Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Life In West Beverly

So I finished watching 90210 about a month ago, but it’s been too difficult for me to come up with a way to write a review of the show. I mean there are 296 episodes over 10 seasons, so there is a lot to discuss with the show. I was going to write a blurb about each character, but there are too many characters for me to write a continuous piece. Plus there are logistical things like do the Walsh parents make it as characters? How about Noah Hunter? Or Matt Durning Attorney at Law? So I scrapped the characters idea. Then I thought about writing about each season, but so much happens in each season that it would be ludicrous for me to write about ten seasons. Heck even one would be challenge. So after a few weeks, here’s what I came up with:

Why I Love 90210
As crazy as the show gets, it never gets boring. The writers did a great job of making sure something was going on with each character at any given point. And there are not many one episode subplots. Drug addictions, unwanted pregnancies, debts, and everything else that goes on are stretched out for 4 or 5 episodes, which keeps everything interesting.

But that’s just the plots. The characters are what really make the show. Each one has its own niche and no two that are on the show at the same time are alike. Brandon was the leader, Brenda was the independent girl, Steve was the meat-headed jock, Kelly was the tramp, Dylan was the badass, Andrea was the book-nerd, David was the dork, and Donna was the virgin. Granted, roles changed as the show progressed, and they tried replacing some characters with different ones, which worked well with Valerie and Claire replacing the changing roles of the girls (Valerie took over Brandon’s sister-type role that Brenda left behind and Kelly’s slutty image that she shed, and Claire came in as the independent to take over Brenda).

Which brings me to my next debate…

When Did 90210 Jump the Shark?
This question could seriously be debated for hours on end. I know what I think, but I’m going to give the candidates:

High School Graduation: If you look at their freshmen year in college, nothing really changed that much. There was still parental influence (Brandon and Brenda living with their parents and David secretly living in the Beach Apartment without Donna’s parents knowing). Also, school was still a factor in sub-plots. The only thing that really changed was the gang was having sex with people outside the group (Brandon with his professor’s wife and Andrea with her creepy RA and a Mexican bartender who she ended up marrying).

Brenda Leaving the Show: This could potentially be the place where the show does jump the shark because you could see the show taking a different turn. After she left, Valerie came in and started stirring it up, which is actually what the show needed. There was always drama, but nothing like what Valerie did in her first season back where she immediately started going after Kelly, somehow bought the Peach Pit After Dark for $200,000, and broke Steve’s heart 9238473 times. Oh yeah, she also heard rumors about Dylan being a badass and had sex with him just to rile up the crowd. Brandon still used her as a sister-type influence in his life, but he also branched out to other characters. Brenda leaving made the show grow up, which worked well because the audience was also growing up and wanted to see more than just the typical teen-age BS.

Jim and Cindy Walsh Leaving: Anyone who makes this argument didn’t realize that you can’t have parents around in the show after high school, no matter how “cool” they are.

Dylan Leaving: You could tell after Dylan left the show that it was losing something. The episode or two after he left the wheels were coming off, but the ship was righted when Colin gets Kelly hooked on coke. So the threat of substance abuse was still hanging over everyone’s head, which is what Dylan best brought to the table.

College Graduation: This is the most likely spot where the show could have jumped the shark, but the plotlines in the 8th season were actually captivating. The only absolutely ridiculous thing was, as my Uncle says, “Hey, there’s a guy who lives on a boat in Hawaii, let’s invite him back to LA to live with us because we can trust any guy we find on a boat.” Other than that, Kelly getting shot, Valerie’s rape, and the recently de-viriginized Donna Martin were great sub-plots.

Brandon Leaving: Believe it or not, the show jumped the shark between graduation and Brandon leaving at the beginning of the 9th season. This just poured salt on the wound. But this is where it happened…

Brandon and Kelly’s Wedding: What a ridiculous idea this was. You knew that the writers had to have a big event to end the season, so they decided let’s get marry our two best characters. But there was a problem, once married, there can’t be any petty arguments that could occupy a few episodes. And they couldn’t have Brandon cheat on Kelly again because that had already happened. So they had an engagement and everything but had Brandon and Kelly decide that they were best friends and not fit to be married to one another. It was insane. I was legitimately upset when I watched the episode. It made no sense. The only reason why they were friends after they broke up in college was to keep an eye on the other one to make sure they didn’t stray from one another so they ultimately could get married. And the worst part about calling off the wedding was that all the guests understood completely. The non-wedding gave Brandon an easy way out of the show, which brought back Dylan and introduced Matt Durning Attorney at Law. You can also see the plotlines go down the tank. Dylan and Noah got kidnapped, Donna became a slut for two weeks, David and Dylan started hating each other, Matt Durning Attorney at Law’s schizophrenic wife came back, and Steve got married and had a kid. If that wedding had happened, the show would have been much better off.

Random Awards I’m Going to Give Out

Most Unrealistic Moment on the Show: Dylan and Valerie’s sting operation to get back the 10 million dollars that was stolen from Dylan by his apparent second family. Valerie is prancing around half-naked while there is a fight between Dylan and Kevin where Kevin has a gun that he doesn’t use. You figure it out. Honorable mention goes to when Dylan and Noah are kidnapped, and Noah dives away from the car that’s about to blow up at the last second.

Best Subplot: The love triangle with Dylan, Brenda, and Kelly was so perfect. You didn’t know who to root for, but Dylan played it so perfectly. He told them both he was going to think and let the girls hang out for a month eyeing one another waiting for one of them to blink. And of course, as soon as Dylan chooses Kelly (the wrong choice, by the way), his dad gets blown up in a car in front of his eyes.

Most Ridiculous Subplot: Anything involving Brandon being a hardnosed journalist for either West Beverly High or California University’s newspaper. No high school or college kid would take writing for a campus paper that seriously. There were times where he was nearly expelled and arrested all for an extra curricular activity. He even got AP recognition when covering the Ray Pruitt trial. How could that happen?

Most Tortured Character: This is the easiest thing for me to say. No one, and I mean NO ONE has ever been through as much as Kelly did in 10 years. Let’s have a rundown in chronological order (forgive me if I missed something):

Nearly raped at a Halloween party in High School
Became addicted to diet pills and anorexic in High School
Caught in a house fire and had her neck and back burned to nothing
Joined a cult during college
Started cocaine addiction
Kidnapped and nearly killed by crazed rehab roommate
Impregnated and miscarried two weeks before college graduation
Shot in the abdomen by car thieves
Sexually assaulted by boss
Engaged to Brandon then breaks it off just before the wedding
Raped while walking alone in parking lot
Shot and killed her rapist
Broke off yet another engagement, this time to Matt Durning Attorney at Law

You tell me how someone could have survived 10 years of that torture. That’s 3 sexual assaults, 2 addictions, 2 broken off engagements, and 3 incidents involving guns. The only way that it is justified is at the end of the show when Kelly and Steve are talking about the past 10 years, and Steve says the only way all of them could have survived everything is by having strong friends who can help you move past.

Biggest Mistake: If there was one thing that 90210 could have done was become revolutionary in showing what teen-agers and college aged kids do: constantly make-out. I’m not saying the show should have been soft-core porn, but didn’t you notice how there was nothing between kissing and having sex? 90210 could have brought oral sex into mainstream television; instead they left that to Bill Clinton. There was no discussion about it, no hints, no nothing. I don’t know if it would have worked out, but it was definitely bizarre for Donna to only kiss guys until she had sex.

Funniest Moment: Besides all the unintentional comedy and bad acting, the one time where I laughed out loud because of something that was intentionally funny was when Donna and David got a dog named Rocky that was peeing and pooping all over the house, David answers the phone by saying “Rocky’s Toilet!” I laughed at that when I was 9, and I laughed when I was 20. And some people tell me I need to grow up!

Favorite Episode
This was easy for me to figure out because I judge episodes based on how much happens, and if it’s relevant to the grand scheme of the show. That’s part of what made 90210 so great. All of the season finales were captivating; there weren’t any BS plots just for fillers, but the episode that sent the show on its course, and the episode I believe made the show last for the 6 years beyond it was the finale of the 4th season, called Mr. Walsh Goes to Washington.

Here’s what happened:
Andrea goes into premature labor
Kelly and Dylan break up
Brenda is offered to go away to London for the Summer
Steve’s ex, Celeste, is dating his arch-nemesis, John Sears
David is caught cheating on Donna
Kelly realizes she’s in Love with Brandon
Dylan’s money is stolen
Brenda has sex with Dylan then promises she’ll be back after London

This episode gave Brenda a way out of the show, unfortunately. Andrea’s baby’s premature birth put a strain on her marriage, which ultimately made them move away. Steve begins to realize that he needs companionship in his life and looks for a girlfriend. Donna is left as the only virgin left, and she starts to feel more pressure to have sex. Also, she and David become star-crossed lovers. Brenda’s departure and money loss send Dylan into depression and drug addiction, which after getting out that funk makes him want to avenge his father’s death. That vengeance leads him out of the show after his wife is killed. Finally, the Brandon and Kelly relationship looms in every episode until Brandon leaves (and some afterward). There’s an added bonus of seeing Brenda and Donna take their shirts off.

What I Took Away from 90210
First of all, and most importantly, there was not a moment when watching the show that I was not entertained. Even after the show jumped, I still enjoyed watching each and every episode no matter how improbable or unbelievable the plots became. I do still contend, however, that the last six seasons rode the coattails of the first four seasons. You can’t find more captivating television than the first four seasons. And the final six seasons are still better than a lot of the crap that’s on television now. The show also was the last thing I would watch on most nights at school before falling asleep, which ended up leading to some pretty interesting dreams about me coexisting with cast members or sometimes being part of a plot.

Secondly, the music on the show was pretty solid. I actually downloaded some of the songs that I heard on the show. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” by Brian McKnight, “LA Song” by Beth Hart, and “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak are among songs that I enjoyed in the show. They also had guests like Goo Goo Dolls, Spin Doctors, and the immortal Duncan Sheik.

Finally, it was interesting to watch the show from the perspective of someone who has experienced some of the things that occur in the show. I watched new episodes regularly between the ages of 7 and 13, and a lot of the events I just watched but never pondered. Now, I see all the events such as hook-ups, break-ups, addictions, parties, and the occasional violent crime, and I actually understand them and develop an opinion.

Final Verdict on 90210: One of a Kind

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