Don't call it a reboot. Because it's not... exactly. BH90210, premiering Wednesday on Fox, is more of a reunion-slash-meta-revival situation. Yes, the cast of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 is there. But instead of a straight revival, catching us up with the likes of Brandon and Brenda Walsh and their friends from West Beverly, BH90210 follows heightened versions of the actors behind those beloved characters... as they attempt to pull off a Beverly Hills, 90210 revival.
Does that sound weird? Good. Because it is. Very weird. But also oddly watchable? Somehow both engaging and depressing? Something that had me continually phrasing things in question form because I just couldn't put my finger on it?
As a longtime fan of the original, I was simultaneously nervous and excited at the prospect of getting this particular band — Shannen Doherty, Jason Priestley, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Tori Spelling — back together. The seminal '90s series that began as a game-changing teen drama and over the course of 10 seasons morphed into the soapiest of primetime soaps — Stalkers! Amnesia! Cults! And those are all things that happened to just one character! — is beloved, and diehard fans might worry that something like BH90210 could sully their memories of the series. But BH90210 is so wildly different from anything you could imagine, it almost seems impossible (unless the mere fact that it exists ruins things for you, in which case I cannot help you).
In fact, in the two episodes made available ahead of the premiere, we only see the original show's characters in two dream sequences (although the callbacks in both of those sequences are great — I am here for any and all egg exchange references). Since this six-episode series is about putting together a continuation of the original series, I'm sure eventually we'll get some current-day storylines for the gang, but the first two episodes are much more focused on the fictionalized versions of the actors.
It's a 30th reunion panel in Las Vegas that initially brings everyone together: Tori (Spelling) is a broke mom of six whose reality show has just been canceled, Jennie (Garth) is still smarting from her third divorce, Jason (Priestley) is dealing with fallout from punching an actor on his set and has a publicist wife (played by Vanessa Lachey) who is more publicist than wife, Ian (Ziering) is there to build his health and wellness brand, Gabrielle (Carteris) is head of the Actors Guild and just became a grandmother (please never forget that Carteris was 29 during Beverly Hills, 90210's first season — NEVER FORGET), and Brian (Austin Green) is a stay-at-home dad who has become completely overshadowed by his extremely famous musician wife, Shay (La La Anthony). Oh, don't worry, Brenda fans — Shannen (Doherty) is in this meta-revival too, but is mostly nonexistent in the first two episodes, save for a surprise video chat during the panel and a scene in which she both doles out relationship advice and untangles a seal from a net. I will provide no further context, you are welcome.
From those descriptions alone, you can see how blurry the line is between fact and fiction on BH90210. Tori Spelling does have a whole bunch of kids and money problems! Jennie Garth has been married three times! Brian Austin Green does have a very famous wife! It's always fun to see big personalities game for a little self-deprecation, and BH90210 knows that. It hits that note hard up top. But this show isn't Curb Your Enthusiasm, and although there are some attempts at making the audience laugh, this should in no way be classified as a comedy. It gets depressing pretty easily: These fictionalized versions of the people you idolized in the '90s? Turns out, they're all quite sad. Every one of them is grappling with aging in Hollywood, with perhaps not being as successful as they thought they would, with not-so-perfect personal lives, and with being perpetually tied to something they made 30 years ago. The fun self-deprecation moves into pity-party territory pretty swiftly.
Things get even more depressing when you add in the pall cast over the entire proceedings due to the recent loss of Luke Perry. The show does a great job of paying tribute to the late actor without being exploitative. Perry's absence is felt profoundly throughout, and those heartfelt nods to the great loss everyone feels makes it all the more jolting when the show shifts yet again, this time into some soapy drama (yes, BH90210 has its own cheating spouses and old flames feeling feelings again and possible stalkers who are maybe secret children).
All of this is to say that the tone of BH90210 is legit wild. Take this sequence of events, for example: Post-panel, Tori gets drunk and then gets angry that the cast is making no money off of 90210 merchandising. She proceeds to get the rest of the gang to help her steal a very special item (that fans will instantly recognize) because, as she claims, it is rightfully theirs. This is hilarious, and I feel blessed to witness Donna Martin getting drunk and into trouble like it's prom all over again! Soon after, she launches into a heartfelt speech about how nice it is to be back together and how wonderful it is to know that something they made together will last forever, and they all toast to Luke Perry. This is very sincere and sad! This is followed up by a butt dial that alerts them to the fact that one of them is being cheated on by a spouse and the discovery that the cops are waiting to arrest them all for the Las Vegas hijinks. This is very soapy!
Can a show weave all of these tones together in a cohesive, entertaining way? In theory, sure! Can BH90210? It's hard to tell based on only the first two episodes. But thanks to the obvious chemistry that still exists among the cast (most notably between Spelling and Green), I have faith. The beginning of BH90210 feels a little muddled, and it's hard to figure out what this show wants to be. But it's clear that the people behind it, while not afraid to poke fun at the most ridiculous elements of the original, also want to handle the Beverly Hills, 90210 legacy with care.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
BH90210 premieres Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 9/8c on Fox.