32 years ago, on October 4, 1990, one of the all-time best teen soaps, Beverly Hills, 90210, premiered on the then-newish Fox network. However, during its first season, ‘90210’ (as it became known), was not originally intended to be a soap. The first season focused on the Walsh twins, Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and their culture shock moving from Minneapolis, Minnesota to the affluent Beverly Hills, California zip code. Obviously, the Walsh parents Jim (James Eckhouse) and Cindy (Carol Potter), weren’t doing too shabby themselves if they could afford a home in Beverly Hills. However, it it established that in Beverly Hills, there’s well-off like the Walshes, and there’s really well-off, like all of Brandon and Brenda’s classmates who also attend West Beverly Hills High School.
Right off the bat watching season 1 of Beverly Hills, 90210, it’s obvious that the “kids” in this show are not kids. When I watched this show when it was new, I didn’t really notice how old the teenagers looked. However, that’s probably because I was in elementary school when the show started. I recently re-watched the first three seasons (haven’t gotten further than that yet, but I might start it up again!) after Luke Perry’s tragic passing (RIP Dylan!) and it is so obvious that these people are NOT in high school. Some of the actors are a little more believable than others. In 1990, Priestley was 21, Doherty was 19, Jennie Garth was 18, Tori Spelling and Brian Austin Green were 17…then the heavy hitters, Ian Ziering was 26, Luke Perry was 24, and Gabrielle Carteris was 29 (!). The teenage characters, save for David, were supposed to be 16 and juniors in high school. David is established as being a year younger, but would skip a grade in season 3 and graduate with his friends. In season 2, the characters repeat their junior year, presumably to keep the high school years rolling a little bit longer.
However, I choose to justify their age discrepancies by focusing on how much each character endured during their time on the series. Anyone would look haggard after all that they went through.
Brandon Walsh is all around a nice guy. But he can also be a self-righteous, judgemental prick. He is not without his flaws however. He becomes acquainted with bad girl Emily Valentine who introduces him to U4EA at a rave. U4EA is a 90210-term for ecstasy. Brandon gets high and ends up needing to have Dylan take him home. Later Brandon gets in deep with a bookie after losing numerous sports bets and he goes through many many girlfriends, eventually ending up in a love triangle with Dylan and Kelly. Unlike his friends, Brandon works at the Peach Pit in order to have pocket money.
Brandon’s sister Brenda doesn’t have it as easy as Brandon. It’s established that she cannot pass her driver’s test to save her life, so she has to rely on rides from her brother and friends. Brenda is in a very tumultuous on-off-on-off again relationship with Dylan. Her father, Jim, thinks that Dylan is a bad influence and tries everything in his power to keep them apart. Everything he does is in vain however, and eventually Brenda ends up stuck in Mexico after sneaking away to meet Dylan in Baja and forgetting her ID. For the record, Brenda lies to Dylan about having permission to be in Baja. He was going on his own whether she was there or not. Brenda ends up breaking up with Dylan at the end of season 2 because their relationship is moving too quickly for her. During season 3’s “Summer of Deception,” Brenda ends up hooking up with Rick (Dean Cain) in Paris, while pretending to be Frenchwoman, “Brenda DuBois.” Meanwhile, Dylan and Kelly spend the summer canoodling at the beach club. This entire thing comes to a head in the greatest moment of the entire series when Brenda and Rick run into Dylan and Kelly at the same restaurant. Other events that happen to Brenda include becoming enamored by her cardio funk instructor, pretending to be “La-voyne” the waitress at the Peach Pit, being robbed at gunpoint one evening while working at the Peach Pit and going through a breast cancer scare.
Brenda quickly befriends Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), one of the most popular girls in school. However, it is also established that she gained some of her popularity by sleeping around. Kelly does try to reclaim her reputation and improve it by being a little more selective, with varying degrees of success. Poor Kelly goes through a lot during her ten years on the show. At the beginning of the series, Kelly is presented as being promiscuous. It is later revealed that she was taken advantage of by a classmate and she is nearly raped again at the Halloween party when she was struggling with her self-esteem. She is the ex-girlfriend of Steve Sanders and childhood classmate of Dylan McKay, whom she memorably becomes involved with during the “Summer of Deception.” Kelly’s mother, Jackie, is an ex-model and also an alcoholic and cocaine addict. Her father is MIA. During the series, Kelly struggles with an eating disorder, joining a cult, being burned in a fire, becoming a cocaine addict, being raped and shooting her rapist in self-defense, having amnesia, and suffering a miscarriage. Kelly, Donna and David would eventually all live together in a sweet condo on the beach.
Kelly’s best friend throughout the series is Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) who is also popular but is religious and very set on staying a virgin, much to her longtime boyfriend, David Silver’s (Brian Austin Green), frustration. David’s frustration will lead to him losing his virginity to a woman in the back seat of Babyface’s limo, which hurts Donna. The “Will They or Won’t They?” storyline of David and Donna gets pretty annoying, but eventually in season seven (I think), they seal the deal–I’m sure much to the chagrin of Donna’s shrewish mother, Felice. Donna also faces the drama of being drunk at the senior prom (David’s dad having given the kids champagne before hand) and risks not being allowed to graduate. This event begins one of the greatest moments of the series, with “DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES!” being chanted again and again by students protesting Donna’s expulsion from school. Donna would have her share of troubles including being on/off again with David, being in an abusive relationship, and attempted rape.
Donna’s boyfriend David, started out as the dorky younger classmate who had a crush on Donna. He constantly tried to prove himself to her and her friends, eventually earning an “in” into the group. His friend, Scott Scanlon, suddenly didn’t fit in. Making matters worse was Scott accidentally shooting and killing himself at his birthday party. David felt guilty, but Scott was soon never mentioned again. Eventually, David’s dad and Kelly’s mom married each other and had a child. Throughout all of this, David desperately wanted to become a rapper, even joining Steve Sanders Management Group for representation. After only a few gigs at the beach club and a failed record deal, David presumably dropped Steve as his manager. Later, I seem to recall him managing some sort of club and he has a hit song at some point. David and Donna would also run the West Bev DJ booth during their time in high school. Also at one point, David becomes addicted to meth and is only saved from jail time by Dylan who forces him to flush his stash down the toilet.
Speaking of Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), while he is popular, he is also very mysterious and also somewhat of a loner. Dylan’s mother abandoned him and his father and lives in Hawaii. Dylan’s father, Jack McKay (who fakes his death in season 3), is always involved in various illegal activities and is scarcely to be found for the first two and a half seasons. On Dylan and Brenda’s first date, Dylan has an altercation with his father which culminates with Dylan having an emotional breakdown on the sidewalk and breaking a flower pot. He mostly lives by himself at the BelAge Hotel. Dylan’s father did at least leave him with a good nest egg to live off of, as Dylan doesn’t work, drives a sweet Porsche, and can afford the hotel bills at the luxury hotel. Later Dylan would move into a sweet bungalow. Who wouldn’t want a high school boyfriend who lives alone in his own home?
Luke Perry is lampooned often for his forehead wrinkles, but I would justify it by saying that Dylan lived a rough life. His father faked his own death. Dylan is also an alcoholic and later has a drug addiction. Then, he is fleeced out of his fortune by his half-sister’s mother and her fiance. Dylan then hires a hitman to avenge his father’s death, but falls in love with Toni, the daughter of his father’s killer. However, Toni’s father hates Dylan, and arranges to have him killed by shooting him when he gets into his car. However, Toni gets into the car instead and is killed in a hail of gunfire. My point is, leave this man and his forehead wrinkles alone, he’s been through a lot. Plus, he’s hot so who cares?
Another part of the gang is Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) another friend of Brandon’s and former ex-boyfriend to Kelly. He is the Zach Morris of West Bev, always trying to make a quick buck, always trying to scam people. He is a jock and part of the in-crowd but is a bit of a jokester, a ladies man, and drives a Corvette. His big storyline at the beginning of the series is that he was adopted and desperately wants to find his birth parents–even going on a Christmas pilgrimage to New Mexico to find them. His adopted mother, Samantha Sanders, is a famous television actress who is never home for her son. Steve is always falling short due to his own bad decisions and then always has to scramble to try and make things right. He barely graduates after having been expelled for using the school computers to change his grades. Not all hope is lost for Steve however, he eventually turns it around, even having a steady girlfriend (and I think later, wife?) named Janet.
Finally, there’s Andrea (pronounced Awn-dree-a) (Gabrielle Carteris) who looks like everyone’s teacher, not classmate. Frankly, this girl is always stressed because she desperately wants to attend Yale–her entire high school slate of activities revolves around formulating the perfect resume to get into Yale. She’s also the editor of the West Beverly Blaze newspaper, a project she puts her entire heart and soul into, as if she were running the Washington Post! She is also hopelessly in love with Brandon, despite him only seeing her as a friend. She even goes as far as offering herself as a gift to him when she thinks he’s moving back to Minnesota. Later at their senior prom, Brandon and Andrea find themselves alone together in a hotel room–only to decide to remain friends. And if all of this isn’t enough, Andrea is later a victim of a hit and run accident! Eventually, Andrea gives up her dream of going to Yale University and instead attends California University. It must be a huge blow to your ego to end up at the same college as Steve Sanders–the person who was almost expelled from West Bev for changing his grades on the school computer. Andrea eventually ends up pregnant during college and moves away. All of this drama, plus having to hide the fact that she really lives in Van Nuys, no wonder Andrea looks like she’s almost 30.
Regardless of how “old” everyone looks, this is still one of my favorite night-time soaps. I used to watch this show with my parents every Wednesday night, along with Party of Five. I also watched Melrose Place, the 90210-spinoff, that aired on Monday nights. 90210 definitely wore out its welcome and probably should have been canceled long before season 10, when barely any of the original characters were on the show; but it was still fun to watch. What ridiculous thing could possibly happen this week? They don’t make shows like this anymore.