Back To School

8.20.2008

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

When Beverly Hills, 90210 debuted in 1990, it was two parts Aaron Spelling soap opera and one part after-school special (story lines about the evils of drunk driving and --gasp -- teenage rhinoplasty), all set against a Less Than Zero'lite backdrop of spoiled California kids. The 90210 teens -- almost all played by actors in their 20s -- were painfully fashionable (at least for the times) and impervious to adult guidance. If you were their peer, it was the ultimate orphan fantasy; if you were already well into college or beyond, it was a cotton-candy rewrite of awkward adolescence.

The setup of the new 90210 is essentially the same: Two kids transplanted from the Midwest must sink or swim in the teen-eat-teen world of wealthy West Beverly Hills High School. Aided by a covey of nostalgic characters -- Jennie Garth's Kelly Taylor is a guidance counselor and the bitch (Shannen Doherty's Brenda Walsh) is back -- the show is stacked with pretty faces and potential catfights. Watch especially for Arrested Development's Jessica Walter as the age-inappropriate hot mess of a grandma and Dirt's Ryan Eggold as the young, boundary-blurring teacher (the rumored token gay, perhaps?).

But to survive as more than just a powerful brand, the show can't coast by on shock value alone. 90210 begat its own biggest rivals: If you want barely legal lust objects and camp so thick you can cut it with a knife, Gossip Girl trumps all. Rich-bitchery, scheming, and feuds? Semi-reality on The Hills takes the cake.

One sign the show will be more than just skin and sexcapades: Although there was a topsy-turvy launch that delayed production of a pilot, among the show's new execs are Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, Freaks and Geeks alums whose last teen drama, Life as We Know It, was a smart, sweet, and too quickly canceled show, almost a boy version of My So-called Life -- the one against which all others should be judged. We can't help rooting for this remake to get it right.

90210 premieres September 2 on the CW.

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