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For LI fans, 'Beverly Hills, 90210' will always be in their hearts

From left, Gabrielle Carteris, Tori Spelling, Brian Austin

From left, Gabrielle Carteris, Tori Spelling, Brian Austin Green, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth and Ian Ziering of Fox's "BH90210." Credit: Fox / Brian Bowen Smith

Seems like yesterday when Esme Mazzeo was thinking about "Beverly Hills, 90210," the Fox soap that wrapped nearly 20 years ago. It was in fact yesterday, also the week before, and the one before that, too. This Baldwin native has lived with "90210" all summer, in that alt-reality virtual bubble so peculiar to the way we consume TV nowadays, otherwise known as the "recap."

As a writer for Romper, the popular mom-oriented culture site, Mazzeo has resurrected the original "90210" episode by episode, plot twist by plot twist, character by character (there were 212 with speaking parts over its 1990-2000 run). There are enough to keep her — and her daily blog at Tell-Tale TV — preoccupied for the next 10 years.  

Mazzeo, 30, came late to her professional obsession. "I'm about a generation behind the people that grew up on" the show, she says, recalling that "I was 12 when it ended but definitely remember babysitters making me watch it and being grossed out. Eventually, I watched reruns on Soapnet and then streamed the whole series when that became possible."

At some point, gross-out gave way to devotion, but "I couldn't tell you exactly the age when I started appreciating it," she says. "As I get older it has nostalgic vibes for me."

Mazzeo is hardly alone in the cultural wilderness, hardly alone on Long Island either. Kelley Virag of Cold Spring Harbor launched the Facebook group, "Beverly Hills, 90210 Obsessed" a few years back with the stated purpose of trying "to get as many likes as we can to get Beverly Hills 90210 picked up on another network!" Mission accomplished and then some. "BH 90210," the re-imagining — "reboot" doesn't seem quite right — returns to Fox next Wednesday with the original cast but for one grievous omission. Luke Perry died in March at the age of 52.

Unlike Mazzeo, Virag can trace her "90210" ardor almost to the minute — a minute way back in the '90s, when the world seemed forever young and the great issue of the day could be summed up in one pressing and deeply urgent question: Can Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Dylan (Perry) last? 

"My love for '90210' started in the 4th grade, and when I watched it I had to wrap my TV antenna with foil to get reception," she says. "I remember going to my local Genovese (pharmacy) and begging my mom for the lunch box, thermos, pencils and anything '90210'-related for school and she happily agreed because she watched it too. Later on I had '90210' bed sheets and all the dolls and all the posters on my wall. I couldn’t get enough."

She still can't: "I now have original scripts from the show with the cast autographs on them. They're my favorite memorabilia to this day."

Whether there's a little bit of Long Island in "Beverly Hills, 90210" or a little bit of "90210" in Long Island is unclear, or just another one of those questions that quickly become an exercise in TV trivial pursuit — or one that could be asked of countless other communities as well. (Obvious answer: There's a little bit of '90210" in all of them!)

But what is abundantly clear is that the ties that bound one to the other all those years ago haven't entirely frayed. In some instances, they're stronger than ever. "Why" does in fact seem like a reasonable question. In the early '90s there were three and a half networks, with the 1/2 network looking to erase that deficiency. Fox went after teens and "90210" took them seriously. Sex, cancer, condoms, AIDS, gun violence, drugs, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia were just a few of the issues splashed across an Aaron Spelling canvas otherwise packed with palm trees, beaches, mansions, couture and cars.

Just eight core cast members ruled the kingdom, but they ruled as none before or since. For a brief period from around 1992 to 1995, "Beverly Hills, 90210" was far and away the most famous TV show on the planet, with Brenda/Dylan the chief rivals to Charles/Diana. Fox was unprepared for the fame but fame of this magnitude was something that you can't exactly prepare for either. Luke Perry and Jason Priestley had to be smuggled out of fan meet-and-greets, in one instance, via a laundry hamper. Brian Austin Green was evacuated from one free-for-all in an armored car. Fox ordered 30 episodes a season to keep up with the voracious demand. The original producer, Charles Rosin — who along with his wife, Karen, was the chief architect of the teen-issue-a-week formula that made "90210" so utterly irresistible — was burned out by the fifth season.

By May 17, 2000, when Fox was ready to turn out the lights, and when David (Green) and Donna (Tori Spelling) finally announced their engagement, and long after the bitter answer to the urgent question had arrived (Brenda, Dylan? Sooo done), the heat had subsided. Fans had moved on, but their hearts hadn't entirely. Like a supernova that exploded galaxies away, we are still receiving light emissions from that distant event. We still care even if we don't realize that we do. Some of us still remember what we were doing the fateful night of the fateful prom when Brenda lost her virginity to you-know-who. 

Some of us look back wistfully. It was so much — what's that word — simpler back then. 

An illusion or otherwise, this nostalgic vibe may best explain the lingering appeal. Long Island was simpler back then, too. The traffic may have been just as bad, the malls just as crowded, and the high schools still a jungle, but "90210" seemed to offer an uncanny reflection of the tumult: the cliques, the rich kids, the cool kids, the smart kids, the out-of-town or new-to-town kids. The core eight were prototypes, recognizable figures in a tumult of faces. They spoke to Long Islanders of a certain age, and spoke loudly.

 They still do. "It’s so nostalgic and it feels like 'home' when I watch it," says Virag, who has watched the 10 seasons multiple times. 

Then there is Robin Halpern, who grew up in Merrick and now lives in Syosset with her husband and three kids — two boys, aged 11 and 8, and a girl, 5. Unlike Mazzeo and Virag, she doesn't produce blogs or moderate Facebook groups, but she still cherishes memories of long ago Wednesdays, when 8 p.m. rolled around and the rest of the world was put on hold for one hour. 

"I watched from the first episode on," she recalls. "We swooned over the boys and all wanted to be the girls. They were role models for us and they were going through some of the same growing pains we were. It was like having friends during a tough period, one of the toughest periods, of your teen life. 

"We learned about teen pregnancy from Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) and about drugs, and eating disorders. Those are real topics, real issues, still today, but some of those things felt taboo back then, and it helped us to realize that you could talk about this with your friends. I was lucky and grew up in an enclave of Long Island that didn't have the most dramatic version of these issues, but you still needed to be aware of them." 

Will she watch the rebirth launching Wednesday night? (Seriously, do you even need to ask?)

"Oh definitely. It will be on my DVR, and I'll put my kids to bed, and it will be a guilty pleasure. I will force my husband to watch at least one episode. He will probably secretly enjoy it." 

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH 'BH90210?'

The "90210" gang is all back, but what exactly do we (or Fox) mean by "all" and "back?" Therein lies both the mystery and allure of this unusual reboot, which may, in fact, not even be a reboot at all.

Fox announced this last spring in a rather cryptic release saying "the seven former teen idols will be playing heightened versions of themselves in the brand-new serialized drama — with a healthy dose of irreverence — that is inspired by their real lives and relationships with each other." The eighth former idol, Luke Perry, was also expected to join. He died in March at the age of 52 from a stroke.

"BH90210" was the inspiration of Tori Spelling, who plays Donna in the show, who came up with the idea of an "event" series, as opposed to a full-blown remake, and also with the idea of "heightened versions" of the cast's original characters. This means they'll play themselves, and play their characters.

Now, get your head around that.

"You'll be seeing Kelly and David and Donna and Brandon and everyone as you think you wanted to see them but only older," said Jennie Garth in a recent interview with "ET." "So it might freak people out. Freaked me out."

Fox has been parsimonious with details, instead ladling fans with a series of amusing promos that poke fun at the franchise and the franchisees — Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Spelling. It's fair to assume the reboot, or re-imagining, or re-something will embrace the same tone. The entire six-episode run in fact "is inspired by their real lives and relationships with each other." Does that mean "Sharknado" (Ziering) and "The Masked Singer" (Spelling, who was the Unicorn) will get a plug? Who knows?

Here's what we do know, per Fox: "Having gone their separate ways since the original series ended 19 years ago, Jason, Shannen, Jennie, Ian, Gabrielle, Brian and Tori reunite when one of them suggests it’s time to get a 'Beverly Hills, 90210' reboot up and running. But getting it going may make for an even more delicious soap than the reboot itself. What will happen when first loves, old romances, friends and frenemies come back together, as this iconic cast — whom the whole world watched grow up together — attempts to continue from where they left off?

Then there is this: Perry, arguably the beating heart of this franchise all those years ago, will be honored in a tribute during the first episode. — VERNE GAY

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