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First Impression: Beverly Hills, 90210
As I mentioned in “The Origins of My Teen Drama Fandom,” my earliest memory of “Beverly Hills, 90210” is seeing a few minutes of the season 5 episode, “Up in Flames.”
I have absolutely no recollection of the show before this. Surely I’d heard of it, right? Well… given that the series premiered when I was 3 years old, maybe not.
And how did I go from glimpsing that now-iconic episode to becoming a regular viewer during season 6? I have no idea. I wasn’t even 9 years old at that point. But from then on, “Beverly Hills, 90210” was a part of my life… a huge part.
As I cried over Toni’s death and Luke Perry’s exit, watched Kelly descend into a cocaine addiction, and got a glimpse into a fictional newsroom through Brandon (I already knew I wanted to be a journalist at that point!), “Beverly Hills, 90210” became appointment television for me.
I even had a Wednesday night routine. I would get my pajamas on and my blanket all spread out before the clock struck 8:00pm. There was always a commercial break around 8:30pm, at which point I would go downstairs to get some Häagen-Dazs raspberry sorbet to eat during the second-half of the episode. During the commercials between the last scene and the promo for next week, I would brush my teeth. Then, as soon as the sneak peek was over, I would go to bed. After all, I had elementary school the next morning.
As I watched season 6 and the subsequent seasons unfold in real time, I used syndication to get caught up on all I had missed. FX was airing the earlier seasons, as was Chicago’s WGN, which my cable provider included in my New York-based channel lineup. I taped many episodes on VHS and there were days when I watched at 10:00am and 11:00am on FX and again at 5:00pm and 6:00pm on the same channel. Even if they were the same episodes morning and evening.
I fell in love with the relationship between Kelly and Dylan and I’ve always wondered whether, if I had watched from the beginning, if I had seen the episodes in their original order, if I would’ve been a Brenda and Dylan fan. We’ll never know and that’s okay.
While I prefer the middle and later seasons to the first two, I always admired how the show was both issue-oriented and (especially after seasons 1 and 2) serialized. Even though these characters’ lives were far different from mine, I still loved it. Perhaps that’s why I loved it. I was able to escape my own world and be a part of someone else’s.
I look back today and I’m shocked I was consuming the show’s mature content before I was even double-digits. As hypocritical as it may be, I don’t know that I’d allow my own (hypothetical) child to do so at the same age. (I was positively shocked and dismayed years ago when my young cousin knew all the words to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.”)
Funnily enough, though, I don’t really recall my parents objecting to the material. For a time in season 6, my mom would even watch with me each week. I only remember her getting upset by the amount of the show I was watching, so much so that if I heard her coming down the hall, I would quickly change the channel from FX to something else. I even remember sneaking in some viewing during a 1996 trip to Disney World with my grandparents — as they took an afternoon nap, I found “Beverly Hills, 90210” on the TV. And my dad, well, when Jason Priestley had his life-threatening race car accident in 2002, he called to tell me as soon as he heard. I was at the mall and sat down on the dirty floor and cried. That’s how much “Beverly Hills, 90210” became integrated into my life.
My obsession was just something my family accepted over time. My quirk, if you will. And just as “Beverly Hills, 90210” was my favorite television show then, it remains so today. First impression, last impression — it doesn’t matter. That will never change. This show started it all, both for the teen drama genre and for me.
I’d be remiss not to mention today is Perry’s birthday. He would’ve been 54 years old. Perhaps needless to say, but his passing last year devastated me. I will be writing about this massive loss at length next month.
Over the next week and a half, expect more of my “first impressions” of the core six teen dramas. This is intended to set the framework through which I’ll be examining the genre in this newsletter.
BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 (October 4, 1990 - May 17, 2000)
Favorite Seasons: 3-10
Favorite Episodes: “Shooting Star / American in Paris” (3.05), “Castles in the Sand” (3.06), “Rebel with a Cause” (3.13), “Back in the High Life Again” (3.19), “Senior Poll” (3.25), “The Time Has Come Today” (4.25), “Mr. Walsh Goes to Washington” (4.31, 4.32), “The Dreams of Dylan McKay (5.10), “Hate is Just a Four-Letter Word” (5.11), “The Real McCoy” (5.29), “Hello Life, Goodbye Beverly Hills” (5.30), “One Wedding and a Funeral” (6.10), “With This Ring” (7.20), “The Long Goodbye” (7.26), “Agony” (9.26), “Doc Martin” (10.17), “Ever Hear the One About the Exploding Father?” (10.20), “The Penultimate… Ode to Joy” (10.26, 10.27)
Favorite Characters: Kelly Taylor, Dylan McKay
Favorite Couples: Kelly and Dylan, Kelly and Brandon