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9021:Past, present and (glorious) future

Analise Lipari | Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Donna, Steve and Kelly are back. Well, sort of. This week, the CW is finally airing the long-awaited pilot episode of its brand new version of the classic teen TV series, “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Those humble digits were once synonymous with the coolest teens on the small screen, and now Generation Y is making their mark on the second time around.The premise of the original “90210” was standard television fare: fresh faced Midwestern twins Brandon (Jason Priestly) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) Walsh and their fairly conventional parents, Cindy and Jim (Carol Potter and James Eckhouse) move to hip, happening Beverly Hills, 90210. The show also focused on popular girl Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), moody heartthrob Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), and their friends Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) and Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) during their years at Beverly Hills High.What made the original “90210” so popular was how effectively it acted as a show for teens and about teens. Dylan was that mysterious, cryptic crush that every girl couldn’t stop thinking about. Kelly may have been the token high school beauty, but she had her fair share of difficulties in life. Relationships began and ended, friends came and went, and life went on in Beverly Hills. “90210” also visibly worked to represent the issues that 90s teens would face in their everyday lives. Pregnancy scares, sexual assault and even the scary prospect of college were all part of the character’s lives. Their lives weren’t entirely idealized, either – even Brenda had a boyfriend, Dylan, cheat on her with Kelly, one of her best friends. It would be a considerable sin, however, to ignore some of the faults of “90210.” It’s virtually impossible for audiences not to catch wind of the fact that actors in their mid-twenties are trying to play high school teens. Also, if the show’s demographics are to be believed, the Beverly Hills population would solely consist of white people – an idea that was just as unrealistic in the 90s as it is today. And any TV show that overly focuses on ‘this problem’ or ‘that issue’ risks becoming a weekly PSA, to which the disgruntled audience of “7th Heaven” can testify. With years of teen TV history preceding it, the brand new version of “90210” has a lot to live up to. Like that pesky little sister who can finally start her freshman year, the CW’s “90210” has a brand new look and a talented cast of actors to make sure its season goes right. This time, the new kid in town is Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes), a Kansas City native who finds herself at the center of a new social circle when students discover a connection between her and high school heartthrob Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan). Their friendship drives his girlfriend, popular girl Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord), up the wall. Joining Annie at West Beverly High is her adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds of HBO’s “The Wire”), who immediately connects with local bad girl Erin Silver (Jessica Stroup). Dixon also strikes up an early friendship with Navid Shirazi (Michael Steger), editor of the high school paper. The Wilson’s photographer mom, Debbie, is played by “Full House” alum Lori Laughlin – time will tell if the actress can hold her own without Uncle Jesse by her side. In a twist on the original premise, West Beverly’s new principle is the Wilson patriarch, Harry (Rob Estes). Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” will play Tabitha Wilson, the family’s feisty grandmother who is literally upstaged as director of their high school musical by none other than Brenda Walsh (a surprising return by Doherty). Jennie Garth is also scheduled to appear as Kelly Taylor, now the high school guidance counselor.It’s likely that viewers will compare the new “90210” to its legendary predecessor. With several original actresses and settings – yes, they’re even going back to the Peach Pit – in place, comparison seems inevitable. Of course, the show’s target teen audience may have little, if any, knowledge of the original show other than pop culture lore and “I love the 90’s” episodes. The question of whether or not old fans might return to this reincarnated version also has yet to be answered. Jenny Garth recently told Entertainment Weekly that when she heard the CW was reformulating “90210,” “I thought: No! Like something sacred was being disrupted. Some part of who I was and a piece of my history was being messed with. It took me a while to settle into that idea.” Whether or not they were high-quality entertainment, shows like “90210” will always have a place in the teen years of a generation of Americans. The CW has hit it big in recent years with shows like “Gossip Girl,” “Reaper,” and the final seasons of “Gilmore Girls” after the merger of the WB and UPN, which gives the network some much-desired wiggle room. Time will tell if Annie, Dixon and company feel at home in West Beverly Hills, and if fans feel comfortable with giving “90210” another go.