90210

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Airdate: 8-10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2 (The CW)

The world's most famed ZIP code has returned to primetime, albeit at a different network than during its first 10-season, 296-episode run; the CW network rather than Fox.

It also arrives with a truncated title, the "Beverly Hills, 90210" of the original shortened to simply "90210" because short is the new long (or at least, the new cool). Television would trim "Citizen Kane" to "Kane" were it ever to go to series.

But by any handle, high school is high school, and the world of spoiled rich bitches and brats hasn't changed much in the 18 years since the first "90210" premiered. But let it be said at the outset that the latest, hotly anticipated new edition doesn't embarrass as much as many had feared given the decision by the CW publicity department not to send out screeners in advance to critics. This form of journalistic blasphemy will no doubt result in the show getting panned by many scribes just on general principles. But the truth is it really isn't so horrible after all.

I mean, let's face it, we weren't expecting something that might compare favorably to Shakespeare. With the diminished expectations because of Screenergate, some will be surprised that the cast is even able to make it through the script without succumbing to chronic hyperventilation. So based on that measure, "90210" knocks it out of the park.

The writers don't mix up the names of the characters. The actors remember the character each is portraying without exception. And the stage is set for a slick and sharply crafted teen soap that pays homage to the first "90210" without wallowing in past, uh, glory. Moreover, Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty reprise their roles from the original without leaving us worrying that they might be shooting their career in the proverbial foot. For one thing, they look terrific and do fine; for another, better to be typecast than never cast at all.

The show stars veterans Rob Estes ("Women's Murder Club") and Lori Loughlin as the new principal at West Beverly High and his wife, respectively. The plot has them returning to their Beverly Hills childhood home from Kansas, toting along their improbably poised daughter Annie (Shenae Grimes) and adopted black son Dixon (Tristan Wilds, seeming here to break up the incessant whiteness).

Before the pilot is 20 minutes old, the kids will have embroiled themselves in unfortunate controversies while running afoul of the cool kids. The most vapid is Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord), a blonde who is so prissy and pampered that she actually appears to bleed nail polish. Her boyfriend, Ethan (Dustin Milligan), seems way out of her league despite being a star lacrosse player. This immediately leaves us thinking: lacrosse? Is tennis somehow not quite highbrow enough?

The story line of the two-hour opener (actually two separate episodes strung together into a single seamless serialized presentation) revolves around all of the usual upper-crust concerns: cheating, taking short cuts to success, finding out you had a kid out of wedlock more than a decade ago and of course, trying to explain it to your folks that your little weeknight date involved a roundtrip plane flight and dining in San Francisco. God, if we had a nickel for every time that happened. It's mostly pretty ludicrous stuff as detailed by scribes Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah, Rob Thomas and Darlene Hunt (who had a hand in penning both hours), featuring the usual parade of beautiful people doing (and saying) divertingly trite things.

If "90210" sometimes appears to be caught in a superficial, feelgood time warp, one gets the feeling the vibe might be intentional. I mean, they're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and we're no longer feeling our way through the 1990s. But maybe pretending isn't such a recipe for unimaginable disaster after all.

Production: Sachs/Judah and CBS Productions
Executive producers: Mark Piznarski, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah
Co-executive producer: Jill Gordon
Producers: Howard Grigsby, Wendey Stanzler, Michael Pendell, Sean Reycraft
Consulting producer: Darlene Hunt
Writers: Rob Thomas, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah, Darlene Hunt
Directors: Mark Piznarski, Wendey Stanzler
Director of photography: Victor Hammer
Production designer: Maxine Shepard
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editors: Avi Youabian, J. Kathleen Gibson
Music: Liz Phair, Mark "Doc" Dauer, Evan Frankfort
Sound mixer: Michael Hoffman
Casting: Deedee Bradley, Lonnie Hamerman, David H. Rapaport, Lindsey Hayes Kroeger
Cast: Rob Estes, Lori Loughlin, Jessica Walter, Shenae Grimes, Tristan Wilds, AnnaLynne McCord, Dustin Milligan, Ryan Eggold, Jessica Stroup. Michael Steger, Jennie Garth, Shannen Doherty, Adam Gregory, Christina Moore

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