WHEN|WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox/5
WHAT IT'S ABOUT On the 20th anniversary since "Beverly Hills, 90210" wrapped, original cast member Tori Spelling has an incredibly great idea. (It's actually not quite the 20th anniversary, but — well, just play along). What about a reboot of the original? Everyone else is rebooting, she reasons. Why not "90210?" Her motives in fact are pecuniary. (In Hollywood, aren't they always?) Her reality show has tanked, and she has six kids to feed, or as she puts it to her former castmate, Jennie Garth, "Do you know how much college bribery money I'm gonna need?"
Most of the original cast gets together for a reunion show in Las Vegas, and just before they go on stage, Jason Priestley says, "Come on, we're all thinking it: This is weird." Gabrielle Carteris: "I can't believe we're all here." Priestley: "I wish that were true."
Luke Perry, who was expected to join this six-parter, died in March at age 52. The rest of the core eight are here, including Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, and Shannen Doherty. Since wrapping "90210" all those years ago, they've each gone on with their lives, and there's little interest in a reboot — at first. But Tori, like her dad, knows a good idea when she has one.
MY SAY Nine years ago, MTV's "The Hills" wrapped by telling fans that they had been hornswoggled all along. Cameras pulled back to reveal the vast movie set where the supposedly "real" lives had been "lived" by the cast, and while fans knew all along they had been hornswoggled, this reveal just made things official. It also put the meta in meta, and air quotes around reality TV ever since. Love and marriage are really just "love" and "marriage" in the addled context of "The Bachelor." "American Idol" is and especially was about finding the "greatest" singer ever. Judge Judy only cares about "truth" and "justice." "The Real Housewives" absolutely, positively are "real."
Fans get that they've bought into an artifice, and they get that the objects of their fascination are real people pretending to be real. Now enter "BH90210" which takes this implicit bargain one big, questionable step further: The original characters of "90210" were played by real people and now those "real" people — or comically heightened versions of their real selves — want to play their fake characters all over again. That's the whole setup, and the whole six-part series. It's an inversion of an inversion, a joke within a joke, an artifice inside another artifice inside another one.
If this sounds a little too clever for its own good, or a little too meta for its own good — a Russian doll of a series that scene by scene reveals the "true" lives of once-beloved actors but reveals them to diminishing returns — then you've begun to get a sense of what went wrong here. And if this also sounds like a series with a built-in gimmick designed to avoid the embarrassment of a full-on reboot, then you've got a clearer idea still.
"BH90210" in fact, isn't bad as much as regrettable. There is (in fact) a jauntiness to the enterprise, and looseness, along with a lot of nods, winks and air quotes around just about everything and everyone. Ian Ziering did turn out to be Steve Sanders after all. Jennie Garth was Kelly Taylor too. Perhaps Gabrielle Carteris has Sapphic desires much as Andrea Zuckerman may or may not once have had. The inside jokes pile up — a few of them actually funny — and there's an undeniable pleasure in revisiting this show and this cast.
Except, of course, it's not the real "show" or "cast," but a bunch of actors pretending to be themselves, and probably wondering in the meantime whether the paycheck will be worth the aggravation.
Kelly, (umm "Jennie") gets to the heart of the problem, or one of them, when she says of the proposed reboot that "You can't go home again." She then forgets who said the quote in the first place because "I went to a fake high school."
BOTTOM LINE "BH90210" unintentionally makes the case why there must never be a "Friends" reboot or reunion show. Ever.