Like most attempts at wrangling old friends for a gathering, this one started with a group text. But to persuade their former “Beverly Hills, 90210” co-stars to reunite on the small screen, Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth (aka Donna Martin and Kelly Taylor) opted for a more personalized touch: They made gift bags.
Before their formal pitch to the actors at CBS Television Studios, which owns the rights to the series, the duo scrambled to assemble the giveaways. The contents included a snow globe as well as Barbie and Ken dolls haphazardly fashioned to resemble the characters. “They didn’t even care!” Spelling said. But the gang agreed to the homecoming that takes TV’s nostalgia bender to blurred vision levels.
Nearly 30 years before “Euphoria” and “13 Reasons Why” were making headlines for their complex, mature portraits of teenage life, “Beverly Hills, 90210” was laying the foundation for the genre as we know it. Its then-revolutionary exploration of the social and sexual drama of high school life became appointment viewing on a then-fledgling Fox and turned its mostly little-known cast into celebrities who incited mall mobs. It aired for 10 seasons and spawned a successful spinoff, “Melrose Place,” and a CW reboot, “90210.”
The six-episode, mockumentary-style “BH90210,” which premiered Wednesday on Fox, features Garth, Spelling, Jason Priestley, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green and Shannen Doherty playing heightened versions of themselves as they work to get a reboot of the prime-time soap off the ground.
Garth and Spelling, who teamed for the 2014 ABC Family sitcom “Mystery Girls,” had been looking for another comedic project, and like the rest of the cast had long been followed by questions about a reunion. They began hashing out ways to merge the ideas last spring.
The twist, they say, presents an opportunity to spoof the dynamics of fame in the ’90s and to play with fans’ perceptions of behind-the-scenes drama.
The actors had a say in creating their fictional alter egos, determining how closely the characters paralleled their real lives.
“Beverly Hills, 90210” premiered to little fanfare in October 1990. Created by Darren Starr and produced by prime-time soap king Aaron Spelling, Tori’s father, the series revolved around siblings Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Priestley and Doherty), fish-out-of-water transplants from Minnesota (Wayzata, to be exact) and their new West Beverly classmates.
Cast members had varying levels of hesitation about revisiting their career-defining roles. Carteris said Luke Perry, who played brooding bad boy Dylan McKay, floated the idea of a reunion when “people weren’t ready to go back,” and Ziering said he tried to get everyone back together for a project timed to Sept. 2, 2010 (9.02.10) that would have involved a dinner and cameras set up around a house: “My pitch fell on deaf ears.”
The reunion announcement came a day before news that Perry had suffered a massive stroke. He died a few days later, on March 4, at age 52. Producers said his death will be acknowledged in the series.
“It’s strange to not have him here,” an emotional Priestley said. “We definitely feel his absence. We will always feel it.”
There’s a palpable gratitude on the actors’ part about finding themselves back together after some distance from the show.
“It’s one thing to be with my friends,” Ziering said, “but to be doing this — it brings back the good memories.”