In the warm and sunny California, in the most exclusive part of Los Angeles, a couple of twins, Brandon and Brenda Walsh, have just moved. A new life awaits them at West Beverly High; Will their typical Minnesota spontaneity be upset by the frivolity of the coast? In the meantime, better give old friends the new address: Beverly Hills 90210.
School, new friends, and romantic troubles
In 1990, the curtain opened on the lives of some of Beverly Hills’ wealthiest children: Dylan McKay, Kelly Taylor, Donna Martin, Steve Sanders and David Silver. Accustomed to money, immersed in superficial everyday life, their world collides with the simplicity of the Walsh family and the brilliant intelligence of Andrea Zuckerman. In a tangle of family problems and matters of love – who could have ever known -, a friendship is established that slips beyond all that facade of luxurious perfection. The meeting point of the new band? But the Peach Pit, of course, run by Nat Bussichio.
Brenda and Dylan
The couple destined to make the hearts of all teenagers throb: Dylan and Brenda, Brenda and Dylan. He is shady and self-centered, used to getting what he wants, without ever apologizing, and plagued by serious family gaps. She is energetic and impulsive, in love with the idea of love itself, prone to getting into trouble.
A couple who threatened to shoot sparks from the first stolen kisses. Behind these two characters, there were two great actors, who with resourcefulness made scorched earth around them: Shannen Doherty and Luke Perry.
Doherty only a few years later left the series to devote herself to the filming of Charmed – the show that has been able to take her very high -; while Luke Perry had the pleasure of acting with some Italian actors. Unfortunately, in 2019 he left us, following a stroke during the filming of Riverdale, in which he played Fred Andrews. He, the beautiful and the damned, remains and will always remain an icon among the stars of teen drama.
One character who made a difference in this show is Brandon Walsh, Brenda’s twin brother, played by Jason Priestley.
I would define him as a 360 ° figure, characterized by great strength of mind, capacity for discernment, and excellent intelligence. He seemed able to do everything effortlessly, but at the same time he had weaknesses and, like any human being, he occasionally fell into error. I consider him one of the best-studied characters of the whole series; and it was a blow to see him leave the show in the fifth episode of the ninth season, under the pretext of going to work for a magazine in Washington.
Jason Priestley’s performance was flawless and acted as a perfect counterweight to Dylan’s melodramatic drama.
On to social issues
Being one of the first American teen dramas, the producers of Beverly Hills 90210 felt the need to become a reference and information point for teenagers. For this reason, within it, we find important social issues, some of which of particular relevance during the 90s.
Some episodes use sexuality as a central theme, to explain how important is the use of contraceptives to protect oneself against AIDS, a disease against which a real war was being fought at that time. Prevention was a focal point, and it still is today. At the same time, however, the show tried to teach not to fear the people who suffered from this syndrome but rather tried to explain their difficult life to create real contact with the public.
Other issues addressed are the abuse of alcohol and drugs. It is easier than expected to get lost in the dark meanders of these substances; and within the episodes, it is emphasized how important is the support of family and friends to detoxify, and thus return to a healthy life. Even if you have fallen low, you can save yourself. There are specialized centers for this, and with perseverance and goodwill, one step at a time, you can get out of any vicious circle.
Yet another topic dealt with, no less important than the previous ones, is physical violence. Through the very experience of Kelly and Donna, two of the main protagonists, there is a clear denunciation of sexual violence and aggressive relationships. Never suffer in silence, the victims must speak, and through the word exorcise their physical and psychological pain.
Beyond these, there are still many topics of social relevance discussed within this TV series. From this point of view, using the mistakes and experiences of the characters as an example, a great job was done; they laid the foundations for some of the most difficult youth problems, offering good food for thought.
Round and round
As for the plot, however, being one of the first major teen drama experiments, there are several gaps and redundancies.
Over the seasons, many interesting characters have disappeared into thin air, replaced by new protagonists who nevertheless seemed to be the faded copy of the previous ones. The characters, in turn, have almost all had drug problems; this can work a couple of times, but in the long run, it becomes a bit heavy. And the same goes for the back and forth of love: some trivial, some too far-fetched, some unthinkable.
The ten long seasons, made up of about 27 episodes each, seem to recur in around-the-clock that makes enthusiasm drop. It’s a classic – there’s no doubt about that – but they should have worked better on the unfolding of the story.
And since 30 years have passed – celebrated in 2020 – from the first season of Beverly Hills 90210, this TV series deserves to be part of the Old But Gold column.
The undisputed progenitor of the most modern teen dramas, let’s toast to its “Pearl anniversary” – as they say for weddings – and let’s ask ourselves why, despite all its flaws, it was such a successful show. I believe the protagonists were its soft heart; their exuberance conveyed all the positive essence of the 90s.
Looking back at this TV series nowadays, in such different times, one can still perceive how much life seemed full of infinite possibilities in those times. The simple positivity of those years is still so strong that the desire to go back in time arises spontaneously. So… baggy high-waisted jeans, two-size-fits-all leather jacket: ready to take a ride on Rodeo Drive in Dylan’s Porsche Speedster?