May 22, 2009

End of Season Report Card: 90210

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I'm one of those unusual and strangely puzzling people who have a major jones for Beverly Hills 90210. I know, I really can't explain it myself.

So when I found out that the CW was dragging out the old scripts and opening the doors to West Beverly High, I was thrilled in the way that only sad, cheesy fans can be. Imagine my disappointment that there were to be no Walshes present! The Peach Pit got a complete and contemporary overhaul! Nat is never seen! Kelly Taylor is still present and still an annoying saint! Dr. Pepper is a major sponsor! Okay, well that last part is good news.

Overall, the new 90210 started its freshman year very shaky. Rather than the Walsh family relocating to the hills of Beverly from Minnesota, we get the Wilson family coming from Kansas. And there were problems. First, the Wilsons had been to California before, many times. Dad Harry grew up in Beverly Hills, his mother Tabitha a former movie star, and he even went to school (supposedly) with Saint Kelly Taylor. So they weren't exactly fish out of water. Secondly, the Wilsons could pretty much develop and mayor the town of Dullsville. Dad Harry was principal of West Beverly and boring. Mom Debbie is a photographer and boring. Daughter Annie is perky, perenially flashing her pearly whites, in dire need of a sandwich or ten, and boring. Only adopted son Dixon showed any real character potential.

The supporting players were just as confusing. Spoiled rich girl Naomi Clark started the season not only being an utter entitled bitch on wheels but poorly and inconsistently acted by Annalynne McCord. Her boyfriend Ethan, we were told repeatedly was an uber jock at school, but the most exciting thing he did involved a brief scene where he was caring for his autistic brother. A storyline which 90210 inexplicably decided not to follow up on and wrongly so, in my humble little opinion. Perhaps seeing more of Ethan's home life would give his character more potential and roughen up the edges. Adrianna used to be a child actress with a she-devil stage mother who has found growing up detrimental to her career and turned to drugs as a result. Adrianna was delightfully bitchy but her overnight addiction, near overdose and trip to rehab, along with a positive EPT stick, was head-spinning to say the least. Sweet Navid, the local adult firm producer's son, long had a crush (we were told on Adrianna) but before he became Adrianna-centered, he ran the school's newspaper and t.v. station (yet another storyline the show decided not to follow up on, along with a very clever and tart glance at t.v. station newscaster Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez, with the kids saying "She looks 30" - - Hannah Z-V is the fictional daughter of fictional Andrea Zuckerman from the original show, whose portrayer Gabrielle Carteris was 28 when the original show premiered, playing a 16 year old, and looked every inch the 28 year old). Add to this motley mix Erin Silver, the younger half sister of Kelly Taylor and David Silver from the original show. Erin prefers to be called Silver and she has gone from a cute little blonde girl to a dark headed, moody and bucking convention teen who will quickly glom on to Dixon.

Had I been a betting gal, after the first month or so of the show, I would have guessed it would have been cancelled.

However, good news for 90210 fans was on the horizon. Writers from Gossip Girl stepped in to overhaul the already-ailing show. Since that time, the writing and the acting have improved. Plotlines aren't thrown out at random, in a seemingly desperate hope that something will stick. There was actually development, character and plot, without immediate payoff. Such a bold and smart move has given 90210 an invitation to return next season.

The Improved:

Naomi. At first an uber-bitch set to specifically make Annie Wilson's life hell, Naomi has been softened up and made more relatable. She still somewhat resembles a 30 year old socialite, but actress Annalynne McCord's acting has improved tremendously (certainly helped by being paired opposite persons beside Shenae Grimes). Smart move on the part of TPTB to get Naomi out of that hotel (what 16 year old would be living in a hotel with their dad living down the street?) and into a house, although having her sister Jen be the "responsible adult" is frightening. Naomi's chemistry with Liam is much stronger and more believable than with Ethan, where there was zero. But fans are still wondering what happened to Ozzy?

Dixon. Dixon never really needed improving, per se, as he was the most relatable character when the show premiered, but props to TPTB for having Dixon seek out his birth mother. Here's hoping there will be follow up to that potential gold mine of stories next season.

Adrianna. At the start of the show, Adrianna was a supporting character and a troubled one at that. She has since become the backbone of the show and should be the starring female. Actress Jessica Lowndes, besides being dizzyingly gorgeous at all times, turns in stellar acting even with the most dismal dreck in front of her. The earnestly romantic chemistry with Navid is sweet and gives 90210 a softness it would otherwise lack. While going into labor at the prom is about as cliched as you can get, Adrianna's conflicted emotions on the birth of her daughter and the decision to give her up for adoption gave Lowndes the chance to shine and cemented her place as the female to top on this show.

Navid. A spotty character at the beginning of the series, who was absent for many episodes at a time, Navid has since become an important element of the show's cast of characters. While his decision to marry Adrianna and raise her baby together was something that only a teenager would think is logical, it's refreshing to have a main male character who has remained a virgin and is not ostracized for it. Actor Michael Steger also has wonderful chemistry with Jessica Lowndes, which makes their storylines all the better.

Return of the Oldies. Yes, even Kelly Taylor. It's good to see what the old gang have been up to. Kelly is now a guidance counselor at West Beverly and has a son with Dylan McKay, who is somewhere in Wyoming. Brenda is a major stage actress and has returned not only to assist with West Beverly's stage productions, but also to sleep with Kelly's co-worker (and potential amour) Ryan Matthews, receive cell calls from Dylan and be a positive mentor for Adrianna. Donna has returned from Japan, where she was living with David, with baby daughter Ruby in tow, to not only open her own store in L.A. but separate from David. Nat is still running The Peach Pit. Brandon is supposedly married and has children. All of these updates and appearances are a Beverly Hills 90210 fan's fantasy dream.

The Questionable:

Tabitha. Why on earth would you get rid of your most humorous character? Tabitha was a laugh a minute and provided some storyline potential with the deadly dull Debbie who seemed to have nothing to do other than mope around their Beverly Hills mansion about how different Bev Hills was from Kansas and worrying about the kids. Are we really supposed to believe that Tabitha is still at an East Coast film shoot and has basically turned her house over to son Harry and his family?

Shenae Grimes/Annie. I'll admit it. I hated Annie when the show started. She was perky, she was cute and Shenae Grimes was an utterly horrid actress. There was absolutely nothing to relate to and Annie was so squeaky clean, there was very little material the writers could give her. Shenae did improve over the course of the season and with the season finale showing Annie going all Carrie on the prom party (even if Shenae seemed a tad too intense in the anger scenes), in addition to drinking and driving and seeming to hit something or someone, it appears that Annie will finally get dirtied up and have something for Shenae to (hopefully) sink her teeth into.

Firing Dustin Milligan/Ethan. While this move may have made sense before the end of 2008, now it seems puzzling. The writers introduced Rhonda, the geeky high schooler that Ethan hit who had a long-time crush on him. She was ultimately the straw that broke the back of the bland Ethan and Annie relationship but 90210 just let this story go. In the last few episodes of the season, it became apparent that Ethan was developing strong feelings for his friend Dixon's girlfriend Silver, which all came to a head on prom night, setting up all kinds of angst potential for next season. Add that to the already stated autistic brother and it seems that Ethan could have been smartly rehabbed as a character if TPTB weren't so willing to give up.

Paging Steve Sanders. While I appreciate being thrown a few bones about what Kelly, Brenda, Brandon, Donna and David have been up to, what about Steve and Janet Sanders? Aren't they still in L.A.? How about Andrea Zuckerman? Some follow up on Jackie Taylor? You've told us that Dylan is in Wyoming but can we get a little more info? Show, please don't let us down. I've read that TPTB don't want to use Beverly Hills 90210 stars in cameos or returns as a gimmick to make the show, but why not? We're interested in what they're doing and if you're going to have Kelly Taylor be a part of this show, it would only make sense that she'd be keeping up with the old gang just as much as we would.

Ryan Matthews. Otherwise known as the only teacher at West Beverly. Seriously, do the kids have any teacher other than Mr. Matthews? Can we not at least pretend? How about bringing back Mrs. Teasley? She seemed like the kind of person who would stay with West Beverly for the duration. Or better yet, why not kill two birds with one stone and have Steve Sanders return - - as West Beverly's gym teacher.

Jen Clark. I have nothing against the character of Jen, Naomi's older sister, despite the fact that she is quite possibly the most horrid, backstabbing bitch who ever bitched on the CW. Since the show rehabbed both their previous bitches in training (Naomi and Adrianna), it was sorely in need of a good old evil character. Jen certainly fits the bill - - lying to her sister about her trust fund, allowing Naomi to pay for their new home, the furnishings and Jen's clothes, as well as going after Ryan Matthews with a vengeance and showing her bitch claws to Kelly. However, actress Sara Foster simply doesn't fit the bill. Jen is supposed to be twenty-one and Foster looks as though she could be the parenting a graduating senior at West Beverly. Further, Foster's acting is wooden at best and painfully atrocious at worst. She delivers her lines with little emotion in her voice and on her face - - a deadly sin when you're playing the bitch on the show. Either get Foster some acting lessons over the summer or recast her, because the character could be a positive.

Overall, 90210 managed to get it together by the end of the season and for that, I'll give it a B.

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