New Judge Lacey Worrell's inaugral review is of that quintessential '90s TV series. But where's the ripped jeans and flannel?
"She is the biggest bitch at West Beverly High. I should know. I went out with her for a year."
While watching the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210, it became clear to me why this show achieved longevity, not to mention a rabid fan base of teenagers and baby boomers. It's just a shame that by the end of this series' run it devolved into a preachy, moral, television-show-with-a-message. I mean, wasn't Touched by an Angel already taking care of that?
Facts of the Case
16-year-old twins Brenda and Brandon Walsh move from Minneapolis to the wilds of Beverly Hills, and from their first day of school onward, it's a concentrated study in culture shock. Welcome to West Beverly High, where the students drive Porsches and the faculty drives…well, Pacers. The twins quickly ingratiate themselves to the in-crowd, and before you can say, "I'm sooooo drunk," they're attending hip parties, over-21 dance clubs, and, well, making out in hot tubs. Brenda finds herself lying about her age to impress a 25-year-old attorney, while Brandon manages to convince a rich party girl that he likes her just the way she is. Especially when she's in a bikini and pressed up against him in a Jacuzzi.
While viewers may have to be declared hostile witnesses before they'll 'fess up, this is one entertaining hour-and-a-half. The pilot episode clearly establishes 90210's formula for success, which involves several plots brewing at once and a cast of disparate characters. From the bewildered twins, to the wealthy combination of Kelly, Steve, and Donna, to outsiders Andrea (ON-dree-ah) and David, there is always something to keep the viewers' interest.
There are some great moments and trivia to be had here as well. We learn that Brandon is exactly 30 seconds older than Brenda (must have been a C-section). Maybe that explains why he has a driver's license and she doesn't. Look for a very young, then unknown Djimon Hounsou (Amistad, In America) as a bouncer at the club where Brenda and Kelly try to use their fake IDs! Kelly's mother is played by a different actress than the one who would portray her later in the series, and the houses used in the pilot are quite obviously not the ones seen in the actual series. We all remember Steve's major mullet, but here Brandon has one too! And did you know that Kelly and Brenda's friendship stemmed from the fact that, in chemistry class, Kelly would rather sit next to the new girl than to the fat girl? The rest is television history, people.
Dylan and Donna fans should be warned that Dylan does not appear in the pilot, and Donna is little more than window dressing at this point. She's not quite a bit player, but in the pilot the focus is clearly on the developing friendship between Kelly and Brenda. The elder Walshes are seldom present, but come on, who ever watched this show for the parents?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't help but think that 90210's first season resembles that of The Brady Bunch. Okay, okay, before you get all up in arms asking what on earth these two shows have in common, hear me out. Both open with the premise of people being thrust into an unfamiliar situation. For the Walsh twins, it's the dawning, horrific realization that Brandon's ugly brown Chevy hatchback, despite its ultra-cool sunroof, will never be able to compete with all the Corvettes in the West Beverly High parking lot. For the Brady girls, it's the dawning, horrific realization that they will be forced to share a bathroom with boys for as long as their parents' marriage lasts. And a bathroom that lacks a toilet, no less!
In other words, the first season of both shows establish how these fish-out-of-water manage to cope in their new environments. When you consider how quickly the Walshes adapt in the pilot episode, it's no wonder why in later seasons all the melodrama feels a little old. Just like when the Bradys go from fighting over trading stamps and clubhouses to having random potato sack races in the back yard. Now I ask you, what is more interesting: a suspenseful night of building a house of cards to determine who gets the trading stamps, or a just-for-the-fun-of-it potato sack race? The trading stamps. Definitely the trading stamps, people.
It is a crying shame there are no extras or retrospectives featured on this release, especially since extras are becoming downright commonplace on DVD releases of shows that enjoyed far shorter runs than that of Beverly Hills 90210. Surely this show deserves the same treatment.
This disc is a must-have for fans of the show. No annoying commercials to fast-forward through, and no living in fear that the tape will wear out or, heaven forbid, be eaten by your cranky VCR.
Judgment awarded to Lions Gate for releasing a classic pilot that any self-respecting cheesy-'90s-television lover would be proud to own, even if there are (sob) no extras.
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