Like every other critic in the free world, I was unable to screen the new “90210” in advance, since the producers of the show decided to keep it under wraps and premiere it for everyone at the same time. Due to a scheduling conflict (one of our cars is in the shop, and I needed to pick my wife up from work), I was unable to start viewing it right at 8 PM EST, but when I logged onto my computer before hitting “play” on the TiVo, I spotted the following status update from one of my friends on MySpace:

Christiethinks the new 90210 blows goats.
Mood: cynical.

Wow. And I thought *I* was bad.

As it happens, I actually rather enjoyed the premiere of “90210,” though it’s probably telling that the adults in the show seem to be about ten times better written than the teenagers.

So here’s the scenario: Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and her brother, Dixon (Tristan Wilds, “The Wire”), are new students at West Beverly Hills High School, and since their dad, Harry (Rob Estes, “Melrose Place”), is the new principal of the school, you know they’re going to be really popular…not! (Hey, if they can dredge up a series from the early ’90s, then I can bring “not!” back for my review.) The Wilson family, which also includes a mom named Debbie (Lori Loughlin), is sharing an abode with Harry’s mom, Tabitha (Jessica Walter), a former Hollywood starlet who’s become a raging alcoholic in her old age. Dixon’s trying to get onto the lacrosse team, Annie’s out to get into the school musical, and Harry’s dealing with the fact that the mother of one of the students at the school is A) one of his ex-girlfriends, and B) the mother of a child that he never knew he had.

Melodrama, ahoy!

Keeping with The CW’s enjoyment of providing inappropriately graphic material to today’s teens, we’re only five minutes into the show we get a sight gag involving an apparent blow job being given in the cab of an SUV in front of the school, which will no doubt be referenced in everyone’s review as being the first official sign that this is not your parents’ “90210.” Despite this, the students at West Beverly are the same approximate mix as the old days, with the journalism class getting play in this incarnation as well (though it’s now less about print and more about television), and, of course, there’s class conflict between the rich and the poor all over the place. This part isn’t just limited to the students, however, with one set of parents declaring it absolutely unacceptable that their daughter should have to turn in a book report on the week that she’s stressed out about her birthday party. The most ridiculous student-related bit, however, is a video blog called “The Vicious Circle,” which feels so instantly and unabashedly derivative of “Gossip Girl” that it’s hard to believe the producers even bothered to put it into the script. Count on it being phased out quickly.

There are a lot of touches which will have the fans of the original series getting misty-eyed with memory, such as the student newscaster whose last name is Zuckerman-Vasquez (clearly, this is Andrea’s daughter, so count on a guest appearance from Gabrielle Carteris sooner than later). It’s also bizarre for one of the new characters to be Kelly’s sister, who goes by the name of Silver because – as old-school fans already know – she’s the spawn of the brief liaison between Kelly’s mom and David’s dad. Speaking of Kelly-related spawn, Ms. Taylor has a child of her own now…but who’s the dad?!? Well, based on comments made by Brenda Walsh, it sounds like it’s Brandon Walsh! Sadly, Jason Priestley has given the impression that he’s not interested in reprising his role, but maybe this plot development will sway him out from behind the camera and get him back in front of it for a few episodes.

When Shannen Doherty first popped up, my wife’s instant reaction was to say, “She’s aged. I haven’t really seen her since she was on ‘Charmed,’ and she was still pretty hot then.” Ouch. Brenda doesn’t really get a lot of screen time in the two-hour premiere, popping up briefly at the all-new Peach Pit (it’s a coffee shop now) to get a hug from Nat (Joe E. Tata) and drop the clues about the father of Kelly’s child, then reappearing at the tail end of the proceedings to offer to babysit while Kelly goes on a date. Presumably, she’ll get more to do in future episodes, since she’s reportedly going to be directing the school musical.

Unsurprisingly, Walter is a stitch as the alcoholic grandma who enjoys reminiscing about the good ol’ days when Ricardo Montalban would crack an egg on her ass. Yes, she’s totally ripping herself off, with the similarity to Lucille Bluth utterly undeniable, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Ryan Eggold also proves highly entertaining as Ryan Matthews, a teacher who’s way cooler than anyone who ever taught me in high school.

But…isn’t there something wrong about the fact that we’re praising the work of all of these adults in a drama that’s ostensibly supposed to be about the teen-aged characters? Maybe not. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that it’s the adults who are way more excited about the premiere of the new “90210” than today’s kids are; if they can walk the line to keep both types of storylines interesting to both demographics, they’ll have a hell of a hit on their hands. Right now, though, I have to suspect that, right about now, there are a whole lot of parents trying to explain to their kids why they should keep tuning in.