How the new ‘90210’ exorcises the original’s demons
A venerated 20th century scholar, Andrea Zuckerman of West Beverly High, once said: “The memories that we have shared will not go away simply because we do...”
Sure, she was talking about graduating from high school, but Fox has certainly embraced the idea with its quasi-revival of “Beverly Hills, 90210” nearly 20 years after it went off the air.
Premiering Wednesday, “BH90210” brings together original cast members Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, Shannen Doherty and Gabrielle Carteris for a meta-fictional reunion that plays up fans’ memories of the popular ‘90s teen drama for a twist on TV’s reboot craze. The actors play scripted versions of themselves as they attempt to get a reboot of the series made.
The Times spent some time with the cast on the set in Vancouver, Canada — and later spoke with producers — about how they landed on the unorthodox premise, who really wanted a traditional revival, and whether there’s hope for more.
“Beverly Hills, 90210” is back... with a twist. The team behind Fox’s reboot talk about its metafictional premise and its relationship to the series’ fans.
Spelling met with David Stapf, president of CBS Television Studios, who wondered if a reboot was on the table. But when she texted Garth — the two had been looking for another project to work on together since their defunct 2014 sitcom, “Mystery Girls” — to relay the message, Garth’s response was a resounding, profane “No.”
“But we didn’t want to shut it down completely,” Spelling says. “So we thought: How can we make it work in a way that was new? Everyone is always asking us if we see each other, if we talk to each other, if we like each other. It seemed like being ourselves could be the way in.”
Spelling, who played a heightened version of herself in VH1’s “So Notorious” and has had a career in reality TV, suspects her history made it hard for her former castmates to wrap their mind around the idea.
“I think the fact that I had done reality shows didn’t help,” Spelling says. “I think they thought we were trying to do a reality show. And I was like, ‘It’s not that!’ I remember after we all got on board, I said to Jason, ‘When you originally said no, did you think it was a reality show because of me?’ And he said, ‘Well, yeah.’”
For Ziering, a traditional revival seemed more likely to satisfy fans.
“I think the audience wants to see ‘90210,’” Ziering says. “When I want an Oreo, I want an Oreo. I’m not in the mood for Chips Ahoy. I’ll eat it, but I wanted an Oreo. The collective creative thought was this was a better road forward. And you know what? I’m a team player. I’ve been wrong before, and I’m willing to try anything.”
In the end, Carteris says, it morphed into something they built together.
“We sort of sat down and gave our input on what we wanted to come back to,” she says. “We made this together.”
Crafting the actors’ heightened personas
Co-creators Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler say that, given the premise, the actors needed to be comfortable playing their heightened personas. That meant having them involved in crafting them.
“There’s obviously examples of actors doing this,” Chessler says. “There’s Larry David and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ There’s Matt LeBlanc in ‘Episodes.’ This felt a little more of an undertaking because it’s the whole cast playing fictional versions of themselves. And they all need to know what those other personas are going to be like to figure out how they play into it.”
“Some of them are much closer to who they are than others,” Alberghini adds. “But I think we’re trying to avoid talking about it too much, because part of the fun of the show is the guessing game of it all.”
The actors say it’s been entertaining to play with fan perceptions of what they’re like in real life.
“Leaning into these overblown perceptions of Hollywood and of ourselves was the appeal,” Priestley says. “I think the fact that this show is going to be far more tongue-in-cheek is one of the things that made it interesting to all of us. For me, there’s a certain catharsis to it as well. Whatever demons I have to exorcise about the original experience, I get to exorcise in [the] here and now. And enjoy it. And have fun with it. Fame and celebrity — I don’t think people really understand what that sort of energy is like when it’s coming at you.”
Spelling found that it didn’t come as easily as she expected.
“It was hard to be like, what’s fictitious? What’s real? Everyone knows everything about me,” she says. “For the others, it was easier, because they haven’t lived their lives in public like I have.”
The cast and crew were in the throes of shooting the second episode during The Times’ set visit. One Easter egg-heavy scene had them in ‘90s attire — Spelling wore a dress she donned in an old “90210” promo shoot! — and roaming the halls of Vancouver Technical Secondary, which passed for West Beverly High.
Green brought the reality check: “We’re now older than the actors who played our parents in the original.”
Later, Spelling reflects on how the dynamics have changed: “The things we talked about in between scenes in our 20s is totally different than the stuff we talk about in our 40s. Everyone’s talking about their kids—”
“Or like, ‘Oh my back is hurting,’”Garth adds. “I can’t bend over anymore!”
Could there be a second season?
There are just six episodes in this season of “BH90210.” But Spelling and Garth say there’s hope to keep it going if fans stick with them. The next chapter, they say, would delve into actual scenes from the reboot.
“I want to see a Season 2 because I want to see the show that they’re making,” Spelling says. “Because it really turns into somewhat of a ... show. Like, the whole process of it. So I’m curious — as a person, as a fan myself — to see what that would look like.”
“Definitely,” Garth adds. “I feel like once we’re in the show within a show, it can just keep going.”
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