90210 died exactly the way it lived: as a wholly unnecessary afterthought. Sure, that’s harsh—and maybe unnecessarily so—but is there any other way to describe a show that lasted for 114 episodes, when the majority of the American television audience likely had no idea it actually even existed?
90210 arrived on the scene five years ago surrounded by a lot of noise, developed as an easy way for a very young network like The CW to gain instant publicity by piggybacking on the nostalgia an entire generation felt for Beverly Hills, 90210. Set in the same world of West Beverly High School, 90210 featured an entire new cast of characters for young new viewers, but—much like Degrassi: The Next Generation before it—also threw in a few fan favorites from the original to entice the older generation. Most notable of the returnees was Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), in a recurring role as the high school guidance counselor.
On its face, this was a great strategy for reeling in both new and old viewers alike. The problem was completely in the execution. Fans of the original series were treated to mostly useless throwaway stories from the old cast members, with stories like Kelly’s child with a totally-absent Dylan actually insulting that audience by doing damage to those characters and their relationships, in service of giving the characters something to do. This continued for about a season and a half before the original cast members eventually felt so shoehorned in that they were jettisoned for good, sent off to the Beverly Hills, 90210 island in the sky for safekeeping.
The bigger issue, though, was not how the series treated the old guard, but how it developed the new generation. The characters started as sendoffs of the original characters, with Annie and Liam as the Brenda and Brandon, a brother and sister who moved from a Midwestern state into the belly of Beverly Hills; Naomi as the Kelly, a rich, vain girl who gets everything she wants; and Liam as the Dylan, a bad boy with a heart of gold. The problem was that beyond these brief character sketches, very little else existed. 90210 is a soap, and a soap is all about developing characters an audience can connect to. In that regard, the show was mostly a failure.
And yet, as a fan of the original series who never truly warmed up to the new show, I kept watching because the show wasn’t always terrible. The first few seasons had fitfully entertaining moments—Annie’s hit-and-run homicide, Teddy’s coming out story, and Adrianna’s descent into absolute narcissism and madness were standouts—and the third season chronicling the characters’ senior year was actually a highly enjoyable lark, as the show finally figured out it could have a little bit of fun amid the constant misery. But then the cast graduated, and that’s when everything just went to hell.
Transitioning a show from high school to college is a notoriously difficult thing to do (heck, One Tree Hill decided to skirt the whole issue altogether and jump forward five years), and 90210 did not do it well. The show attempted to portray the characters in college for a while, but quickly learned that college is no place to set a soap opera and started giving characters jobs, stories, and concerns that no respectable college freshman or sophomore would ever worry about. In the span of two seasons, Liam bought a bar; Naomi got married, divorced, and started her own event planning business; Annie became a prostitute then wrote a bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey knockoff about her experiences; Dixon started a music label; Adrianna had a successful music career; Silver decided to have a baby; and poor, boring Navid still went to college. It was a dizzying array of total nonsense, presented completely without any sort of irony to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.
So that brings the show to this finale. Season five has been a dismal failure on pretty much every level, and unfortunately, this episode wasn’t much better. Part of this isn’t really the show’s fault—the writers found out about the cancellation in February, and therefore had very little time to construct a reasonable conclusion to all of the stories they were telling—but still, this can’t be considered much more than a total disaster. The biggest plot of the season, Silver’s quest to have a child before she is stricken by the breast cancer that’s inevitably coming to kill her (I know), was the one thing that wasn’t wrapped up at all. Silver’s surrogate lost her baby last week, which is tragic, and in the finale, she learns that on top of that, her potential cancer has turned into a full-blown malignancy. Will Silver die? Who knows, because there just isn’t time to find out.
The majority of the finale dealt with giving anyone who wasn’t Silver a happy ending, which is nice fan service but not all that interesting. Apparently, what the writers think the fans want is for Navid and Adrianna to get back together after years and years of not caring about each other at all, which is great, I suppose, if you are one of those people who are still shipping yourself with whomever you had a crush on in high school. More egregiously, the finale acts like Annie and Liam is the ultimate endgame for the show, the couple fans are most interested in, to which I say “Really?” Are people so invested in this couple who haven’t spent significant time dating since season three? Are they so invested that the big ending of Liam chasing down a plane with his motorcycle in order to propose to Annie is how they wanted this to finish up?
I’m sure those fans are out there, but for my money, the most interesting thing about the finale was its focus on friendship. These characters are people who haven’t had significant parental contact in their entire lives, and the finale’s focus on how friends become your family as you age was lovely and perfectly appropriate for the show’s end.
So 90210 says goodbye, relinquishing its title as the last surviving pure teen soap on The CW. I would say it will be missed, but that would require people knowing it was still on the air in the first place.
- Matt Lanter calling his character stupid was the best thing about the one-hour retrospective. Liam wasn’t the smartest kid on the show, that's for sure.
- The Goo Goo Dolls performed in the finale, because they’re popular with the kids. Oh, and they performed a relief benefit while people were still trapped under the rubble from an explosion, because that’s totally appropriate.
- What was your favorite storyline from the show? Mine was Jasper, Annie’s crazy boyfriend. I always wished the show did more things like that and less things like Liam starting a surfboard company.