and with a sext bomb in her control. Liam, wanting Naomi but needing to keep his hookup with her sister, Jen, a secret. Annie, screwed by all of it. She was finally forced to “admit” that she’d slept with Liam, desperate to give Naomi what she wanted. It actually worked, for a bit; Naomi had doubts about whether Annie had slept with Liam. But then her crazy sister — who also, incidentally, revealed she was dating scruffy teacher Ryan to avoid being labeled a golddigger around town, which was all the better to allow her to freely dig gold — convinced Naomi otherwise. Naomi sent the text to the whole school. And Annie was left being mocked while Teddy, in his 20/20 interview with Navid being broadcast throughout the school, conveniently happened to be mentioning that he’d encountered the dead body that she’d hit with her car last spring. Uh-oh.

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