I swore I was only going to watch it once — and I had myself convinced that I was telling the truth. The idea of a Beverly Hills 90210 spin-off made little sense to me, and it was pretty much a given that it was going to be bad.
And, of course, it is kind of bad. The girls are too skinny, and the student population is too white. The school seems to have only one teacher. The brilliant Jessica Walter is reduced to a cartoon Lucille Bluth. And where’s the West Beverly Gay-Straight Alliance?
Nevertheless, 90210 has been on long enough to find its groove, and I’m hooked.
I do take a little comfort in the knowledge that there’s at least one person I respect who also likes the show. Diablo Cody wrote a paean to 90210 in Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago, complete with suggestions to make it edgier. (Her primary suggestion is to “Brendify” it, i.e., to increase the stupid behavior/self-destruction quotient.)
And I know how they got me: The show led with über-notstalgia. Kelly Taylor was all over the place.
Baby Erin (now known just as Silver because she’s a rebel) is one of the main characters. And then there was a drunken Jackie Taylor cameo. Brenda was back. Kelly and Brenda even hung out at the Peach Pit — with Nat!
Yes, it makes no sense that Kelly is a guidance counselor. And unless absent parenting is genetically pre-determined, it is completely unbelievable that Dylan Mckay would be such a crappy father to Kelly’s baby. But still, they threw the old-school fans a whole lot of bones.
The new characters have their charms. Lori Loughlin, as Annie’s mom, is hot. And Annie, although a bit smarmy, is still cute and appealing. (Silver certainly seems to think so. Is it really Annie’s brother she wants?) And Naomi and Adriana, when not behaving as soap-opera villains, demonstrate a fair amount of complexity as they deal with quasi-realistic rich kid problems: divorce, drug abuse, the sudden appearance of a previously unknown half-brother.
The final hook for me, though, may be the South of Nowhere-esqueness of the show.
We have the earnest Midwestern girl with the adopted African-American brother. (I’m hoping Rudy Huxtable turns up as his long-lost mother.) Midwestern girl immediately is drawn to the rebel girl and has a complex relationship with the queen bee. There’s even a mysterious half-sibling, à la Kyla. And then, of course, there’s Maeve Quinlan, as the bizarro Paula Carlin.
I realize, of course, that the better description is that South of Nowhere is evocative of Beverly Hills 90210, and that the fish-out-of-water paradigm is standard television fodder. (Weren’t Brenda and Brandon Walsh really just the ’90s Elly May and Jed Clampett?) But still, the similarity was eerie enough that I found it mildly surreal when South of Nowhere came back on the air and I was watching both shows simultaneously.
If only Annie and Silver would fulfill their Spashley destiny.
Are you still watching?