Don’t mess with perfection. And imperfection? Well, sometimes it’s best to leave bad enough alone. I have friends who will kill me for saying this, but I never cared much for Beverly Hills 90210 and only watched it with any kind of regularity when SoapNet began airing reruns years after it was cancelled. Melrose Place, with its soapy catfights and rampant bed-hopping, was always more my speed. So two and a half years ago when the CW Network announced its Beverly Hills redux, my first thought was “Why bother?”
I knew I’d check it out — if only to see how the original’s cast had aged. Unfortunately, only a handful of them signed on to appear. Jennie Garth’s Kelly was recurring, while Shannen Doherty’s Brenda and Tori Spelling’s Donna popped up here and there during the first two seasons, but they’ve all been MIA in season three, and you know what? I don’t miss them at all. None of these kids may ever be as iconic as Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting.
Unlike the Dawson’s Creek gang, who worked phrases like “statute of limitations on mourning a break-up” into everyday conversation, these teens actually talk like teens, and this L.A. zip code isn’t populated by the sort of stereotypical archetypes that dominated The O.C. Liam is supposed to be the tortured, brooding hunk (see Dylan and The O.C.‘s Ryan), but he isn’t just that. There’s something kind of nerdy and awkward about him, and he loses fist fights, too.
All that said, sometimes the show does go a little overboard on the rich-bitch thing, though not as much as Gossip Girl, and at least these divas are not completely outside the realm of relatable and sympathetic. They suffer, too — and not just because some rival steals their boyfriend or humiliates them in front of everyone. At the end of last season, resident queen B Naomi, still brittle but gradually softening, was raped by Mr. Cannon, one of the teachers at West Beverly Hills High, and at the end of the December 6 episode, he was lurking in the shadows of her pad, ready to pounce again.
As for the 90210 grown ups, I’d like to see a little bit more of them, but at least they aren’t just furniture. Rob Estes, so much more tolerable here than he was constantly losing his cool on Melrose Place (whose dreary CW redux got the ax after one year), departed at the end of last season, but former Full House star Lori Loughlin is still around. I’m enjoying her character’s fledgeling romance with Mr. Matthews (played by Ryan Eggold, who, at 26, is 20 years younger than Loughlin and four years younger than Michael Steger, who plays Iranian-American honors student Navid). Loughlin and Eggold nailed the awkwardness that comes after hooking up with someone you are sort of friends with but not quite. I had to watch through my fingers because I felt so embarrassed for them, having been recently in the same position.
There’s also the requisite gay storyline. Actually, two of them. Last season, Adrianna flirted with lesbianism, and this season, her ex, Teddy, is taking baby steps out of the closet. I like how it’s playing out, and Teddy’s fear and conflicting emotions feel very real. However, just once, I’d like to see TV tackle a gay romance in which one person isn’t hesitant because he or she is in the closet, or perhaps not gay at all. After all, there are so many other gay love stories waiting to be told.
As for the other straight love stories that are being told, some work better than others. I’m as lukewarm about Silver + Navid (with his moral-superiority streak, he’s more likely to find his ideal match in a convent than in homeroom — plus he’s still with Adrianna!) as I was about Dixon + Ivy (love the mix of common and creative names on this show!), but I applaud the writers for including interracial romances where the black-white thing isn’t the crux of the storyline.
And when the lovers are losing, sometimes no one is fully to blame. Mr. Cannon, the rapist, aside, everyone’s infuriating but still rootable. Annie, the show’s nominal heroine, killed a guy in a hit-and-run accident at the end of season one and spent most of season two trying to cover it up, and she just slept with Liam, the half-brother of her boyfriend Charlie, days after “locking him down” (i.e., sleeping with Charlie for the first time). Yes, she’s flawed as hell, and sometimes I don’t know what she’s thinking, but if I were a student at West Beverly Hills High, I’d so have her back.