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It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps this is true in some instances but far more often it just represents a lack of imagination. This has become a trend in both television and movies lately with extremely mixed results. The worse case is represented by the scene for scene remake of ‘Psycho’ done in 1998 that brought absolutely nothing new to the table and was completely unnecessary. On the other end of the spectrum is the recently concluded re-imagination of the seventy’s campy cult classic ‘Battlestar Galactica’ which turned a lighted hearted adventure series into a gripping dramatic masterpiece. Lying somewhere between those two extremes is the resurrection of a TV series that helped to define the nineties; ‘Beverley Hills: 90210’. This series is a bit of a hybrid. It is a re-imaging of the original with a new cast and more modern look and feel but it is also a continuation of the original by bringing back some of the original cast member reprising their ninety’s roles, blending some of the old relationships and conflicts over the new background. It is true that every generation has the obligation to revisit the classic themes of literature, just consider ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but the original here was far from a great classic. ‘Beverley Hills 90210’ was one of the all time most popular and most successful guilty pleasure franchises in television history. This at least provides some justification for the new series that is simply called ‘90210’. It is just one of the latest in a growing list of teen oriented prime time soap operas that are taking over the TV. Of course this time out the cast is hipper, more fashion forward and most of the girls look like they are in dire need of a substantial meal or two.

The series has a built in vehicle for some stunt casting by bringing back some of the original cast something that surly helped getting the initial momentum rolling. Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) earned a degree in Psychology and now works as the guidance counselor at West Beverly Hills High. The girl we all loved to hate, Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) also comes back after a successful career as an actress. The venerable ‘Peach Pit’ is still there only burgers and malt have made way for cappuccinos and lattes. The central family this time is the Wilson’s fresh from Kansas. Harry (Rob Estes) is the father and the new principal of the school. He also has some history with Kelly although he is married to Annie (Lori Loughlin) who is a fashion photographer but is at constant odds with her mother-in-law the rich and condescending Tabitha (Jessica Walter). They have two teenage kids Annie (Shenae Grimes) an actress wannabe and adopted so Dixon (Tristan Wilds) who has to cope not only with being the principal’s son but for being African-American.

It doesn’t take long for the new kids to find themselves in the typical modern teen cliques and the tangled web of high school relationships. Some of these girls bring the term ‘mean girls’ to a new nadir. One of the meanest is Erin Silver (Jessica Stroup) half sister of Kelly who’s blog ‘The ‘Vicious Circle’ rips apart anyone who dares to get her Silver’s bad side. Her most bitter enemy is queen bee Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord) the prototypical spoiled rich brat with a sweet sixteen party with more elaborate production than a big budget film. She is dating Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan) who had a summer fling with Annie a couple of years ago. That brief relationship causes some friction with the new friendship between Annie and Naomi.

This is exactly the type of series that is difficult to fully appreciate if you are not part of the rather narrow target demographic. Since I am long past my teens I have to go by how well the series appears to appeal to the modern teenager. In that respect I have to say the series achieves what it set out to do; revamp and modernize a guilty pleasure classic. ‘90210’ is a fantasy of what teens think the good life should be like. Everybody is decked out in the latest ‘in’ fashion, they all have amazing talent and social groups are more regimented and deceptive than the CIA. The school is also a fantasy, not that the students seem to appreciate the incredible level of academics. For those inclined towards journalism the school paper has been supplanted by a televised student news department with more production values than the typical network news program. The students get to watch on the high definition flat screen television that is part of every classroom. The choir is not just a club to sing a few songs. The numbers are more like a highly polished pop concert tour. The basic underlying premise of the family from the mid west getting used to the glamorous Beverley Hills life style still serves here. The characters are well portrayed and it is easy to divide them into good guys and villains. Thanks to the return of the original stars the older generation is better represent than usual for this type of series. It remains a true guilty pleasure.

Posted 08/15/09

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