Time determines who our cultural touchstones are, and right now, time would like you to welcome back Shannen Doherty.
That she never really went away is beside the point. Because tonight, on the series premiere of the CW's "90210," viewers will see Doherty, 37, as Brenda Walsh for the first time since the actress' acrimonious departure from the original show in 1994. And this resurrection of Shannen / Brenda -- within the second coming of "90210" as a whole -- has brought about an almost profound catharsis among television fans that has overshadowed the rest of the fall season.
"Finally, My Side" reads the headline of the Doherty interview on the most recent US Weekly cover. "Jennie & Shannen: Reunited at Last!" is atop the Entertainment Weekly cover this week, above a photograph of Doherty and Jennie Garth, her once and again "Beverly Hills, 90210" costar. And Perez Hilton, the influential gossip blogger, who has been obsessed with Doherty's return to Brenda-ness before it even seemed possible, enthusiastically posted both magazine covers on his site.
In other words: In our fickle, you-want-a-piece-of-me, celebrity-fixated world, which is more interested in destruction than renewal, Doherty is riding high on a wave of sudden -- and unexpected -- good will.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel it," she said last week in her trailer on the "90210" set. "It definitely feels good. It also feels scary."
"Because of interviews like this."
"Because who wants to talk about stuff they did 15 years ago?"
Some of us never get asked about stuff we did 15 years ago.
The tempest template
The Shannen Doherty of the early '90s was the hot mess of Generation X, the archetype of famous girlie wreck. Hell-raising at clubs despite being underage; marrying the wrong guy after a five-minute courtship; fighting with her "90210" colleagues, and strangers too. Her spectacular behavior was memorably doled out by the pre-Internet celebrity press -- and a one-off 'zine, as well -- that created a template for a now familiar character in the gossip world.
While her predecessors' sins might have been relegated to the supermarket tabloid ghetto, Doherty's notoriety occurred at the moment when our relationship to celebrities -- particularly young ones -- was evolving into a sport where we follow continuous narratives. And, as a result, that relationship was becoming a lot more personal, opinionated, mean.
Janice Min, the editor of US Weekly, said: "Any of us who were condemning Shannen Doherty in the early '90s were probably conducting ourselves in similar ways oftentimes. It just so happened she was one of the first young stars to be doing it in front of the cameras."
And Henry Goldblatt, the deputy managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, said in a telephone interview, "In this world, Paris Hilton is a character, and Britney Spears is a character, and Lauren Conrad is a character. Shannen Doherty was the forerunner of that."
Both Min and Perez Hilton remember that young Doherty character and imagine what their places would have been in shaping her story. "If US Weekly had existed in the days of '90210,' she would have had the cover 52 weeks out of the year," Min said.
And Hilton? "I wish I had my blog then," he said. "She was a real, live car crash -- who was getting into accidents every night of the week."
Things seemed very different on the set of the 2.0 version of "90210," where Doherty was filming her third of the four episodes she has committed to (so far). She chatted with the cast and crew; she beamed when the director praised her for hitting her mark in take after take; she jokingly berated one of the show's executive producers, Gabe Sachs, while he was speaking with this reporter ("Seriously, Gabe, keep your mouth shut."). And she hugged -- yes, hugged -- a young cast member, Jessica Lowndes, after they completed a scene in which Lowndes' character had to sing a cappella in front of the famous, intimidating Brenda Walsh, back at West Beverly High to direct (hilariously) the libidinal "Spring Awakening."
And while interviewed in her trailer, Doherty was gratifyingly open, even when asked difficult questions about the stuff-from-15-years-ago.
But first, the present. Doherty got back into the "90210" world beginning when her friend and publicist, Leslie Sloane Zelnik, called her after the CW announced it was picking up the show. Doherty said: "I don't know whether you know Leslie at all? She can be really pushy. I was like, 'Les, I'm so not doing "90210." ' She's like, 'You have to! For people like me, it's all about Brenda coming back.' This is a woman who can recite every line from '90210' -- it's pretty crazy."