This week sees sees a new iteration of one of the most defining TV series of the 1990s: Beverly Hills, 90210, the primetime soap that galvanized a generation around a bunch of wealthy white teens and their romantic trials and tribulations. It was fun, it was ridiculous, and it delivered any number of cultural touchstones -- from the late Luke Perry as a James Dean wannabe sex symbol, to Shannen Doherty's tempestuous tabloid exploits, to the legendary on-screen student-protest demanding that Donna Martin graduate. BH90210 gathers most of the original cast (including Jason Priestley, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris, Ian Ziering and Shannen Doherty) who will play not their original 90210 characters but rather heightened versions of the actors themselves, as they try to get a revival of their original TV series off the ground. Very meta, very Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7. It's a cute idea. I'm looking forward to seeing it, and curious to see how they'll pay tribute to Perry, who died back in March.
The one nagging dissatisfaction with the new BH90210 is that it completely denies a place of prominence to one of the show's most crucial characters: Valerie Malone, played by Tiffani Thiessen. Fans of the show need no reminders, but it's worth revisiting: After Shannen Doherty parted ways with the series at the end of Season 4, Brenda Walsh was written off to Paris, leaving a void in the cast that needed to be filled. Enter Valerie, the bad girl from Buffalo, who came to live with the Walshes after her father's suicide. Valerie fronted like a wide-eyed rube for a while, ingratiating herself into the circle with Brandon, Kelly, and Donna, even purporting to date Steve Sanders. But then, at the end of the two-part season premiere, we got a glimpse of the real Valerie:
Rolling a JOINT! In Beverly Hills?! During a phone call to her friend back home, in which she ran down her painfully wholesome new pals as "avocado-heads" while lighting up a jay in Brenda's old bedroom, the bright line between the 90210 of old and the new era was drawn. But it's not like Valerie was some Cousin Oliver, presiding over the fall. She played a crucial role in helping to amp up the show's soapy intrigue, from stealing Donna's no-good troubadour boyfriend Ray right out from under her, to sexing up a spiraling Dylan on the sly, to her seasons-long, bitchy war of attrition with Kelly, Valerie brought an addictive new energy to the show. Without Val, there would have been no Peach Pit After Dark, Dylan wouldn't have had a Girl Friday to help him recover his millions in South America, and David wouldn't have had an on-again off-again girlfriend when he wasn't with Donna. Valerie wasn't simply the bad girl -- the longer she was on, the more sympathetic she became. She was the necessary dark-star alternative to the increasingly sainted Kelly. In other words, she filled Brenda's shoes just fine.
Tiffani Thiessen has said that her schedule wouldn't allow her to participate in the reunion, as she's committed to the Netflix series Alexa & Katie. And while that may be true, there are plenty of examples of returning series finding a way to accomodate actors attached to other projects. In doing so, they would have recognized an incredibly crucial part of the show's history. And even better, they'd have delivered the one thing that the original 90210 never gave us: Brenda and Valerie, sharing a scene. If there's one blockbuster moment BH90210 could have delivered in its new incarnation, that would be it. Bad Girl vs. Bad Girl. The war for the Walsh-house bedroom, at last. Perhaps in Season 2?
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.