Thursday, February 08, 2007

90210 Confession

In the Fall of 1993, Peabo and I shared a 10x10 cell in Jester West. My TV viewing habits were significantly different from Peabo's prior to college. Essentially, I never watched TV after 5:00pm. I was not someone who felt they grew up with the Huxtable Family, or who knew every beat of every episode of Cheers. In fact, the KareBear had pretty firm rules regarding TV consumption on week nights when I was a kid, and I consequently never got into the habit of watching "prime time" programming until Peabo introduced me to Seinfeld that same year.

That is not to say I didn't watch TV. In the summers I watched hours and hours of Beverly Hillbillies reruns on KBVO, The Price is Right, and Sale of the Century. I was 12, but I had the viewing habits of a man 7 times my age.

I still think Ellie May is kind of funny.

I remember being vaguely aware of 90210 coming to TV. At the time I remember looking upon the program with the same suspicion that I looked upon any show I felt had pigeonholed me as a demographic. Plus, who could relate to the characters and storylines of a bunch of kids doing very un-High School-like activities, rolling in cash, and for whom life was pretty much already set?

A few kids at KOHS started sporting sideburns in tribute to Luke Perry or Jason Priestly. Fashion dolls found their way to the shelves of the toy aisle at the grocery, and I found out my prom date was a closet 90210 fan.

Now, to be honest, I wasn't exactly free from being hit as a target demographic. I watched more than my fair share of "Saved by the Bell", thanks to my pre-Show Girls interest in Jessie Spano. But when I completed high school, it was my plan to put all of that behind me.

So when Peabo announced it was 90210 night in my first fall of college, and that he would be watching 90210 whether I liked it or not, I packed my bag and headed to the library for a few hours to study for an Oceanography quiz. I was a serious college student with no time for the bobble-heads of the 90210 universe. Where was their angst? Where was their genuine human drama? To my dismay, Peabo was joined by my pals Beno and Julio, who both confessed to knowing quite a bit about the show.

I did not yet understand the genius behind "Donna Martin graduates."

It was a few weeks later that I had studying that could be put off and not wanting to leave my own dorm room when my friends were hanging out that I watched my first episode.

What I had not understood was that 90210 was a soap opera. Whether you liked the characters or felt any sympathy towards a single one of them was incidental to putting the characters in the most abso-ludicrous positions possible and then react with a straight face while making decisions that were (a) absolutely repugnant, but (b) created the most room for TV-soap drama.

Soon the crowd grew to include a few other folks from our floor, and Peabo began to keep a stack of disposable plastic cups on hand. At some point someone (I think Julio) had become so disgusted with the characters, he threw a cup at the screen. And so it came to pass that we all were armed with plastic cups with which to voice our displeasure in a manner approximating physical violence toward the characters for their boneheaded decision making.

What I recall most from those episodes was that character Kelly Taylor was positioned as the heroine of the program, but either because actress Jennie Garth was a passive-aggressive jerk in real life or because Jennie Garth wasn't much of an actress and thusly defaulted to angry at every opportunity, Kelly spent her episodes pouting every time another character disagreed with her. And because the show invariably vindicated Kelly Taylor, it seemed the longtime viewers of the program could not see through her veil of lies, when to eyes unfamiliar with the show she whined until the whinee could not longer stand it and gave in. (Oh, how I hate Kelly Taylor...)

Recently, Jamie figured out that 90210 runs for two hours every day on Soapnet. So there's been a LOT of 90210 viewing going on at my house of late. We're about 2/3rds of the way through the first year of college (the last season any character was seen to crack a book or go to class). And what I've realized is that all of the characters of 90210 are complete sociopaths. These characters inflict untold harm upon each other, and coccasionally complete strangers. They're elitist, snobby bastards who all seem completely put-out when any work is written into the show for them, and they join and drop campus-causes on a bi-episode basis.

In order to create drama, items like the school newspaper are blown up to NY Times proportions, and second semester freshman are seen as a plausible and persuasive voice within the university infrastructure. The show is absolutely awful, and embarassing. And yet, I cannot look away.

Part of the allure of the game now is that I did follow the program for two or three seasons, plastic cup in hand, and I know what drama befalls the characters. So, when the characters (such as Kelly Taylor) get up on their moral pedestal and preach down to the lowlies, you can remind them "hey, you develop a horrible coke habit in two more seasons. How about a little compassion?"

The "teens" of the show are absurdly old, in absurd situations faced by no prior college freshman in the age of man, and are far less worried about academics than even the guys who didn't come back after Christmas freshman year in Jester.

Jim and Cindy Walsh are supposedly successful corporate something-or-others, but theire really there to salute the two Walsh-children characters and to appear bemused but concerned. A thankless role, the two departed towards the end of teh college years.

And, of course, there's always Nat, played by fourth-string central casting bench warmer, Joe E. Tata. I am sure Mr. Tata has lots of credits to his name, but that poor dude had more humiliating scenes bowing and scraping before the teens of 90210 than I am sure he likes to think about.

That, and it's fun to say "Joe E. Tata" every time he appears on screen.

Upon re-watching the episodes, it seems that the writers were alternately not really trying, or had a mountain of contempt for their own characters. And who can blame them? Why not send the whiney DJ/ wanna-be hip-hop Beverly Hills dork on a whacked out Crystal Meth spree? Why not let the eye-brow wiggling Kerouac-dork get ripped off by his former step-mom? It's a soap opera, and nobody stays happy for long on a soap.

So I say, huzzah for 90210. You set out to fulfill a certain vision, you set the bar incredibly low, and you still failed to in many regards. But you did bring the world Tori Spelling, and for that, we are all eternally grateful.


RHPT said...

I'm proud to say, that despite growing up in the 90s, I have never watched a single episode of 90210.

The League said...

Fool! How dare you resist the power of the wisdom of Brandon Walsh?

Anonymous said...

90210? I saw an episode in a media class in college....


The League said...

And that didn't leave you hankering for a taste for more?

Anonymous said...

Ahh...those were the days. I honestly can't remember when I started watching the show, but i don't remember watching it before college oddly enough. In fact I don't think I saw most of the early episodes.

But it entertained. I can't say exactly why, but it kept you coming back for me. I honestly think people watch it because they don't like any of the character. It's the same reason why I used to catch myself watching episodes of Sex In The City. Ater watching many episodes I thought about and I realized I could not relate to one character on the show. In fact, not only did I not relate, but I genuinely disliked them as people, either for their shallowness or hypocracies or horrible personal weaknesses.

Same with 90210. Although I do recall a fondness for the character Steve. He reminds you of the older brother type that money of your friends had. But underneath his crude, sophmoric, frat boy, life of privilege lay a heart of gold. That and he made out with a transvestate and didn't know it. ("She's a He")

Don't be ashamed you watched it. Now Melrose Place, be ashmamed you watched that. Although I dare you name a hotter sister combo on t.v. than Sidney and Jane.

The League said...

Melrose somehow lost sight of where that line was between being a soap and being a show about people who should all agree to quit talking to one another. And certainly they shouldn't continue living in the same apartment complex when their lease is up.

It's funny, because when we were watching Melrose, I was a big Kimberly fan. Now she, of all the folks on that show, is on Desperate Housewives and has a successful career. But where is Michael?

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you for pointing out the flaws of Kelly Taylor!!!!!!