If you’re wondering why the lives of the stars of “Beverly Hills 90210” are such disasters on the follow-up series “BH90210,” you have Jennie Garth to blame.
To be clear, the interpersonal dramas of the actors from of one of the most iconic and still-beloved TV series of the 1990s, now playing themselves in FOX’s revival, aren’t exactly real (although more than a few plotlines draw inspiration from actual real-life scenarios). Instead, the new series is taking a satiric, over-the-top look at the post-phenom existences of the stars some 30 years later — a notion concocted by Garth and her original series co-star and real-life bestie Tori Spelling, who serve as executive producers as well as performers.
“It never made sense to me, personally, go back and play Kelly,” Garth tells CNN. The actress had previously reprised her role as Kelly Taylor for the 2008 follow-up series, and she and Spelling were looking for a new twist if they were going to revisit the roles that made them famous. Sending up their off-screen personas — all of the actors have remained prominent in the public eye in the ensuing decades for various reasons — made for a fresh take.
“I really felt like the audience of today deserves — and sort of expects — more,” explains Garth. “So once this idea was fleshed out and sort of a consideration, that’s when I said ‘Let’s do this.’
Beyond sending up her image as the long-suffering good girl and demonstrating some additional range, Garth was personally interested in exploring the show’s impact on her own life.
“For me personally, the idea came from why am I the way I am today, what formed me,” she says. “Oh, those years formed me! Those 10 years on that show had a very large impact on me as an adult woman, so I wanted to go back and find out what it was all about. I wanted to delve into that. I think it was some sort of therapy I was going through at the time.”
“BH90210’s” take on its fictionalized “Jennie Garth” borrows liberally from the real deal’s actual life as the mother of three daughters and more than one marriage behind her. While her character is divorcing, the real Garth has reconciled with her third husband, actor David Abrams: “I don’t want to fail again, so I’m definitely gonna work hard on making my marriage super successful,” she says.
Garth concedes that her original “90210” experience was downright dizzying, made all the more heady by the sudden rush of celebrity. “We had the best time, all the time,” she said, though the fast-lane life would exact a toll. “I didn’t know that it was exhausting what we were doing. It just didn’t faze me at that time…I was just a different person and so young. I had no idea what I was into, I was in way over my head, let’s just put it that way, in life, in general.”
The actress admits she was on a long learning curve.
“It took me some time, because I didn’t go to high school, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t have any of those experiences that are associated with those really formative experiences, so it took me a while to catch up,” she says. “It was a case of arrested development for a lot of us. Speaking for myself: definitely. To be able to go back and dredge through it the way, I really needed to figure it all out.”
And even though she worked steadily through the decades that followed, Garth frequently felt the specter of Kelly Taylor overshadowing who she was and who she might become.
“Sure, there were definitely moments when I felt underappreciated, or overlooked for a certain roles, or even being considered for certain thing,” she says. “And in those times you just have to say, ‘Oh well — I can’t do anything to change that at this moment, but give it some time and let’s see what happens.'”
As producers on “BH90210,” Garth and Spelling tried to follow the example sent by Tori’s father Aaron Spelling — the legendary and prolific television producer who executive produced the original series as well as further TV classics like “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island.”
“His eye for detail,” says Garth. “From someone’s hair in a scene, to the writing, to the transportation department, it’s all part of the production, and it’s all something that as a producer, you have a very wide lens to see everything.”
Of course, the biggest feat was getting all of their co-stars — Jason Priestley, Gabrielle Carteris, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green and the notoriously mercurial Shannen Doherty — to come aboard with them (before his death from a stroke in March, Luke Perry, who was committed to his own hit series “Riverdale,” was expected to make guest appearances). Garth says the key was the personal touch: she and Spelling picked up the phone and simply reached out their old friends.
“There was a lot of games of telephone happening, and a lot of communication breakdowns in doing it that way through agents, and reps and all that, so we decided to go straight to the mouth of the beast, and send a group text to everyone,” she says. “That seemed the best way to do it at a certain point, and that was the most effective way for sure.” As far as concerns about any reluctance or unresolved conflicts among the cast, “we just faced it full-on.”
Ultimately, many of the cast’s bonds were strengthened during shooting (in Vancouver, economically standing in for Beverly Hills).
“Tori and I have a very deep connection, and that just deepened, and blossomed in a really beautiful partnership,” says Garth. “Spending a lot of time with Gabrielle was a high point for both of us, to get to spend that girl time with her. We lived in the same apartment building when we were filming, so we got to spend a lot of time together.”
She also feels that Perry “would have loved it — I know he’s so proud of Tori and I, and that keeps us going,” she says. “Luke was a lot like my father, and losing my father was the biggest heartbreak of my life. And then losing Luke was right up there with that. Every day I make choices that I think my dad is proud of that, my dad is enjoying watching this, and I do the same thing with Luke. I know that he loves what he is seeing right now.”
So did viewers, as the project struck a deeply nostalgic chord: the premiere of “BH90210” was the highest-rated and most -streamed series debut of the summer, per FOX.
“It turned out a little cooler [than we expected],” she reveals. “In going back and revisiting it now, we’ve really seen the impact that the show had on so many people that maybe they didn’t want to talk about because it was embarrassing, but now everybody’s so owning that love of the original show. And it feels so good, all that support and love.”
Garth even invites fans to share their uniquely personal connections to the show and her character.
“I love a deep conversation so I’m not too shy of it,” she laughs. “Kelly went through so many life altering experiences, that there are a lot of people that can relate to a lot of the things that she went through. Which is really a good feeling, because the reason I want to do TV is so I can affect people, so can I make them happy, I can make them think, feel something.”
The experience also provided Garth with the sense of personal enlightenment she was seeking.
“So many personal revelations and reminders and a fortifying sense of who I am and what I’m capable of,” she says, noting that she and Spelling are already actively developing more of their own Hollywood projects. “I’m not sitting around waiting for the phone to ring,” she says in a tone Kelly Taylor may have finally grown to appreciate. “I’m just too creative to just sit and not call the shots. I have more in me.