In a TV landscape awash in returns and reboots, we have to give BH90210 credit for meta-ing up the place. Instead of a draggy, 30-years-later plot showing the travails of the David and Donna Silver marriage and Brandon taking over Nat’s role at the Peach Pit, we only see those possibilities via dream sequences and fictional TV scripts. Instead, seven actors playing elaborate, caricatured versions of themselves attempt to get a 90210 reboot off the ground, which is also the theme for said reboot. As long as you don’t think about it too hard, it works perfectly.
That’s up to and including the finale of this six-episode season, which ties up some plot threads, leaves others wide open, and basically goes for broke. The camp element of the show was there from the premiere, when the gang gets arrested after some Vegas hijinks—now, with the fate of BH90210’s future up in the air, the show comes up with some twists that 1970s-era Days Of Our Lives would envy. The mysterious Matt is not Brian Austin Green’s son, but is possibly Jason Priestley’s (actually, they do kind of look alike…). Ian Ziering accidentally sleeps with a mother and a daughter, and the mom in question is Denise Richards, playing herself. And in an absolutely WTF moment, the show addresses the occasional non-sibling chemistry between onscreen twins Shannen Doherty and Priestley, having the two almost kiss in a dream sequence. That’s when you can picture the moment someone in the writer’s room came up with that, crowing, “Hey, you know what? Why the fuck not?”
Why the fuck not indeed, since the future of BH90210 remains uncertain. While this reboot has received many solid reviews, and the debut is Fox’s most-streamed summer debut of all time, the ratings have been on a pretty solid slide downward since the premiere. Shannon Doherty told US Weekly that she’s considering these six episodes a mini-series, because “I think we should just focus on the six because—no projecting into the future.”
Especially when the past is such fun. The main draw of 90210 in the first place was that even rich and beautiful teens had problems, making them relatable to the millions of non-rich, non-beautiful teens who tuned in. Granted, maybe those problems were a bit more glamorous than the average teen’s, but it was the relatability of Brenda, Brandon, et al. that transcended even their tony zip code. So now to reach their similarly aging audience, the BH9010 cast veered toward relatable again: cranky teen daughters, deadbeat husbands, still grappling for success at an age when you feel like you should have received it already. Is it any wonder that at such an age, you would gravitate toward the people you grew up with during what could be considered your glory years?
That doesn’t mean that the cast can’t make fun of those glory years: This episode opens with a dream sequence in which an adult Ziering counsels his younger self to toss his midriff-bearing shirts and change his hair: “Having a mullet is no way to go through life.” Doherty still fruitlessly rails against her character’s bad reputation—“Brenda wasn’t a trouble-maker! Kelly was!”—and shows up for a public event covered in the blood of a possum she just saved on the street, in a nod to her BH90210 earth mother status. The show’s main competition on the Fox schedule comes from a reboot of The OC, which includes an offscreen Mischa Barton (the resurrected Marissa Cooper) flipping tilapia for 48 hours at a Bait Shop pop-up—how can a Peach Pit pop-up possibly compete? When the network insists on shooting the show in Toronto, Fox exec and former cast member Christine Elise cautions, “Now’s not the time to get precious about zip codes,” even though that’s the theme of the entire original series.
In a meta-meta move, this episode the cast even reads the comments that reveal what the test audiences think about them, bringing all of their worst fears and traits to the surface (Ian Ziering represents “toxic masculinity,” Brian Auston Green’s hotness is “unexpected,” while Tori Spelling is “polarizing,” and no one knows what that means). Again, all of these lampoons land because they’re so spot-on: Jennie Garth is embracing her status as a spoiled actress who never really grew up, and it is surprising how dorky David Silver grew up to become one of the hunkiest guys in the cast. And, it must be said, the best actor: His rages with his BH90210 wife are heartfelt, and his easy hangs with his castmates have the effect of making the viewer think they’re getting a peek backstage. When Ziering brags that he can still have sex whenever he wants, Green chides dubiously, “Please… really? Still?” He also has a fun, flirty chemistry with Doherty, a pairing that rarely popped up in the original series.
Which constitutes the best part about BH90210: It pulls back the curtain to reveal all the machinations that set the artifice in motion in the first place. And it’s so well-sold, is it any question that Tori Spelling finds her current husband lacking, when she had the near-perfect onscreen boyfriend for several years? Spelling can hardly differentiate whether she filmed a scene in bed with “Brian” or “David,” but no matter: In the murky area where reality blurs into fiction on BH90210, there’s scarcely a difference.
It’s not all perfect: A promising spooky stalker plot fizzled offscreen a few episodes back, while Gabrielle Carteris’ also-intriguing exploration of her sexuality amounted to sleeping with practically the first gay woman she came across (played by Elise, who also played Emily Valentine on the original show). It’s straight-up annoying that Spelling’s husband only appreciates her professional efforts after he hears validation from the male members of the cast. Priestley is sent off on an ill-advised vacation, but that’s only because he’s spending time behind the camera to direct the actual episode.
But these sticking points likely hardly mattered to viewers caught up in BH90210’s fake/real-life soap opera. Somehow, the new show pulled off being both a valentine to fans and a send-up of the show they fell for in the first place. If these six episodes are all we get, well, there are probably even more meta nods and wisecracks to catch on the rewatch. This final episode pointedly starts with Ziering’s reference to the “legacy key,” a 90210 season-three plot device in which Steve received unrestricted access to West Beverly’s archives. It’s a perfect example of the reboot’s meta-ness—the legacy of the legacy key—as well as a nod to the new legacy that BH90210 offers the original show: an over-the-top 90210 wrapup that was almost as fun as it was unexpected.