May 16, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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90210 has never been CW at its best.  The semi-network specializes almost exclusively in fantasies, either of the supernatural or soapy kind (or both), and some of its shows deliver those fantasies with wit and compelling storytelling–The Vampire Diaries and the early years of Gossip Girl, for example.

90210, though, has always a very basic soap.  Originally misconceived as a direct update and recreation of 1990s-era Beverly Hills 90210 complete with guest appearances from the old series stars, over its first 2 seasons it purged itself of the guests and indeed of almost all adult presence.  As its characters graduated from high school and were able to drink and have sex without such shocking turns requiring network approval, it focused on a group who, with a single wild-card exception, aren’t all that interesting.


This season tossed them all around again for more far-fetched romantic intrigue.  Annie (Shenae Grimes), recently a prostitute, fell for an aspiring Roman Catholic priest; former surfer Ivy (Gillian Zinser), having survived the cancer death of her estranged husband and gotten past her own suicidal tendencies, fell for an illegal immigrant tagger; bipolar Silver (Jessica Stroup), in the season’s earnest plotline (every season has one), discovered she was at genetic risk for breast and ovarian cancer, and had to decide whether to quickly become pregnant before having her ovaries removed, and with old beau Navid (Michael Steger) or the show’s all-purpose hunk and now movie star Liam (Matt Lanter), who used to be in a Naomi/Annie triangle; once and future pop star Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes), her character currently in non-pathological scheming mode, juggled her career with the course of her relationship with Annie’s adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds).

All of these characters and storylines are strictly by the book.  The exception is Naomi, who started as the show’s one-note mean girl and has become its leading lady, thanks to AnnaLynne McCord’s work in the part.  McCord gives Naomi the oblivious mixture of comic arrogance, kindheartedness and resiliency that, in a different way, also typified Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office.  As with Carell, the combination lets us enjoy her almost constant humiliations, because we know, like any number of screwball comedy heroines of the past, she’ll bobble back up in a moment, ready for more.

In tonight’s season finale, written by co-showrunner Lara Olsen and directed by Harry Sinclair, Naomi by rights got the episode’s spotlight scene, her mid-ceremony ruining of the nuptials for which she’d served as wedding planner, because she had to confess her undying love for the groom, Max (Josh Zuckerman).  Supposedly she won over Max and will now be with him, but romances on 90210–including her previous one with Max–tend not to last long.

Until that sequence shortly before the episode’s end, the season finale was a fairly ordinary episode, but then in the last 10 minutes, cliffhangers rushed in, featuring a slew of former cast members, back to help a regular out, cause more trouble for another, or (apparently) die.  The level of the writing can expressed with a single example:  supposedly Liam, admittedly not the sharpest tool in the shed, literally has no idea until someone tells him that the movie he’d starred in had arrived in theatres to a $55M opening weekend, and he was now an A-list movie star.

90210 is surviving into a 6th year on the air with decent (by CW standards) if unremarkable ratings, despite the fact that with the exception of McCord, there’s almost nothing memorable about it.  It’s a formula, and unlikely to change, but it seems to be one that’s working.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."