Sunday, September 14, 2008

90210: Episode 1: "We're Not in Kansas Anymore"

Original air: 2 September 2008
Written by: Darren Star (with help from developers Jeff Judah, Gabe Sachs, and Rob Thomas)
Directed by: Mark Piznarski

Ahoy! Before we begin this trek, let me disappoint you up-front! This episode is only the first half of what I like to call 90210's "happy hour" premier. That is, the CW took 90210's first two hour-long episodes and packaged them together as a two-hour series premier. (Two for one, get it? Get it?)

(Feel free to skip this: The teleplay of the first half was written by Darren Star, the original creator of BH90210, along with some other guys. Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, may or may not have had much to do with this, but his name is on it, so take that for what it's worth. Gabe Sachs worked on Freaks and Geeks. Jeff Judah is basically Gabe Sachs, since they work on all the same stuff. Rinse, repeat for those two. The director was Mark Piznarski, who directed the pilot of VMars, among other things, and is probably the namesake of Season 3's controversial Piz.)

The show opens on a montage of sweltering Beverly Hills vistas: Rodeo Drive, hills, cars, you get the idea. Inside one of these cars is a family: two teenage children, one of each sex; two middle-age parents, one of each sex. In the background is a mixture of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida (When I Ruled the World)" and the whines of the teenage boy lamenting how much it sucks that they have to move to California from Kansas.

Whoa. Rewind. If this setup sounds familiar, it should. Two teenage siblings? Check. Two parents? Check. Moving west to Beverly Hills? Check. Siblings are the same age? Seems like.

The litmus test for whether this is BH90210: are the siblings twins? If you're watching along at home, you know that unless some very odd Punnett squares are in play here, these siblings are not twins. The girl is caucasian; the boy is African-American. That's right folks, the writers found an alternative to the twin device: ADOPTION! But back to the story.

The kid, Dixon, is lamenting his fate. His sister Annie, formerly Darcy on Degrassi: The Next Generation, is lamenting her fate (she left behind a boyfriend and a lead role in the school play). Their mother Debbie, formerly Aunt Becky on Full House, is lamenting her children. Their father Harry, formerly some other character on Melrose Place (another spin-off of BH90210), is making fun of them by pretending to be homosexual. Soon thereafter, in a combination of a subtle "Don't talk to us during school hours, all right?" and a not-so-subtle "Yeah, Mr. Principal" that was probably looped in when the focus groups didn't catch on immediately, we (finally) learn the reason for this move:

Harry is going to be the new principal at West Beverly Hills High (hereafter, WBHH).

Because the high school principal of WBHH doesn't make enough to actually buy a house in BH, they'll be living in Harry's mother's mansion. She's an alcoholic actress who made millions flashing her bidness in the '70s. This is basically all explained by Dixon, who's inadvertantly (we assume) seen his adopted grandma's downstairs mix-up on late-night t.v.

That night by the pool, Dixon and Darcy, I mean Annie, discuss their apprehensions about the next day at school. Dixon tells Annie that she's hot, but not before they discuss some guy she made out with in BH a couple of years ago and the Kansasian boyfriend she's stringing along. Annie's measuring up to be the model of an average girl. There really isn't any information in this scene that couldn't have been wedged in elsewhere.

Home again, home again: an exterior montage of West Beverly Hills High. This is basically the same kind of montage you'd see at Neptune High or Sunnydale High. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this were stock footage. Walking into campus, Dixon checks out the hotties while Annie spots Ethan, the guy whose tonsils she slapshotted a couple summers back. She sees him in his car and waves hello, but he freaks out and zips up as a girl rises from beneath the dash. He'd been getting a hummer! At school! Zounds! Annie isn't quite sure how to process the information, so let's go see how her brother is doing.

Dixon arrives in journalism class, where we are introduced to a new character: Navid (nah-veeeeeeed). This guy seems to know Dixon's entire history, under the auspices of doing a story on the new principal's kid. We can all see in the very bad screenshot that he also takes a second to drop his eyes and check out the stats that weren't in Dixon's permanent file, if you know what I'm saying. Navid chats with Dixon about lacrosse and then solidifies his very gay vibe by mentioning some spotlight that shines out of Ethan's ass.

The morning's broadcast begins with a welcome from Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez. The screen reads "Breaking News New Principal". Really? That's breaking news? How'd you like to be the school that didn't know they were getting a new principal until the first bell rings on the first day.

BH90210 REWIND: In one of the school's many classrooms, a teacher says, "What is that girl, like thirty?" referring to Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez. One of the original BH90210 criticisms was that many of its actors (especially the actress who played Andrea Zuckerman) were almost 30 when the show premiered. Apparently as a response to this, the creators of 90210 have placed Andrea's near-illegitimate daughter, Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez, as a student at WBHH. She should be about 14 or 15 according to the show's chronology, but apparently has been cursed with whatever genetic anomalies made her mother appear to be 30 while she was still in high school. End REWIND.

The next scenes reveal the following:
  • The teacher is a too-cool jerk.
  • A girl exactly like Cordelia Chase (but blonde) attends WBHH. Her name is Naomi.
  • Naomi has a term paper one week overdue.
  • Kelly Taylor from BH90210 is the guidance counselor at WBHH.
  • Principal Harry Wilson moved to Kansas to escape Beverly Hills attitudes.
Naomi and her crew are leaving class talking about how poorly Annie dresses, when Annie runs up. The too-cool jerk teacher had suggested Naomi show Annie around, and when Annie mentions this to Naomi and identifies it as a type of punishment, Naomi calls the teacher a bitch, suddenly has a change of heart, and becomes eager to hang out with the new girl, regardless of her poverty.

Ethan arrives at this point, and when Naomi kisses him, Annie realizes that Ethan and Naomi are dating. Struggling through a reintroduction made more awkward by his sunrise bj, Ethan calls over Adrianna, the lead in WBHH's school play, to draw the attention off himself. Adrianna and Annie chat about Annie's lead role in her play back in Kansas, but when Annie is too embarrassed to tell Adrianna what play she was going to star in, she has a weird sort of flashback sequence where she sings a few bars of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" (see screenshot). With that out of the way, Ethan and Naomi walk off one way, Adrianna walks off another, and Annie is left in the middle of the hallway. A teacher asks here if she's lost and Annie replies:


And now... the moment we've all been waiting for for ten minutes and five seconds...

The familiar notes of BH90210's opening sound out, though heavier on the guitar. Flashing sequences of friends and fun with weird overlays. More guitar. Less brass and woodwind. The visual style of the opening is similar enough to the old-school opening, and the song is almost identical, though the mood has changed a little--a bit more modern, a bit more mature. Will that be the running theme for this new take on an American classic?

More to come.

1 comment:

distant said...

Darcy looks kind of like Mickey Mouse in that last picture.