September 9th, 2008
The only noteworthy thing about 90210’s third official episode is that there is nothing worth noting.
Okay, so I’m not going to end the blog post there, that seems like it would be a poor strategy. There’s actually a lot of little things that the show is doing right, but for the most part it is struggling to define itself as anything even close to memorable. The show just isn’t going out on any limbs here: while there is something very breezy and attractive about this universe, when the “big events” do take place they feel like plot devices and little else. The setup here is so transparent, so lifeless that it is the very definition of rote, and the only thing bringing any life to the equation is cameos and callbacks to the original series that I am purely ignorant to.
So while I actually think the cast is stepping up to the plate here, I can’t say that the producers are giving them enough to do.
I don’t want to be a broken record, but rewatching The O.C. has reminded me of its iconic imagery, its atmosphere that was so much about location and isolation. We were seeing a whole world through Ryan’s eyes, and here it just doesn’t feel that way. This is primarily because, for whatever reason, Annie and Dixon have completely bought into this new lifestyle. They were supposed to be fish out of water, but the second they stepped into their new lives they were wearing fancy clothes, having fancy friends, and completely switched into “Now we feel stifled by our parents’ love” mode. It’s a really quick transition, and one that I don’t buy – shouldn’t we be heading for Annie’s triumphant fall from grace, or Dixon’s descent into his former life, or some sort of drama that damages this inner circle?
If I had to prescribe a solution, I think the show needs less characters: if you look at The O.C.’s example (I swear, I’ll stop soon), it started out with a small core group of characters that expanded with time, eventually to the point of weakening the show severely. 90210, though, has started out with too many threads: you have the nostalgic adults, the parental adults, the bitchy children, the good children, the nerdy children, the damaged children, the cute guy, the other cute guy, and everything else you could imagine. While I understand that a large ensemble gives them a chance to play as many soap opera cliches as possible, which is in the original tradition of its namesake, nothing is landing.
The only thing that’s really clicking for me is largely because Tristan Wilds is just so damn charming – that smile, which we saw so little of on The Wire, is emerging in a way that makes his flirtations with Silver work. The problem is that it isn’t a narrative, it’s just an interaction: we didn’t get any sense that these two were going to be interested in one another, and there certainly isn’t anything outside of some base chemistry for us to presume that we should really care. Yes, Shanae Grimes is very charming, and Dustin Milligan just the right balance of kind and brooding to make the whole love triangle watchable, but whether or not it’s actually something I care about is sadly a completely different issue.
The rest of the episode just felt too simple: there’s Naomi’s strange family situation, Jennie Garth and Ryan Eggold showing some chemistry, our cameo from Mother Silver, the struggles to maintain family night, the all too casual demonstration of “hipness” through an early screening of the newest Bond film, and the fact that they actually repurposed the same establishing shot of Beverly Hills twice within about two minutes. All of these elements are generally speaking well acted, but none of them resonate: I don’t care, in other words, about any of it.
And I’m not sure if other people will: it will be curious to see how the ratings hold up this week, especially since it held up decently in its second hour. This time around, though, it has FOX’s buzzed about Fringe (Which I’ll be revisiting from my original preview later tonight) as competition, so it’s a whole new world…in the ratings, if not in the show’s plot.
- Seems kind of strange to immediately completely ignore Jessica Walter’s Grandmother character in only the show’s third episode, especially when she’s “supposed” to be the whole reason they’re even in Beverly Hills. It’s another example of the show’s setup really being pointless – within that opening scene of exposition in the premiere, apparently, we got all the setup we’re really going to get.
- Just so I’m clear…Dylan is Luke Perry, right? Or am I wrong? I don’t even know.
- Also, I enjoy that the bowling alley has the same name as the type of cigarettes that were featured in the series premiere of Mad Men.