The 2010s have been the decade of nostalgia, so much so that a genuine feeling of nostalgia doesn’t come up much anymore. The existence of – and the experience of watching – “BH90210” (Wednesdays on Fox) is a case in point. Seeing all seven major living actors from “Beverly Hills, 90210” (1990-2000, Fox) on screen together, as well as Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth watching the original show late in the pilot episode, does indeed kind of make me want to rewatch the original.
Except that 1) there’s too much other stuff to watch, and 2) the original, with its original music as it was meant to be seen, still isn’t available on home video or streaming.
But do I want to keep watching “BH90210?” That’s a whole ’nother matter. Created by Garth, Spelling and two veteran producers of Spelling’s reality shows, “BH90210” trades in pseudo-nostalgia with a couple of its premises. First, that the actors never see each other. I guess it’s possible, but Garth, Spelling and Shannen Doherty all had guest spots on the next-gen spinoff “90210” (2008-2013, CW). So I feel like they probably crossed paths then, at least.
Second, “BH90120” suggests that these actors don’t cross paths with the public, intimating that their post-teen heartthrob careers have been less successful than they really have been. Fans are thrilled to see them at the 30th anniversary convention in Vegas (meaning this is set in 2020). Fair enough; that behavior is true of any fan convention. But in reality, most of these actors have been in tons of stuff since the original series ended in 2000.
“Brian Austin Green” tells his agent he’s ready to get back into acting. This situation doesn’t reflect reality, as his IMDB page attests. Granted, it isn’t supposed to. Although there are some nods to the real world, such as Gabrielle Carteris’ job as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, “BH90210” doesn’t want to get too real. It’d rather be pseudo-shocking, like when “Garth” and “Jason Priestley” sleep together at the convention, mimicking (and perhaps very lightly parodying) the soapiness of the original series.
The idea of actors playing “themselves” is not new, but almost always before this, it’s been for the sake of comedy, with Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” being the major touchstone. In being a primetime soap, “BH90210” is different. But so far, all I get out of it is awkwardness.
The group mentions the late Luke Perry a few times, but this loses a little something by being scripted. A scripted remembrance of Dylan McKay would feel right, and a real remembrance of Perry would feel right, but this mixture is weird. It’s not disrespectful by any means, but it comes off flatter than it should. The whole enterprise is oddly flat.
I suspect this was the only way Fox could get the whole gang back together. An actual continuation of the characters’ stories would not be of creative interest to the actors, and some of them might’ve been concerned that it would look bad to go back to the well. (Even though it wouldn’t, if there were good stories to tell.) So they thought this angle into a reunion would give them a creative challenge.
But “BH90210” is coming to the party late. “Dawson’s Creek” followed in “Beverly Hills, 90210’s” footsteps, but “BH90210” is six years behind James Van Der Beek brilliantly playing “himself” as a full-of-himself (and full-of-s***) actor on “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23.”
Even in an era when nostalgia sells, “BH90210” is impressive in its scale – getting all seven major players back. And before rendering a harsh judgement, I should wait until it gets to the point of having them work through scripts for the in-show “Beverly Hills, 90210” continuation (although “Curb” beat it to the punch with its “Seinfeld” “reunion”). There’s potential for some good commentary on the nature of the TV biz and specifically the reboot trend. But so far, this soapy approach to actors playing themselves is less interesting in practice than in theory.