Revival Meeting

It’s official: nobody gets to see 90210 before the premiere. Not officially anyway. I guess it’s possible that the network really is just trying to build up hype for the show and isn’t embarrassed about it; advance word on the pilot script was good, and there are plenty of shows with much more to hide that do have screenings for critics. The network probably assumes that they’ve generated so much buzz for the show through their endless, relentless leaks to the press that any actual advance reviews would just dilute the buzz by focusing on the mundane question of whether the show is good or not. Maybe they’re right. But then this is the CW and it’s always dangerous to assume they’re right.

To me the biggest question about 90210 is whether the appearances by the old characters will prevent the new ones from establishing themselves. There’s more on this in the print article, but to approach it from a different angle than the article (so as not to self-plagiarize), there are two big, interconnected problems with bringing the original characters onto a revival, even in small or recurring parts. One is that the old characters are so well-established that the new characters, by definition not established yet, can look bad. The other is that disconnected from the original cast, the original characters don’t seem that great any more.

Here’s a weird comparison to 90210 but one that fits: Remember that WKRP revival that MTM produced for syndication in the early ’90s? The idea behind that show was that it was the same station with mostly new characters, but three characters from the original came back as regulars. The revival didn’t work for a whole bunch of reasons, but there were two things that went through my head when I watched it: one, that the presence of the familiar old characters made the new characters seem even worse by comparison, and two, the familiar old characters weren’t funny any more because they depended on their interactions with the other original characters to make them funny. This is one reason that spinoffs are so hard to do, that when you remove a beloved character from his surroundings, he’s no longer the same character. Joey on his own show was a terrible character because ten years’ worth of writing for Joey had been based on the presence of characters who weren’t there. Brenda and Kelly and, of course best of all, Nat are not the stars of the new 90210 revival/spinoff, but there’s the same danger there, that they will simultaneously be distractions and pale versions of their original selves. It would be the equivalent of having Sulu and Uhura pop up in a bunch of early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which, believe it or not, would have hurt the show worse than Wesley Crusher ever did.

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