Saturday, September 06, 2008

TV RECAP: "90210" (Ep. 1 + 2)

I have to start by saying that I've never watched more than a couple of minutes of the original "Beverly Hills, 90210." I was more of a "Saved by the Bell," "Family Matters," "Boy Meets World," "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" kind of girl. But I'm always game to try out a new teen dramedy to see if it can fill the void that "The O.C." left behind. However, if you have "Gossip Girl," why bother, right?

The CW was smart to premier two episodes back-to-back. It gave viewers the chance to see many layers of the characters and get passed the intro stage. So, what did we learn?

Annie and Dixon are the lead teen characters, who've moved from Witchita, Kansas to Beverly Hills because their dad, the new principal, needs to keep an eye on their hilarious, sassy, alcoholic grandmother Tabitha. Annie's your average girl next door, who is shocked by things like oral sex in broad daylight and using private jets instead of the highway to go to San Francisco. Shenae Grimes does a very good job of portraying a wide-eyed, small town gal. But lucky for her, the boys of Cali don't discriminate. In fact, Ethan, a jock she kissed a few summers ago, is still holding a torch for her even though he's dating Naomi, the Queen B. At first, you get the feeling that he'll stick with Naomi for a while since they have so much history, but once she breaks up with her long-distance boyfriend, all bets seem to be off. Not only does she go on a date to San Fran with Ty, a fellow theater geek, but she inspires Ethan to reconnect with his self-respect.

Her adopted brother, Dixon, got into a little trouble in the first episode O.C.-style, pissing off a fellow team player by being better at lacrosse than him--he's such a little bitch. The douche claimed Dixon attacked him and ordered Ethan to back him up, resulting in Dixon getting banned from the team. But once Annie reminded Ethan that she once liked him for being "frighteningly honest," a phrase he managed to recall from memory when asked to, he righted the wrong. Remembering things from their brief encounters summers ago is a recurring theme with him. He also recalled the time they won a stuffed pentopus (five-armed octopus) at a carnival, then claimed he had no idea where it was present day. While I am confused as to why he was the one who went home with it, I did think it was sweet that he tried to give it to her after breaking up with Naomi. It's rare that TV teens start relationships after finishing the one they're already in. Unfortunately, Ty snuck over to give her a goodnight kiss ruining the moment.

As for Naomi, well, she has her own problems. I expected her to be the perfect model of a grade-A bitch, but she's actually a perfect example of a snob who doesn't know she's a snob. In fact, she's so dense that the principal managed to use reverse psychology on her to get her to do an English paper that she'd previously stolen from Annie. All he had to do was say that her parents didn't think she could do it, but he believed she was smart enough. She's just another misunderstood, underappreciated, overly dramatic (slapped Ethan pretty hard when she found out he was cheating), spoiled brat...with potential.

Silver (Kelly's step sister), however, would beg to differ. Apparently, way back in the day when Silver and Naomi were bffs, she found out that her dad was cheating on her recovering alcoholic of a mom. Naomi spread it all over school. Silver's parents got a divorce and her mom promptly hit the bottle...hard. So Silver grew up to be an extremely bitter outcast, who has a very well-designed Perez-like blog where she bashes her peers via video and mocking spoofs in the form of puppets and animation. She's sort of a more vicious version of the only other minority on the series, Navid, who has his own TMZ-like publication and directing aspirations that he inherited from his porn-king father. But, while I would love to back the rebel-with-a-cause, she's as quick to judge as Naomi is, except way more sensitive. Naomi may have dismissed Annie at first because of her clothes and background, but Silver assumed that if Annie chose to hang with Naomi, then it was a direct rejection of her. I'm all for forgive-and-forget, but if I were Annie, I'd nix the small town values when it comes to school-wide humiliation in the form of being animated into cow-loving white trash. It really didn't even phase me when Silver tried to make up for it by getting her a small part in the choir of the school's Spring Awakening play that she was dying to participate in. Big deal. You still suck.

Adriana, the main choir singer with hopes of Hollywood fame to pay off her mom's mounting bills, probably hates her too, but not as much as I'm sure she'll hate Annie in the future. She gives me the feeling that she won't let anything get in the way of her future. She's definitely a trainwreck in making. She already has the drug abuse down, and showcased her thievery skills when she stole two hundred bucks from Naomi to pay off her dealer. I wonder if her present is as interesting as Dixon's past. There have only been allusions so far, but apparently one of the other reasons they left Kansas was to get away from his dangerous parents. Hmm. I wonder if it'll be anything like the O.C.-Atwood reunion. There is a definite difference between the two though. Dixon has been with them for 8 years now, which lightens up the drama. He's not a thug or a common criminal straight out of juvy, so there's none of that awkward-Ryan-silence that needs to be tempered by a funny dork. Dixon is genuinely interested in integrating into this family. He even took up lacrosse to cultivate a relationship with his step dad. But seriously, if there isn't one reference to his childhood before Christmas, then his story arc is shot.

Now for the grown ups. Most people--of the older generation--tuned in to see how Brenda and Kelly were going to interact. It turns out that Brenda returns a world-traveler and accomplished actress--despite the fact that no one on the streets or in the school seemed to recognize her--and is planning to direct the school's play. Her relationship with Kelly, the school counselor, seems really chummy, so much so that she offered to babysit so that Kelly could go on a date with Ryan, the very cute and very young English teacher. He seems to have a crush on her that borders on Pacey Witter/Seth Cohen-like dorkiness. While he is very smooth with his students, he stumbles over his words when trying to win over Kelly and even mumbles a "See ya...never. Oh god!" after striking out. Lucky for him, she likes him too and he managed to score a night out with her after practically begging.

The only other handsome gentleman in the series is the principal, Harry Wilson. Normally, in the vein of Mr. Belding, you would not expect much storyline from him. Besides struggling to separate his fatherly duties from his principal duties, he should be your run-of-the-mill authority figure. But unfortunately, he grew up in Beverly Hills, which means that all of his past demons lie in wait, including an ex-girlfriend, Naomi's mom, who dropped a lovely bomb on him: they have a 20-something-year-old son who was adopted--ironic much. In any other series, he would've locked that secret up tight, but instead he told his wife the next morning and they're going to deal with it together. Let's see how long they can keep up this small town, family values schtick, especially with Grandma Tabitha around, who advised Dixon to twist that lacrosse player's balls off. My kind of grandma.

Overall, I think the show has potential as long as it pursues certain storylines in a fresh way and tries not to go for the cliched, money-shots. So, yes to the musical cameos, but no to moments like when Annie told Dixon "This aint Kansas no mo." You adopted a black kid, but you are not allowed to imitate stereotypes. Speaking of which, thank you Tristan Wilds for maintaining a balance between your culture and the one that your character was adopted into and not embodying a caricature. Hopefully, we'll see a few more minorities on the series, since it is California and it is 2008.

What did you think of the first two episodes?

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