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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
90210 (The CW)
(written by Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah; 65 pages)
The network's description: "An edgy, contemporary spin-off of the iconic drama "Beverly Hills, 90210," the new 90210 looks at life through the eyes of Annie Mills (Shenae Grimes, "Degrassi: The Next Generation") and her brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds, "The Wire"), whose first day at West Beverly Hills High School leaves no doubt they're not in Kansas anymore. The Mills family, including dad Harry (Rob Estes, "Women's Murder Club") and mom Debbie (Lori Loughlin, "Summerland"), has relocated to Beverly Hills to keep an eye on Harry's mother Tabitha (Jessica Walter, "Arrested Development"), a feisty-but-faded former television star and a charter member of the Betty Ford Clinic. For Annie and Dixon, the awkwardness of being the new kids is made worse by the fact that their dad has taken a job as the high school principal. The school is one big culture shock for Annie, a sweet and friendly girl with a passion for the theater, and Dixon, a star athlete and scholar who was adopted by the Mills family after they took him in as a foster child. Annie and Dixon have a close sibling relationship, which they'll need to help them cope with all the new cliques and classmates, including Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord, "Nip/Tuck"), a hot, spoiled, rich girl; Ethan (Dustin Milligan, "Runaway"), a popular jock whose abilities rival Dixon's; Navid (Michael Steger, "The Winner"), an aspiring reporter who heads up the school's daily newscast; and Silver (Jessica Stroup, "Prom Night"), a rebel who produces and stars in a YouTube-type video series. Even the faculty seems hip and sophisticated at WBHHS, such as smart and funny teacher Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold, "Dirt") and beautiful guidance counselor Kelly Taylor (guest star Jennie Garth, the original "Beverly Hills, 90210"). The Mills family has just begun to realize how much their lives are about to change. 90210 is produced by CBS Paramount Network Television with executive producers Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah ("Freaks & Geeks"). Mark Piznarski ("Gossip Girl") is the director and executive producer of the pilot."
What did they leave out: A lot of the winks to the original show - such as Naomi's house being the Spelling Mansion, the Peach Pit turning out to be a Pinkberry-esque yogurt shop, a reveal that Silver is David Silver's niece, etc. - from Rob Thomas's previous drafts have been dropped or (presumably) postponed for later on in the series.
The plot in a nutshell: The Mills - dad Harry (Rob Estes), mom Celia (Lori Loughlin), daughter Annie (Shenae Grimes) and adopted son Dixon (Tristan Wilds) - have packed up the minivan and are moving from Wichita, Kansas to Beverly Hills, California. It seems Harry's mom Tabitha (Jessica Walter) - a former actress/'70s sex symbol - has gone a little batty in her golden years. And so, after refusing to sell her house or allow strangers in to take care of her, Harry's decided to pick up the family and move in with her. Not surprisingly the kids are less than thrilled with the change - Dixon isn't looking forward to being "the black guy" at school while Annie had to leave her boyfriend and the lead role in the school play behind. Making matters worse - Harry has accepted the job of principal at Annie and Dixon's new school - the infamous West Beverly High, his alma mater. And so on their first day of school, Annie and Dixon are brought up to speed on - not to mention puzzled by - the social landscape of this strange land of beautiful people: lacrosse captain Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan) and girlfriend
Naomi Bennett (AnnaLynne McCord) are the king and queen of the popular crowd; Noami's best friend/theatre goddess Adrianna (yet to be cast) is Ethan's girl on the side who's nursing a Seconal/Halcion/Xanax addiction; and on the other end of the spectrum, Navid Shirazi (Michael Steger), the executive producer of the Blaze (the school's news broadcast), is the mayor of Nerdville.
Annie then is thrust into the former group after Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold), the resident "cool" teacher/lacrosse coach, asks Naomi - much to her chagrin - to take her under her wing. It's the singularly-named Silver (Jessica Stroup) however that seemingly offers her hand in non-teacher mandated friendship. She's witty, a little weird and above the trappings of high school - in other words the complete antithesis of Naomi ("If you need help practicing turning 'Wheel of Fortune' letters, I can totally carve out some time," she quips at Naomi). As for Dixon, he likewise finds himself trapped between two worlds - he bonds with Ethan after displaying his skills on the lacrosse field while Navid is impressed by Dixon's quiz bowl knowledge. Conversely the school's resident douche George Evans (also yet to be cast) isn't thrilled about Dixon's rising star and drags him into a fight - with Ethan as the only witness as to who started it. And lastly, Harry gets the lay of the land from Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), a teacher/fellow alum - who warns him the last two principals had heart attacks - just as Naomi's parents, Charles and Tracy (both faces from Harry's high school past), arrive to protest their daughter's recent incomplete in Ryan's class. It's Dixon and Annie's problems though that continue to pile up - Dixon gets kicked off the team after Ethan refuses to come forward; Annie gets caught after Naomi sweet talks her into writing her term paper on "The Great Gatsby"; and Silver (thinking Annie has blown her off) has just decided to lampoon both of them for her video blog. This all of course builds up to "the big dance" (or in this case Naomi's "La Dolce Vita"-themed birthday bash) in which all the various plots come to head - and plenty of secrets get revealed - to give us the new status quo at West Beverly High.
What works: Soaps are often tough to get a feel for via the script alone. Dialogue like "Oh I know you want to 'F' me. But what grade are you giving me?" or "Just getting my lacrosse stick waxed." can either can come across as joyously campy on one end or decidedly silly on the other depending upon the world set up by the cast, director and so forth. The same goes for the mind-boggling amount of plot twists (one of which is a major dozy) - again, it's too early to tell if they're all going to fit into this new "90210" universe. What I can tell you is the CW's "90210" is very much in the spirit of the early days of the FOX show as two morally centered Midwestern kids are thrust into a decidedly moral free world. It also not surprisingly takes a cue from "Gossip Girl" and "The O.C." by making the parents fun and giving them solid storylines, not to mention integrates today's technology staples without being too obtrusive. Everyone is also wisely not painted in just black and white - most lean in one direction or another but have a certain aspect that humanizes them. There's also a solid sense that "the adults" on the show are trying to teach "the kids" morality even though they struggle with their own; as well as a recurring question about how today's celebrity-obsessed youth will transition into adulthood. In other words, this isn't just an excuse to have good looking people trade beds and fight - it runs a little deeper than that. That coupled with some fun twists - Jessica Walter's Tabitha should be a hoot - plus a slightly self-aware sense of humor and you have all the makings of a great show.
What doesn't: As mentioned above, it's difficult to tell how this show will look and feel in practice. Part of the charm of the original "90210" was/is that it was very much of its time - the haircuts, the music, the storytelling, the concept of celebrity, etc. In the eight years since all of those things have changed, meaning this new "90210" could go in one of three ways - be "90210" in name only and coast by as just another soap; be so disastrously bad that it exposes a flimsiness in the original's concept; or find that intangible thing that made the original show a hit and reinvent it for today's audience. Sachs and Judah showed in their short-lived ABC drama "Life As We Know It" they have a unique perspective on growing up so...
The bottom line: ... I'm definitely hoping it's the latter scenario.