Photo: Shane Harvey (FOX)
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Revivals and reboots are so commonplace now that it’s really difficult to make one that stands out. Get the old cast together, toss in some surprise guest stars, resolve old storylines, and try to fire up some new ones. So let’s give credit where credit is due: The meta-ness of BH90210 is an inspired take on a near-30-year-old television show.

In the first episode of BH90210, six members of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 cast—Gabrielle Carteris, Jennie Garth, Brian Austin Green, Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling, Ian Ziering—reunite in Vegas for an anniversary conference celebrating their old show. And each of them is playing a fictionalized, exaggerated version of their actual lives: Jennie Garth’s failed marriages, Tori Spelling’s well-documented debt difficulties, Jason Priestley’s TV directing career, Brian Austin Green’s marriage to a woman more famous than he is, Gabrielle Carteris’ Screen Actors Guild presidency, even Ian Ziering’s fitness brand (called Chainsaw, in honor of his Sharknado movies) all have some basis in actual life. But all of these characters with real names appear to have reached middle age now pondering missed opportunities and wrong turns taken, which can all be traced back to that hit show they starred in for 10 years—except for Priestley, who as Garth points out, left early. “Do you ever wonder what our lives would have been like without the show?” she asks him as the cast downs drinks at a Vegas bar. “Every single day,” he replies.

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Luckily for these reboot creators, all the actors still look great (some may have had more help in that area than others), so that dream sequences that take the cast back to West Beverly don’t even need digital de-aging. Youngest cast member Brian Austin Green does well with some heavy lifting; here his wife is a super-successful pop star played by La La Anthony (in real life, frequent blockbuster actress Megan Fox), while he desperately tries to get his own career back on track (calling his agent, he announces, “This is Brian,” then hastily has to add, “Austin Green.”) Garth and Spelling have been close friends for a long time, so their frequent sparring and light bickering is natural. Priestley appears unafraid to depict himself as an egocentric TV director longing for his own indie film, and Ziering similarly casts himself as an ambitious, opportunistic business owner (“I need a brand relaunch, natural integration of my solo entrepreneurial efforts.” Garth taunts, “Are you speaking English?”)

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Garth fortunately goes back to the bitchier levels of Kelly Taylor than the more angelic version that the character eventually morphed into, telling Spelling, “I’m sorry I was such a dick,” and mentioning that she popped an edible. While Spelling’s acting level still remains solidly at a screechy level (her favorite expression is “you guys”), the knocks at her fallen Beverly Hills lifestyle are frankly, pretty funny: She comments to Garth, “Do you know how much college bribery money I’m going to need?” due to all of her offspring, and when her husband chastises her for using credit cards in Vegas, she deadpans, “I love that you think we still have credit cards.” Ian Ziering tells Spelling what the rest of us are all thinking: “How could you grow up with every advantage in life and still struggle to support your kids? It’s mind-boggling to me!” Later he critiques Garth for casting her daughter: “Didn’t you learn any lessons from Tori being on her dad’s show?” Spelling tartly replies, “I’m right here” with expert comic timing.

Even though the Vegas reunion proves disastrous, including a scene where everyone childishly turns on each other (which also happens the next episode, so, two-for-two), all the cast members need the reboot in one way or another. So eventually, we’ll be watching these actors play their old characters on set while playing themselves. That scenario promises to be about a million times more interesting than a typical 90210 reboot would have been, watching the marital squabbles of David and Donna Silver and Brandon’s hassles as the new Nat of the Peach Pit.

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Make no mistake though—this BH90210 version is still solidly in the camp/soap opera vein, resembling the more bananas Kimberly era of Melrose Place than anything that ever happened on the tamer 90210. By the end of the second episode, we already have a creepy stalker who’s sending the cast mutilated versions of their old action figures, Priestley’s wife getting threatened by a blackmailer, and one of Brandon Walsh’s more prominent exes coming in as a Fox exec. Other stunt casting is just as stellar, like Garth’s daughter Luca Bella playing her aspiring actress daughter (and promising said daughter a role on the reboot—sometimes it’s all meta enough to make your head spin), Vanessa Lachey as Priestley’s wife, and—best of all for the Lifetime fans in the audience—Spelling’s husband is played by Ivan Sergei, her co-star from Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?

Beyond those six main core members, Shannen Doherty apparently needs so much image renovation that the show introduces her as saving endangered species in Africa, still an outsider from most of the rest of the eye-rolling cast (quips Garth: “Remember how much fun Vegas was? And that was without Shannen!”). The memory of Luke Perry, who died in March, still looms large over the entire production—when Carteris first enthuses, “I can’t believe we’re all here,” Priestley mutters, “I wish that were true,” a tiny line that goes straight to the gut. At the end of the first episode, we get a swoon-worthy glimpse of Dylan McKay, introducing Brandon Walsh to paradise as Spelling’s kids watch her old show on TV. Garth gasps painfully upon hearing his voice and frankly, it’s hard not to.

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As Spelling points out in one of her hammy, over-the-top speeches, none of them are going to be around forever—but they all made something that will be. Like the original Beverly Hills (which had some of its greatest seasons run in the summer months), BH90210 promises a frothy warm-weather watch, perfect for Brendan and Kelly fans to unwind with after a beach day. But the most surprising thing about this particular reboot is how it slips in some valuable life lessons between the soapy storylines. As the saying goes, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” an adage that rings especially true here. The BH90210 cast will never get past the show that first made them famous. But as these actors/characters face the shadow-filled years of middle-age alongside the co-stars they grew up with, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.