Judge Katie Herrell doesn't need to watch Beverly Hills 90210 again. This DVD set put it in endless syndication in her nightmares.
"Mr. Walsh, I can explain."
Mayhem in the Hills! In one year alone, the "high schoolers" of Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season experience an armed robbery, several car accidents, an accidental shooting death, an unwanted pregnancy (and one scare), a steroids scandal, a forced encounter with Ecstasy…the list continues. These kids put Heidi and the gang of MTV's modern-day The Hills to shame. They may even give The O.C. a run for their plentiful money on the trouble-causing scale.
Facts of the Case
The facts of the case are likely well-known by everyone over and under a certain age. Basically the Walsh family from Minnesota moves to Beverly Hills, Calif., where living is fast and morals are loose, and beach bodies rule. The pale Walsh fraternal twins, Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Brandon (Jason Priestley), quickly assimilate into the high-school cool crowd, where they become equal participants in many West Beverly High antics. Luckily for drama's sake, they keep their Midwestern guilt complexes intact.
Even though Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season was shot and aired in the 1990s, it makes your living room feel like the '80s. The first few episodes are a blur for me because I was too busy ogling the horrendous outfits and hairdos.
Once I blocked out the midriff tops and fluorescent colors, I began to notice the supporting characters who are still, prominently, acting professionally today. While Beverly Hills was the big hurrah for the core cast, for the likes of Vivica A. Fox and James T. Pickens (Dr. Webber on Grey's Anatomy), being on Beverly Hills was just another line on the resume.
By this point, say episode 10 of the 28-episode season, I was finally past the ogling, and the embarrassment of watching sooo much television, when I realized that Beverly Hills was actually sort of progressive.
These well-grown teens learn a lot of valuable lessons in Season Two. There is the safe sex episode, in which Brenda decides, after the aforementioned pregnancy scare, that maybe her 17-year-old self isn't ready for sex. Then there is the "I Might Be Gay" episode where Kelly's (Jennie Garth) fast moves are rebuffed by a sexually confused athlete. Then there's the racism episode, which co-stars the actually teenaged Vivica A. Fox.
There is also the "Drugs are Bad" episode where a crazy Emily Valentine (Christine Elise) spikes Brandon's drink with Ecstasy, resulting in a break-up that causes her to destroy a parade float.
Surprisingly, it is the female characters who act the more devilish in this season. The men follow along looking for a stray kiss or a pat on the head as the girls sneak into hotels to meet Color Me Badd, develop a wandering eye at Jazzercize, and generally act like hormone-crazed teenage boys. Refreshing, actually.
But although Season Two covers a lot of heady ground, the most prominent aspect of the season is the strength of these kids' friendships. They really look out for each other and endure a lot of traumatic events together. Sure, they have there spats—serious ones—but at the end of the episodes they form a unified force prepared to face whatever sunny California plans to thrust upon them.
The ensemble cast of Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season is truly that. For the most part the camera time and the story line equally revolves around the eight-member core high-school cast, plus the two Walsh parents (played by James Eckhouse and Carol Potter)—the moral stalwarts throughout the season. It is quite a feat that so many characters were developed so fully in just one hour. For better or worse, without the wide range of characters Beverly Hills wouldn't have been able to cover nearly as much ground as it did.
And I can't say the acting is bad, although I'm probably expected to. Sure they didn't look like teenagers, but they did look like a bunch of friends wasting time, getting into trouble, and having fun. Whatever their careers might have devolved into over time, there was a reason Brenda, Donna (Tori Spelling), Kelly, Dylan (Luke Perry), David (Brian Austin Green), Brandon, Steve (Ian Ziering), and Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) starred in such a long-lasting television series: they had talent, interesting material to work with, and a connection as a cast (even if all the initial members didn't last the entire run).
The same can't be said about their parents. For awhile, around episode 20, I thought Donna's mother and Kelly's mother were played by the same actress. They had the same horrible hair cut and the same shoulder-pad filled jackets. The only difference was Donna's mom was having an affair and Kelly's mom was a recovering alcoholic. If any bad-actor fingers can be pointed at the cast, it would be at the parents who seemed like un-oiled giants in munchkin land.
I also wish the producers had played up the scenic Beverly Hills. In The O.C. the mansions are breathtaking and the poolsides plentiful, but in Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season the humdrum Walsh house is repeatedly shown to change scenes. Beverly Hills could have been shot anywhere, with a few clichéd beach scenes thrown in for atmosphere.
But one thing The O.C. did probably learn from Beverly Hills was the promotion of a musical agenda. With an exception for the karaoke episode, Beverly Hills played relevant music for the times; it was the show the cool kids were watching and the music the cool kids were listening to—I would guess.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All niceties aside, if I have to watch another Beverly Hills series in its entirety, I will become Ms. Emily Valentine's sidekick. The series is dated, dated, dated, and it is hard to separate the modern-day, reality television-starring Tori Spelling and family, and rumored Shannen Doherty bitchiness from the Brendas and Donnas on screen. Beverly Hills 90210 had its run; it's over for a reason.
Plus, why, oh, why do DVD box sets of television series not cut out the introductory credits from every episode. I can't get to the fast-forward button fast enough; 28 theme song plays is too much.
If you need a little nostalgia or a reality check, watch Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season…in fast forward.
And if you want to see want an insightful look into the characters of the Walsh parents and Emily Valentine, watch the excellent Special Features "Meet the Walshes" and "Our Favorite Valentine." These two sections are very candid and thoughtful and offer a little modern perspective on the show and its characters.
Even with a perfect bouffant, Dylan couldn't always explain. None of them could.
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Scales of Justice
• "Meet the Walshes"
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