The All-Pilot Project

The All-Pilot Project: 90210 (Sept 4)

What is the All-Pilot Project? That’s a good hypothetical question. You see, we here at spunkybean love TV, but as with all love, there is a dark, often smelly, underside. For every Lost, there is an According to Jim. For every Project Runway, a Married by America. And for every Frisky Dingo, an Assy McGee.

But it is our belief that one can only truly appreciate something like The Office if one has experienced Cavemen. And so, continuing a tradition that began last fall on A Nickel for the Swear Jar, spunkybean will watch and review every network pilot. There’s a chance we’ll find gold and discover a great show that we never would have watched otherwise, like last year’s Dirty Sexy Money or Aliens in America. We might find something hilariously bad, like Moonlight, weird like Viva Laughlin, or so awful that it makes all other TV look better by virtue of its existence. (We are looking at you, Nashville.)

A new season can be scary, with its new schedules, shows you’ve never seen before with generic titles, and yet another attempt on CBS’ part to convince us that we want to see Simon Baker on a weekly basis. Rest easy, for we are here to gently hold your hand and walk you through a field of turds to the sweet delicious blueberry pie that awaits your hungry eyes. We are aware that was a terrible metaphor, but we don’t care. This is the All-Pilot Project, after all. There’s no time to traffic in carefully-worded allegory. That Knight Rider premiere isn’t going to watch itself, you know.

And so, spunkybean is proud to present The All-Pilot Project!


The CW, Tuesday, 8 PM

The Premise: It’s a return to the world of Beverly Hills 90210, the classic teen drama that spawned a genre. Once again, it follows a family from a rural state who’ve moved to America’s most famous zip code. Actually, now that I think about it “Wilson” and “Walsh” are not that far apart…

The Personnel: Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is one of the producers, and co-wrote the pilot. His co-writers are Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, who wrote for Freaks and Geeks. Original 90210 creator Darren Star is credited with the pilot teleplay, but I’m not sure if that’s just because of its similarities to the first episode of the original series or whether he produced new work for the episode. The cast includes 80’s luminaries like Rob Estes and Lori Loughlin, as well as newer stars like Tristan Wilds (The Wire) and AnnaLynne McCord (Nip/Tuck), and even 90210 alumni like Jennie Garth, Shannen Doherty, and Joe E. Tata. And best of all, Jessica Walters (Arrested Development) plays a drunk grandmother with all the zip we’ve come to expect from Lucille Bluth.

The Poop: Admittedly, I’m not the target audience for teen dramas. Of course, I’m not exactly averse to them, either. (Hello, OC Season One Box Set…) And maybe I’m just getting old, but was oral sex before the opening credits really necessary? (On the show, I mean.) Still, the first outing was surprisingly enjoyable.

The Wilsons, including adopted son Dixon, move to Beverly Hills from Wichita when dad Harry gets a job as the principal at West Beverly High. We’re introduced to an absolutely insane number of characters in the first few minutes. I know the names of more people from Annie Wilson’s class than I do from my own graduating class. And Annie’s classmates are only slightly more clichéd.

Of course, being the CW, every clique looks kind of the same. Despite what they tell you, the outcasts are just as hot as the popular kids. All of the 15-year-olds in their 20’s are ridiculously good-looking, which is not how I remember high school. Also, it’s kind of difficult to immediately tell the teachers from the students. Or to tell the teachers from each other. There’s a lot of tousled dark hair in this bunch.

They don’t waste any time in laying down the subplots. We’ve got a theater girl who owes a lot of money to a drug dealer. We’ve got an angry bully of a lacrosse player. (You guys, lacrosse is totally the new water polo.) We’ve got a bitter (hot) outcast who runs a video blog about her classmates. (And not to nitpick, but half a million hits? On a high school blog?) We’ve got troubled rich boy who has a past with Annie and a predilection for parking lot delight. And we’ve got spoiled Mean Girl Naomi Clark, who first befriends Annie, then turns on her, then sort of befriends her again. The alliances shift quickly in this show.

Of course, with so many characters and drama tossed in to the mix so quickly, most of them didn’t have the chance to make any kind of impression. That’ll be less confusing as the season goes on, but there are far too many people crammed into the pilot. It’s a little exhausting. I’m still not sure who half the people are.

I can’t even summarize the plot of the pilot, as it buzzes in and out of the lives of a number of students and their parents, and I can’t tell who’s a regular and who’s a plot necessity. It mostly features the Wilson kids trying to adjust to their new school, both with multiple popularity ascents and descents in the first hour. There’s also a side plot about Naomi’s upcoming 16th birthday party and whether she’s too dumb to go to Yale. (By the way, the actress in question is actually 21. Considering how often she was naked when she appeared on Nip/Tuck last season, that’s for the best.)

On the whole, 90210 is really more clever than it needs to be, with a pretty liberal dose of Rob Thomas’ trademark wit. Not all of the young cast can pull it off, of course, but there are a few solid performers. Even with my limited knowledge of the original, I was happy to see Jennie Garth return as Kelly Taylor, now a guidance counselor. And the real standout is Jessica Walters. As Principal Wilson’s mother, she nails every scene with the dry bitchiness that made Lucille Bluth such a delight. I’m not sure if the writers particularly enjoy writing for her, or if her delivery is just that good, but every one of her scenes is hilarious. Let’s get her teaching a class as soon as possible!

There are some nice re-creations of the opening and interstitials from the original series, even if the updated theme music is watered-down and lame. I imagine I missed out on some references that fans of the original went nuts over, but even I caught the student reporter with the last name of “Zuckerman”.

It’s not great, and the second half of the two-hour opening seemed like a step down in quality. They add even more characters and subtract Rob Thomas. Other than Jessica Walters, nobody’s funny in the second half. Still, it’s perfectly watchable, and I’m sure its target audience will enjoy it a good deal more than I did. It’s certainly miles better than the sleazy, witless Gossip Girl.

The Prognosis: I’m not going to be a regular viewer, but it didn’t make me angry either. I could see catching it on slow TV nights, if only for the Adventures of Drunk Grandma. You could do a lot worse for teen drama, that’s for sure. All in all, not a bad start to 2008 season.

Share Button

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *