Graham: '90210' sends cast, fans into the time warp again
The series returns and gives reboot culture a shot in the arm
America's favorite ZIP code is back, and reboot culture just hit its weird, self-reflective, house-of-mirrors phase.
On Wednesday, "Beverly Hills, 90210" returned to Fox, this time carrying the abbreviated title "BH90210." The opening saw the gang — original series principals Jason Priestley, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris and Tori Spelling — back at the Peach Pit, nestled in vinyl booths and listening to Color Me Badd on the jukebox, like nothing had changed since the early '90s.
Ah yes, give 'em the good stuff. That's what recent television reboots from "Roseanne" to "Will & Grace" to "Fuller House" have done: bring back our faves and put them in familiar situations to stoke our collective nostalgia fires.
But that's not at all what "BH90210" is up to, which might as well stand for Bizarro Hills, 90210.
It turns out the opening segment at the Peach Pit was a dream sequence, unfolding in the mind of Spelling, who is now playing Tori Spelling, who once starred as Donna Martin on "90210." She's seated next to Garth on an airplane and they're heading to a "90210" cast reunion at a fan convention in Vegas, the type of Comic Con-like event that reunites former castmates for panels and Q&A sessions.
The rest of the gang arrives, all playing heightened, funhouse versions of their real life selves. Priestley plays Jason Priestley, a television director with on-set troubles; in real life, Priestley is a TV director (for added fun, he even directs the third episode of "BH90210").
In the show, Priestley's latest mishap lands him in hot water with Carteris, who plays the head of an actor's union; in real life, Carteris is the president of SAG.
And so on. "BH90210" deftly mixes reality and fantasy, and serves it up in a spritzy cocktail of scripted reality, fan fiction and soap opera.
It's a graduation of reboot culture, emanating from the least likely of places. "Beverly Hills, 90210" was a lot of things, but it was never self-aware. It was a straightforward teen soap opera with betrayals, hook-ups and an abundance of sideburns.
The new version, which is unfolding as a six-episode series, is a meta-commentary on reboot culture, a reflection of where we've come since we've decided to tread out any and every old cast for our collective amusement. A few years ago, a "90210" reboot would have been just that: the characters, today, living their lives. Now it's this amalgam of fact and fiction, a reboot that is winking at the idea of a reboot while giving fans exactly what they want out of a reboot, and it breaks down the door for a new brand of reboots to follow. (Picture "Lost," with the cast members playing themselves, but really getting onto an airplane...)
"BH90210" arrives at a time when we've never been more obsessed with the rearview mirror. Streaming and the changing landscape of network television has opened up the floodgates for reboots of past hits, and shows such as "Murphy Brown," "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" have all gotten in on the action.
Why? They're familiar, and they remind us of simpler times. Social media has made it so your friend from elementary school who moved away the summer after fourth grade is now just a click away. We're more connected to our pasts, and TV and the movies have followed suit.
And as audiences have fractured, investing in new properties is a costly gamble, especially for struggling TV networks. It's often easier to resurrect something that's worked in the past in the hopes that fans will come back and want to see those familiar faces again.
"BH90210" takes that idea and twists it inward. The characters' marriages are in shambles and inter-cast hook ups are in the air; Priestley and Garth hop into bed with one another in the first episode, and Spelling still harbors a crush on Green, just like her character did on the original series.
The real world, fantasy, it's all played for laughs, and "BH90210" has an unexpectedly ticklish funny bone.
At a time when the culture craves nostalgia, "BH90210" dresses up nostalgia and serves it in a fresh package. And it's a blast.
Cue up the Color Me Badd.