Just as Fox's 21 Jump Street
injected the cop drama with a dose of hip, Beverly Hills 90210
infused the primetime soap with youthful energy. Like Aaron Spelling's Dynasty
, most characters don't lack for disposable income, except for middle-class twins Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty, Heathers
). Created by Darren Star (Melrose Place
), the class-conscious concept scored an instant hit. In the two-part Tim Hunter-directed pilot, the teens have just arrived from Minneapolis. "Nobody knows me," Brenda tells Brandon on their first day at West Beverly High. "I can be anyone I want." The two soon befriend Steve (Ian Ziering), Kelly (Jennie Garth), Donna (Spelling's daughter, Tori), David (Brian Austin Green), and commuter student Andrea (Gabriel Carteris). Then there's Dylan (Luke Perry), who debuts in the second episode ("The Green Room"). A poetry-reading surfer with a shady past, he's the James Dean of the piece, and Brenda falls hard for his bad-boy charms. Guests include Debbie Gibson ("East Side Story") and Matthew Perry ("April is the Cruelest Month"), while recurring characters include understanding parents Cindy (Carol Potter) and Jim Walsh (James Eckhouse) and Peach Pit manager Nat (Joe E. Tata).
Beverly Hills, 90210 ran for 10 years. Though it would move away from issue-oriented episodes in the seasons to come--in the first, it takes on shoplifting, cheating, and date rape--without it, there would be no O.C., no Veronica Mars, etc. Just like the 1980s films of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), it set the standard to which all others must be compared. As nice as it is to have the show on DVD, it should be noted that not all musical selections made the cut, i.e. "Music has been changed for this home entertainment version." Otherwise, this guilty pleasure remains as pleasurable as ever. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
From a pregnancy scare and a psycho girlfriend to a cameo by Color Me Badd, Beverly Hills 90210's sophomore year demonstrates why this was "the greatest TV show in history with a zip code in its title." That's what comedians John Aboud and Michael Colton (Best Week Ever) call it in a very entertaining bonus feature that affectionately roasts 90210 from its so-the-drama melodramatics to its stuck-in-the-'90s fashion sense (high-waisted jeans, buttoned-up shirts, and whatever the heck you call the outrageous wardrobe worn by Brian Austin Green's David). This is the season that catapulted 90210 from Most Likely to Succeed to BSOF (Best Show on Fox). Certainly, it was must-see viewing for teens who anxiously tuned in each week to vicariously chart the serial adventures of siblings Brenda (Shannon Doherty) and older brother Brandon (Jason Priestley), recent transplants from Minnesota to glitzy Beverly Hills. Season 2, one of the best in this series' decade-long run, is one for the time capsule, with episodes and story arcs that loom large in the 90210 phenomenon, among them: Brenda's tempestuous, on-and-off-again relationship with soulful bad boy Dylan (Luke Perry in his instantly iconic role), causing rifts between her and her increasingly disapproving parents; new girl Emily Valentine (Christine Elise) going all Fatal Attraction on Brandon (no rabbits are boiled but a homecoming float is in jeopardy); Kelly (Jennie Garthhooking up with Melrose Place-bound Jake (Grant Show), and Donna (Tori Spelling) in her mermaid Halloween costume.
Degrassi Jr. High has nothing on 90210 when it comes to issues-oriented episodes. Not four minutes into the season opener, Brenda announces she is five days "late." "I love Dylan, and I thought I knew what we were doing" she tells BFFs Kelly and Donna, "but I'm beginning to get the feeling that it wasn't worth it." Other episodes address abstinence, child abuse, the physically challenged, sexual orientation, racism, rape, and steroids. A heartbreaking story arc concerns David shunning his former best friend, Scott, who returns from an Oklahoma vacation all urban cowboy, making him even more of an outcast with the popular kids. "Cool it with the guns," David cautions, foreshadowing tragic events to come in the episode "The Next 50 Years." Throwing something of a wet blanket on precious memories of the show is the substitution of generic songs for 90210's originally killer soundtracks of alternative and classic rock and golden oldies. One would think that the Peach Pit has the lamest jukebox on Earth. --Donald Liebenson
Things continue to plug along at a rapid and highly dramatic pace in season three for the privileged teens of Aaron Spelling's 90's TV classic Beverly Hills 90210. This season the gang tackles eating disorders, gambling addiction, birth, death, incest, infidelity, car accidents, racism, homelessness, and one whopper of a love triangle, along with, of course, the standard high school fare of college applications, SAT scores, and graduation anxiety. 90210 continues to revolve around Minnesota transplants Brandon (Jason Preistley) and Brenda Walsh (Shannon Doherty), though with every season the twins’ Midwestern roots seem to matter a little less. The summer before senior year begins with Brenda and boyfriend Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) still deeply in love, much to the chagrin of Brenda's disapproving parents. To force a little distance, they send Brenda to Paris for the summer with Donna (Tori Spelling), herself the subject of an enjoyable and incredibly absurd French modeling subplot—while halfway around the world Dylan and Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) discover a growing mutual attraction and begin an illicit summer fling. But it’s clear the love triangle between Dylan and best friends Brenda and Kelly remains the heart of the show. Taking a break from all the drama, there are some entertaining subplots this year, many of them involving surprising guest stars (before they were stars), including Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), David Arquette (Scream), and Dean Cain (Lois & Clark).
As in the first two seasons released on DVD, the lack of the original early 90's music is a major disappointment, but the entertainment value doesn't suffer for it. The highlight of the special features is the return of VH-1's Best Week Ever's John Aboud and Michael Colton. The two comedians' hilarious lampooning of season three in "Everything You Need to Know About Beverly Hills 90210 - Season Three" gently mocks some of the more outlandish dream sequences, Brenda's horrible french accent, and of course, the ridiculousness of many of these highly entertaining but entirely silly plot-lines. Beverly Hills 90210 - Season Three is addictive as ever and incredibly fun to watch - a time capsule, over-the-top soap opera and teen drama trailblazer all rolled into one. --Kira Canny
Welcome to the first post-high school season of Beverly Hills 90210. While maintaining essentially the same formula in season four that's driven the previous seasons, things definitely grow up and heat up now that the gang has started college. They're all attending school together (of course), the fictional California University. Andrea decides against Yale and Brenda makes her way back to Beverly Hills quickly after a disastrous attempt at returning "home" to Minnesota. While Brenda's return and Andrea's decision to stay in Beverly Hills seems not only inevitable, but essential, it's interesting to note that season four is the final year featuring all original cast members. It's also the year the tone of the show most abruptly changes, making way for the much more grown up and sexier seasons to come. For these twentysomethings playing teenagers, the shift from high school to college allows them to relax a bit into their characters and really show off their acting chops (all except Shannon Doherty, whose seething anger is simmering just barely below the surface of her performances; her tension with the cast and producers at this time was widely documented). As in the years before, issues rule the storylines here and while we've got some repeat offenders (infidelity, date rape, racism, drug use), there's also plenty of fresh material that these actors clearly have fun with (anti-Semitism, pregnancy, campus scandals, and newly discovered siblings). Minor complaints: the lack of original music continues to be an annoyance; it seems this year that the generic studio tracks have gotten even worse. Also missing are the funny guys from VH-1's Best Week Ever doing the "Everything You Need to Know About Beverly Hills 90210: Season Four". The segment still exists, but with much less entertaining hosts. Otherwise, Season Four continues to deliver the goods any 90210 fan could want--drama, drama, drama--and it's only just getting started. ---Kira Canny
The most popular zip code of the '90s changes dramatically in the fifth season, the halfway point of the show's 10-year run. With the departure of one of the primary characters--Brenda Walsh (Shannon Doherty)--multiple new faces arrive (and stick around) on Beverly Hills 90210 for the first time. The most well-known and well-remembered is Tiffani Thiessen as bad girl Valerie Malone, an old family friend of the Walshes, who arrives in Beverly Hills seeking refuge after her father's suicide. Valerie almost immediately becomes the love interest of both Steve (Ian Ziering) and Dylan (Luke Perry) and displays a penchant for smoking pot in the Walsh's house and shooting pool in comically seedy pool halls in the middle of the day. The two other new romantic storylines feature Kathleen Robertson as Clare Arnold, first seen as Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley)'s stalker and eventually as David Silver's (Brian Austin Green) rebound girl after he breaks up with Tori Spelling's Donna (who's holding onto her virginity until marriage); and Jamie "How Do You Talk to an Angel?" Walters as working-class Ray Pruit, the new boyfriend of Donna.
Season five firmly establishes the new 90210 soap-opera formula and shifts from message-driven plotlines to character-based action. Perry definitely has some of the finest moments this season as we find him completely broke and fallen very far off the wagon. From alcohol to cocaine to heroin to rehab, Dylan hits bottom with a car crash and we're forced to endure one of the most ridiculous (but accidently hilarious) episodes in Beverly Hills 90210 history: "The Dreams of Dylan McKay." The other characters don't have nearly as dramatic storylines this season, but there's still plenty of action. Brandon and Kelly (Jennie Garth) are figuring out how to be in a relationship while he's constantly fighting bureaucracy and special interests in campus politics. Donna is falling in love with Ray, but finding out a bit too late that he's not quite who she thought he was. Things get a lot more ridiculous, amusing and fun this season and 90210 remains as compulsively watchable as ever.---Kira Canny
"Some things never change," states woe-is-me bad boy Dylan ("Special Guest Star" Luke Perry) near the end of the series finale. And we wouldn't have it any other way. After a tumultuous decade, the buff and beautiful characters of Beverly Hills 90210 may be dealing with more "adult stuff," but their lives are still buffeted by infidelities, betrayals, make-ups, and breakups. It is, though, nice to see that after 10 years a little self-awareness finally starts to dawn. "Doesn't it seem," Kelly (Jennie Garth) asks Steve (Ian Ziering), "like we've been living in a Stephen King novel when you're afraid to turn the page because you're afraid something horrible is going to happen to somebody in the group?" Steve responds without a trace of irony (one of this ever-earnest series' endearing graces), "Maybe there's someone out there who's been devising this unbelievably horrific plan for us to go through." Whoever was doing all that devising was working overtime this final season: Dylan goes back to college, David becomes something of a shock jock, Christina Aguilera performs at the Peach Pit After Dark, Steve wrestles with commitment issues before proposing to a pregnant Janet (Lindsay Price), drug dealers kidnap Noah (Vincent Young), Kelly is engaged to Matt (Daniel Cosgrove) but still loves Dylan, Janet struggles with being a working mother, and Dylan discovers his father is still alive. And won't David and Donna ever get together? Spoiler alert: Yes they will in the tear-jerking wedding finale that brings back old 90210 vets Gabrielle Carteris, a chipper Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, and, via videotape, Jason Priestley. Shannen Doherty remains the show's Voldemort, She Who Must Not be Named. In a film clip of the original gang glimpsed in "The Final Goodbye," a series retrospective originally broadcast in 2000 that is this set's lone extra feature, her face is blurred. This final season may not rank with this series' best, but to quote Dylan, this is not a one-time offer. For long-time fans looking for closure, this is a must-own set that invites repeat viewing. --Donald Liebenson