Beverly Hills, 90210: Season One
Over the years there have been quite literally thousands of television series. Most come and go with a small number of people even remembering that they existed. Then there are a certain set of series that actually can be said to have defined a generation. One such series has to be ‘Beverley Hill, 91201’. It had an impact on teens around the world and its impact is found today. If you look at the ratings breakdown on IMDB one thing pops out to my statistically oriented eye. Almost 57% give the series a ten while ratings of 9 through 1 are almost uniformly distributed at a few percentage points each. What this means is people fall into two groups, radical fans and others. When this series first came out in 1990 the ratings were less than stellar. Fox made one of their most creative decisions and began to re-air the series in the summer when the other networks had only reruns. The results were historical. The series became a resounding hit. Its target audience was on summer vacation and ready to watch a show about a group of highly privileged high school students. American teens where about to grow up with these teens over the next decade and now you can revisit the first season with the DVD box set.
High school is typically difficult enough but a major curve ball has been tossed to twins Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley). Their parents Jim and Cindy (James Eckhouse and Carol Potter) just moved the family from Minneapolis, Minnesota to the ultra upscale Beverly Hills, California. At first this is a typical fish out of water story as Brenda and Brandon start at West Beverly Hills High and start to make new friends among the elite of the school. At first Brenda is befriended by Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) or despite being rich is somewhat nice to the new girl. Kelly’s ex boyfriend, Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) becomes friends with Brandon. Also in the pack of teens forming the usual cliques are Donna Martin (Tori Spelling), Kelly’s best friend, David Silver (Brian Austin Green), the perennial freshman wannabe and Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris), intelligent but not part of the in crowd. Andrea actually doesn’t live in the school district fro West Beverly Hills High so she keeps a legal address with a relative and commutes from the lower class Van Nuys. Andrea is smart and quick witted and serves as the editor of the school newspaper. Steve has to live in the shadow of his famous mother who was the star of a popular television series. Everyone assumes that he must have the best mom around, unaware that her on screen and real life personas are vastly different.
As the first season progresses the twins are pulled into the decant ways of their new friends. Brenda gets a fake ID, goes into a club and becomes involved with a man in his twenties. Brandon meets up with an older, mysterious guy, Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) who steps in just in time to keep Brandon from getting beaten up by a group of jocks. A friendship begins to form but soon Dylan’s bad boy ways prove too much for the new transplant from the mid west. In this first season the writers did include an episode centering on the Walsh parents. On their seventeenth anniversary Mom meets up with an old boyfriend, share a kiss and the parental problems start up. Brandon also starts up a friendship with Andrea when he takes a job on the school paper. Brenda noticeably starts to wear more makeup raising a flag with Mom who has growing concerns that the new faster paced and much looser life style is not the best for her kids.
Not being part of the target demographic, either back during the first run or now, it was a bit difficult to get into some of the teen angst displayed here. For those that grew up with this series it is classic. The story lines are consistent with what that age group wants to see, beautiful clothes, fast cars, parties and the workings of the in crowd. In this first season there was something even more directly impacting the viewers. Most of the audience did not live in this high price life style. By showing Brendan and Brenda as kids recently moved from a much more normal location the audience was able to identify directly with them. As they watched the series then can put themselves in the changing lives of the twins. The kids here are only 16 but they are constantly acting in ways far beyond their years. The excuse given is most are from rich and famous families where child care is not exactly the top priority. The first episode is barely over before both Brendan and Brenda are in compromising situations. To their credit Brandon rebuffs the offer of his beautiful date and Brenda stands firm and makes the older man take her home. The formula of 16 year old kids plus money plus lack of parental supervision can only lead one place and the fun of the series is showing that journey.
Executive producer Aaron Spelling has made a long and lucrative career with his uncanny ability to turn straw into gold. His television series are usually simplistic in their premise but he is able to assemble casts that are perfect for the roles and who usually become cultural icons. This series is no exception and this first season is a prime example. Many of the young actors shown here may have had credits to their names before this but 90210 was a breakout vehicle for most of them. Jason Priestley plays Brendan as the sensitive young man who still tries to keep the values he had back in Minnesota. He able to make his own way better than his sister and does not give into the ever constant peer pressure of the school. Things are different for the character of Brenda as portrayed by Shannen Doherty. In this season she plays Brenda also in a state of transition but less able to resist the influence of others. Doherty plays her character as a girl who is less self assured. She craves the approval of her new circle of friends and is willing to put her best judgment aside to prove herself cool to them. Jennie Garth is just a delight to watch especially as she grows into her role. In this season she is the contrast to Brenda, socially well set, but her home life is terrible. Gabrielle Carteris is a pretty girl but typically of television and movies the producers just slap some glasses on her, give her less appealing clothing and she is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Tori Spelling started in this series as a veteran of many television series, mostly produced by her father, Aaron. Her role starts out small, just one girl in Kelly’s pack, but soon grows to become a major character.
Paramount has released the first season of this series with a bit of flair. The video is full screen, of course with a good color balance and contrast. The two channel sound track also fairs pretty well for being sixteen years old. The episodes here are better than they have looked for years. There are a few extras included in the set. The first is features the series creator, Darren Star has he looks at how the series got started. There is a look at the class roster, the initial students of West Beverly Hills High. Selected episodes have a commentary by Star and a behind the scenes look at the production of the first season. For many this is a return to a well loved series. For others this is the best possible introductions for those out there who were too young the first time around.