BH90210 will make you confront your mortality (in a good way)
Jason Priestley says it best: “Well, this is weird.” He and his fellow Beverly Hills, 90210 costars have arrived at a hotel in Las Vegas for a 30th-anniversary panel celebrating the show, and when they first convene in the lobby, it is weird seeing them together. The once shiny-sexy stars of the ’90s teen soap — Priestley, Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering — are now middle-aged adults, with the crow’s feet and fillers and general aura of ennui that status entails. The absence of the late Luke Perry hangs over them, quietly addressed but deeply felt.
Fox’s BH90210 is many things — an on-trend meta-reboot, a cash grab, a loving act of fan service — but more than anything it’s a poignant and funny meditation on midlife mortality. Once aspirational dreamboats, today the 90210 gang is meeting the fans where most of us live: Halfway through life, facing the future with tamped-down anxiety all the while trying to come to terms with the past. It’s something more than nostalgia — it’s nowstalgia.
When we rejoin the cast, they’re scattered around Los Angeles: Priestley’s now a TV director with an indie film script no one will finance; Garth, entering her third divorce, is raising a bratty teen daughter on her own; Ziering has built a fitness brand with his statuesque blonde wife; Carteris is president of the Actors Guild of America; Green is a stay-at-home dad, his career overshadowed by his famous wife Shay (La La Anthony); and Spelling is a married mom of six whose chief source of income, a reality show called Tori & Nate: Spelling the Beans, just got canceled. They all head to Vegas with different agendas: Image rehab, brand building, an escape from the kids — and, of course, a paycheck.
Everyone’s playing a “heightened” version of themselves, and the actors show an impressive willingness to poke fun at their public images. A young TV actor scoffs at Priestley, calling him a former “pinup boy for horny teenage girls.” Carteris, who played 90210’s frumpy Andrea Zuckerman and is the oldest cast member, is now a grandma who rides the bus. Though she’s not at the Vegas reunion, infamous 90210 troublemaker Shannen Doherty pops up in the first two episodes; the running jokes about her new, altruistic career are too fun to spoil. But it’s Spelling — daughter of 90210 creator Aaron Spelling and permanent tabloid fixture — who trolls herself the hardest. “You’ve milked your brand from every angle,” a producer tells her. “The network says there’s no more story.”
Tori’s well-documented financial woes play a major role in BH90210: Once again on the brink of bankruptcy, Spelling is the one who urges the cast to join the reboot-within-the-reboot. “I don’t understand — your dad produced the show. How did you not get any money?” Green asks her, as fans wearing 90210 merch stroll by. “Welcome to my life!” she replies. The actress has long since made a career of parodying herself, from 2006’s short-lived meta-comedy So Notorious (which was created by BH90210 exec producers Chris Alberghini, Mike Chessler), to her many “reality” shows. Both in this show and in actual reality, Spelling is a master at creating and curating her public persona — call it “desperate former rich-girl” — while being savvy and self-aware enough to exploit it.
With its candy-colored palette, anonymous electric guitar score, and narratives that range from relatable human drama (divorce, career struggles) to soapy melodrama (blackmail, stalkers), BH90210 recalls the best and worst elements of the original. It helps that even though they’re playing “themselves,” each actor mirrors their character in a convenient yet realistic way: Spelling provides comic relief through slapstick antics and groaner jokes; Carteris is the sensible peacemaker; Ziering is an image-obsessed hothead; Priestley is the cool charmer. Green, the gang’s resident outsider, is especially sharp with his wry, self-deprecating delivery, and Garth is funnier than she ever was allowed to be as Kelly, tossing off comedic asides with unexpected precision.
As for the characters these stars helped create? Fans will see Brandon, Brenda, Steve, David, Donna, Kelly, and Andrea through a clever recurring device that I won’t spoil. Everything from the frat house fire, which gave Kelly Taylor the world’s most telegenic scar, to “I’d like to exchange an egg” gets a bemused shout-out. None of this will make any sense to non-90210 fans, but this show isn’t for them. If you loved the original, BH90210 won’t tarnish your memories — it will deepen them, and maybe even make some new ones. B