Friday, August 22, 2008

The Return of Lucille?

In its previous incarnation, the 1990-2000 Fox series Beverly Hills, 90210 made household names out of its core group of originally unknowns: Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Luke Perry, Brian Austin Green, Jason Priestley – and its producer’s daughter Tori Spelling. This September 2, as the CW prepares to launch a 21st Century 90210, all eyes will undoubtedly be on its new generation of young actors eager to step into the spotlight.

But let’s not forget, this new version of the teenybopper soap also features one older performer who, ever since her role on one of TV’s most beloved cult hits of recent memory, has become comedy royalty. Jessica Walter [pictured at CBS networks' TCA party, with a fan – me!] had forged a long career on stage, TV and film – perhaps most famously as Clint Eastwood’s psycho stalker radio fan in 1971’s Play Misty For Me -- before striking it rich in comedy as Lucille Bluth, the matriarch of the hysterically dysfunctional clan at the center of Fox’s Arrested Development. For three seasons starting in 2003, Lucille babied her youngest, weirdest son Buster, waged war on her rival Lucille 2 – and won for Walter a whole new generation of fans.

Now, the sixtysomething actress is about to debut on another show aiming for that young demographic. Walter’s 90210 character, Tabitha Wilson, is described as a fading Beverly Hills actress, whose alcoholism precipitates Harry and Debbie’s move back from Kansas to the California homestead manse with their two teens in tow. Just as the Walsh kids found themselves out of place at Beverly High, the new 90210’s teens Annie and Dixon will have some adjusting to do when, according to Walter, "they come back to Beverly Hills to take care of me because I have been drinking.” But, “I’m now on the wagon,” the actress told the semi-annual assembly of TV critics at last month’s TCA convention in Los Angeles. “I [Tabitha] promised them I’m going to try, and that’s something Lucille never really tried.”

But while Tabitha and Lucille may be similarly screwed up, the actress added, the Wilson family has it much more together than the Bluths ever could. “This family is so wholesome, their values are really good values, they’re on the straight and narrow, and they’re hard workers,” she explained. “They’re very different families. Both terrifically interesting, but really different.”

As reported earlier, the CW network has made what they’re calling a “strategic decision” not to preview the new 90210 for TV critics before its debut the day after Labor Day. But because the new show has been created by Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs, the writing duo trained on NBC’s sitcom Just Shoot Me and on another cult teen angst-a-thon with a comedic edge, ABC’s short-lived but adored Freaks and Geeks, there’s good reason to hope that, amongst all the soap, Walter will still get the chance to deliver some delightfully sarcastic gems.

After all, it sure sounds like the wealthy Tabitha and Lucille may have been cut from the same designer cloth. So could we fans conceivably see Tabitha as an extension of Walter’s Arrested character? “I think with every character that you play as an actor, you put a lot of yourself into it,” Walter mused for the questioning critics. “The difference between Lucille and Tabitha is,” she added jokingly, “first of all, Lucille liked vodka and Tabitha likes scotch.”

Premieres Tuesday, September 2
8 PM Eastern
The CW

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