Yeah, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger watched it. So did you.
Fame is where you find it.
Quick! Name someone who starred in Beverly Hills, 90210. Chances are, it didn't take you long to cough up the name Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry, Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Jennie Garth, or the name of another ensemble cast member from the show's ten-year run. Beverly Hills, 90210 was so huge that you couldn't escape its hype in any corner of the globe.
Given its overwhelming popularity and recent clamoring from legions of fans, it's surprising that Beverly Hills, 90210 arrives on DVD only now, sixteen years after its debut on Fox. The timing isn't particularly good, because shows like The O.C. (or any CW show for that matter) have eclipsed Beverly Hills, 90210 in almost every relevant category. From incisive writing to catty characters, the new wave of teen soaps kicks 90210's designer denim-clad butt down the stairs. But no current teen soap has the worldwide star appeal that powered 90210. The release of Beverly Hills, 90210: The Complete First Season is a nice way to acknowledge the trend set by the show.
Facts of the Case
Walsh twins Brandon (Jason Priestley, Love Monkey) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty, Charmed) leave Minnesota and head to Beverly Hills. They quickly make friends with pretty girl Kelly (Jennie Garth, The $treet), nondescript Donna (Tori Spelling, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover), pretty boy Steve (Ian Ziering, Batman Beyond: The Movie), bad boy Dylan (Luke Perry, Robin Cook's Invasion), and freshman dork David (Brian Austin Green, Fish Without a Bicycle). Life moves fast in Beverly Hills; the Walsh kids must constantly weigh the seduction of that fast life against their wholesome Midwest values.
Yeah, I watched it back then. You did too, or you wouldn't be here right now. But frankly, the filter of experience and the perspective of time do not flatter this show.
The pilot struck me with two realizations. The first is that Beverly Hills, 90210 was birthed fully formed, with most of its major characters, plot arcs, and themes in place. Knowing how it turns out later, you can see the seeds planted from day one. This shows remarkable foresight and stubborn commitment down the line by the writing team. Which brings me to realization two: the writing is atrocious. The pilot is padded with filler at every turn. The dialogue is somehow bland and cringe-inducing at the same time. Beverly Hills, 90210 relies heavily on the tradition of high school drama, which gives the characters and situations a stagy, melodramatic feel.
After reaching the end of the pilot episode (which took me three days) I let the set rest, hoping to come back to it recharged. But ten minutes into "The Green Room" I was begging for some of the pilot's panache. Sadly, that feeling never fully subsided. Even the heightened drama of the finale episodes "Spring Dance" and "Home Again" couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching an elaborate after-school special with bikinis. Considering the parental outcry against the show and the illicit taste that drew teens to it in 1990, the "moral plight of the week" format seems remarkably staid in the face of current television. Just guessing, but "quaint" probably isn't what Spelling and Star were aiming for when they launched the show.
None of this erases 90210's bright spot: a vivacious cast. Yes, they are sometimes hammy. Their delivery is often stilted. Their median age probably hovers around 25. But each of them is watchable, and there is real chemistry among them. Even when reciting clunkers, the cast seems to be having a great time. This upbeat attitude (combined with considerable marketing power) launched them into teen superstardom. Though some of the cast has moved on to other strong work, they'll always be affiliated with their characters from 90210.
Part of the late DVD arrival probably stems from music rights issues. The box proclaims, in 6-point font buried in a picture of Jennie Garth's cleavage, that "Music has been changed for this home entertainment version." I'd love to rail against destroying the purity of the original show, but I have no idea what music has been left out or altered. The catchy theme song is intact, in several incarnations to boot. The soundtrack is not particularly dynamic, but is passable.
The video transfer, however, is not passable. It is rife with flaws, from large specs and tears in the master to pixilation and digital artifacting. The contrast is poor, while all diagonal movement threatens to burst into clouds of pixels. The faces of my beloved Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty were plagued by greenish patches of blocky coloration.
Paramount has provided lots of extras, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view. When Darren Star kicks off the first commentary by saying that he hasn't seen the show in over fifteen years, you can guess what's coming: lots of silence and play-by-play. Fortunately, the nuggets he doles out seem free of tripe. For instance, he admits that Tori Spelling's role was basically mandated by Aaron, and that they eased her into it slowly. This is as deep as it's going to get. The "Looking Back" recap is simply extended episode summaries written in teenie bopper. The behind-the-scenes featurette is a five minute FOX promo. "Meet the Class" is a mixture of written character profiles, Season One clips of each character, and periodic interview with hard-hitting questions like "How are you like Kelly?" It is an amusing time capsule and nothing more. Finally, Darren Star rounds out the extras with an interview that is much better than the audio commentary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fans of the show will not care about any of this. 90210 is out on DVD! Finally, your long wait is over. This show was a mainstay of the 1990s, and has strong nostalgia value for millions of people.
Though my predominant reaction was "boy, I don't remember how lame this was," there were moments that made me smile. Dillon McKay is almost indescribable; James Dean with a David Hasselhoff vibe mixed in. Somehow, this is a good thing. Shannen is so deliciously bitchy I could hardly take my eyes off her. And Jennie Garth is hot.
Hardcore fans, enjoy. Casual fans? Rent it first.
You already knew that it's guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Creator Darren Star on "Pilot Part 1" and "Spring Dance"
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