Ahh, Beverly Hills 90210- Why am I So Nostalgic for Things that Suck? [California Seething]
The 25th anniversary of Prozac, the 10th anniversary of the Paris Hilton sex tape, the 20th anniversary of Doggystyle- these are just some of the utterly meaningless milestones that we’ll be forced to commemorate in 2013 by media outlets dedicated to churning out as much content as possible and cramming it down the content-holes of an overstuffed nation while always coming up with new and innovative to make me feel like a useless old fart. I mean, hell, 2013 also marks the 20th anniversary of the last time I actually recognized the musical guest on Saturday Night Live (Blind Melon) and the 15th anniversary of the last time I was part of a highly desirable marketing demographic (it’s all for the best. Bastards kept trying to sell me Zima. Seriously, guys, wtf? Was Generation X really so complicated and hard to reach that you thought clear beverages were the answer? No wonder we were so alienated and disaffected – you tried to sell us Crystal Pepsi – how were we supposed to trust anything you said after that? I’m not even going to get in to the Bartles & Jaymes betrayal. When I found out they were actors, why, it broke my little flannel clad heart.) There is one anniversary this year that even the most craven content crammers will probably overlook and it’s a shame, cause it’s an important one. 2013 would be the 20th reunion for the 1993 senior class of West Beverly High School. A class which included Donna Martin, Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, David Silver, the Walsh twins, Dylan McKay and some black kid who used to walk back and forth in the background carrying a bookbag – all the young people whose exploits were chronicled in Beverly Hills, 90210. That’s right- 20 years- doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that you were chanting “Donna Martin Graduate”? Well, Oldy McDiaperPants, it wasn’t. Since their graduation, the world has witnessed five presidential elections, endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two complete economic cycles of recovery, prosperity and recession (two and a half if you believe this “jobless recovery” malarkey), the melting of a shitload of polar ice (scientific term), and the deeply unfortunate birth of all of the members of One Direction (One Direction- that’s a thing right? Isn’t Taylor Swift molesting one of them? What a career arc she’s had- she went from being Shirley Temple to Jerry Sandusky in less than five years. Talk about reinventing yourself- Madonna is super jealous. She can’t even get a Russian orphan boy to “play” with, because Putin has them all locked in a cage in a house made of candy and he’s fattening them all up so he can eat ‘em- and the worst part is, he won’t even share. I swear, that guy’s a major jerkwad – with a capital “J” and that weird backwards “R”.)
Before we move forward with this post, there are a few things I need to make clear.
- 90210 was a terrible, terrible, terrible show.
- I was always perfectly aware that 90210 was a terrible, terrible show. In fact, I despised it when it first came on the air.
- I am still aware that 90210 is a terrible, terrible show. Thanks to SoapNet I am more aware of that now than ever. It’s so terrible that I can’t fucking stop watching it. And I love it now. I know more about the West Beverly Class of 93 than my own high school class and I care about them more, too. I am not proud.
So, how does this work? How did something as utterly craptacular as Aaron Spelling’s Old Jew California Teen Fantasia (Rich Parents! Teen Sex! Bad Boy Surfers and Skiksas, Shiksas, Shiksas!!!) go from being an object of loathing and derision to an object of affection and longing? Well, it’s a 3 step process:
Step 1- Contempt
In 1991, towards the end of my senior year of high school, I briefly dated a sophomore. We’ll call her “Kathy” because that’s her real name. I really don’t remember much about Kathy. I’m sure she was a perfectly lovely person. Or maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she was a stinking evil orphan eater like Putin. They serve orphans and borscht at the new Barclay Center, btw. Why are the Russians, or as they prefer to be called “Ruskies”, so damn evil? Do they just feel an obligation to live up to their accent? I mean, sure, Russians have a great evil accent- it was ranked second on Eeeee-vil Accents Magazine’s all time Top Five list between Nazi and Alan Rickman and, sure, it’s much more conducive to saying stuff like “Vee vill bury you” and “No, Meeseter Bond, I expect you to die” than “Sorry I can’t go to prayer breakfast. I’m wolunteering for kitty rescue” and “Velcome Meester Bond to my underground lair. Please enjoy Christmas party! Good luck vinning Holiday Sveter Contest. I must varn you mine has poofy reindeer vit light up nose.” Anyhow, I’m just glad it’s ok to hate them again. Those post cold war years were hard on all of us as we tried to find someone else to hate. I mean, Arab terrorists, North Korean dictators – and I don’t think any of us will ever forget the Evil South African Drug Dealer Debacle of Lethal Weapon 2. Shudder.
Anyhow, my point is that I don’t really remember much about Kathy, except she definitely wasn’t Russian, probably wasn’t evil and she loved fruity lip-gloss and 90210. Now, the fruity lip gloss wasn’t a problem for me. In fact, I found it kind of arousing. I mean, sure I was a 18 year old boy, so she could have smeared dog shit and broken glass on her lips and I would have found it arousing (that didn’t become fashionable til ’96- thanks Kate Moss!). Still, to this day I can taste the waxy cherry sweetness on my lips every time I watch Silence of the Lambs (Jodie Foster’s most underrated make-out movie. Significantly better than her Golden Globes speech.) The 90210 thing, well, that was a problem. I remember first talking to Kathy about it- I was attempting to engage her in a cerebral discussion of Twin Peaks when she said: “I don’t really like Twin Peaks. I was a little too young when that came out. 90210 is like my Twin Peaks.” Can you imagine? Have you ever heard such a thing? I mean…the nerve! The sheer audacity of this flighty, impertinent child of 16 comparing David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece to Aaron Spelling’s idiotic teen schlock-fest- and then saying such a thing to an 18 year old ARTISTE like moi. MOI!!! A regular visitor to Albany’s art-house cinema and two out of three out of Albany’s cafes. A black coffee drinking, clove cigarette smoking, Pixies listening, Woody Allen loving, Slaughterhouse Five reading member of Albany’s cultural elite. Why, for a man like me- who knew five whole words in German and could apply them liberally when discussing the arts the very thought of watching 90210 was simply verboten. Unable to respond to her statement, I sat in stunned silence in the back of her mom’s Taurus for the rest of the ride to Pizzeria Uno, speaking only to thank her mom for the ride and for giving us $20 for dinner. After dinner, I made out with Kathy very briefly in the hallway by the arcade, strictly to be polite and because she said yes.
90210, you see, was the embodiment of everything in high school that I wanted to destroy. This may be hard to believe in this enlightened day and age, but there was a time in America when being a nerd wasn’t cool. It was, in fact, a living hell. And the people who made it a living hell, well they looked an awful lot like those fuckers on 90210. There were pretty, preppy, perfect untouchable blonds like Kelly and Donna, big-toothed swaggering happy-go-lucky jock masters of the universe like Steve Sanders, square jawed, square headed, clear eyed Captain Americas like Brandon Walsh who’d never met a class they couldn’t become president of. They went to all the right parties, showed up on every page of the yearbook and generally acted like someday they would rule the whole fucking world. Which, as it turns out, they would.
For the rest of us poor schlubs, the losers, the acne ridden untouchables of a caste system so rigid it made Hinduism look like a Horatio Alger story, the ones who stood by our lockers in the morning with eyes downcast as the popular kids floated down the hall on a cloud of adoration, gathering our strength for the loneliness and misery of the day ahead, there were really only two choices. We could hope and pray for some type of David Silver miracle. That maybe if we tried really hard and ditched our old friends and totally reinvented ourselves as terrible white rappers, and had our scumbag, womanizing dentist fathers marry the coked-out moms of the most popular girl in school we would be accepted into the social elite. But for those of us that weren’t lucky enough to have a scumbag, womanizing dentist father and didn’t feel like selling out, man, our only option was to cultivate a bitter, seething, resentment and deep sense of moral superiority towards the “cool kids.” “Why should we care if the cool kids despise us?” we said to ourselves “We despise them EVEN MORE. OK, so sure, the cool kids don’t actually think about us enough to bother despising us, but that’s not my point, man! What I’m saying is that we’re better than all of those Phonies, those Conformists, those Sheep. They might seem all happy and healthy and well-liked and well-adjusted and sure, maybe they actually are happy and healthy and well liked and well adjusted but that’s just because they’re too superficial and dumb to know what a shithole the world really is and to cultivate the appropriate level of angst. When the Ruskies drop the bomb on us and all of their hair gel combusts at once, they’ll see just how wrong they were to call me a faggot in gym class and not say hi to me in the hallway.” I mean, sure, I got it, the whole point of 90210 was that it showed just how imperfect the lives of seemingly perfect teenagers actually was – but guess what, I didn’t need a TV show to show me how imperfect real life was – my shitty life could do that just fine.
So, clearly you see why I couldn’t watch 90210 in high school and why I reacted badly when Kathy brought it up. Shortly after she broke up with me, because I didn’t have a car, I realized I could no longer belittle myself by associating with her and calling her house and hanging up every night.
Step 2- Ironic Appreciation
In late 1991, scientists discovered irony and the world would never be the same. Suddenly, instead of hating 90210 for being stupid, evil, annoying and lame I could “love” 90210 for being stupid, evil, annoying and lame. This discovery changed my life- I no longer had to be a snob about what sort of entertainment I chose to consume- I could consume the most banal, mindless, pointless garbage- just as long as I ACKNOWLEDGED that it was banal, mindless, pointless garbage and that I was superior to it. For years this discovery I watched 90210 scoffing at every ridiculous plot turn and implausible character development:
“Check it out- Kelly’s been shot in the head and now she has amnesia- that’s sooo lame”
“Check it out- Donna’s nice-guy quarterback boyfriend is on trial for punching out her bad boy abusive singer/songwriter boyfriend and it might jeopardize her chances of becoming Rose Princess. Oh no! That’s soooo lame”
“Check it out- Kelly’s psycho roommate from rehab, who’s been systematically trying to take over her life, has kidnapped her and is going to kill her in a plot line that’s eerily similar to a movie title that rhymes with “Shmingle Blight Shemale”. That’s soooo lame”
“Check it out- after ten years of friendship and on-again, off-again relationships, David and Donna have finally decided that they truly belong together and they’re getting married. That’s soooo (sniff) lame. “
While it may seem as though the plot developments are totally arbitrary, there are in fact some important guiding principles which the writers adhered to throughout the series. Here are my favorites:
- Character tries drugs casually (David takes uppers to stay up for his late night shift at the radio station.)
- Character likes drugs a whole lot! (Kelly goes on a massive, multiple day drug binge with her sexy, dangerous artist boyfriend Colin during which they have sex in a limo, buy expensive gifts for all her friends and dine at a fancy restaurant. It’s like a fucking commercial for blow.)
- Character becomes hopelessly and totally addicted to drugs and almost ruins his/her life. Boooo! ( Donna O.D.’s on pain pills and is found unconscious in her home by her boyfriend Noah, who’s scumbag rapist brother Josh has been selling her the pills.)
- Character stops using drugs and experiences a complete and total recovery never to relapse again. Hurray!!!! (EXCEPTION: Dylan McKay who continues to struggle with drugs throughout the series. Didn’t he see the episode where Steve yelled at the guy who brought a bong to the memorial service of the kid that O.D.’d? Drugs are bad news! Just Say No (after first saying yes)!
- Character becomes a total judgmental a-hole about everyone else’s drug use. (Kelly Taylor. Enough said.)
The entire cycle must be completed within no more than four weeks.
The only character immune from the immediate grasp of addiction is Valerie Malone who is able to smoke marijuana recreationally because she’s just that damn evil.
Principle #2- The Law of Short Memories Nobody ever remembers anything which might be contradictory or inconvenient to the writers as they try and develop a storyline. Case in point:
Early in the series: Kelly is a spoiled little rich girl of questionable virtue and judgment who’s possibly a bad influence on Brenda.
During Kelly’s coke phase: Kelly has always been “little miss perfect” and nobody can possibly believe that she would EVER act like a spoiled little rich girl of questionable virtue and judgment.
Before Ray beats Donna: Donna’s parents dislike Ray because he is poor and not good enough for Donna.
After Ray beats Donna: Donna’s parents have always loved Ray and are SHOCKED to believe that he isn’t good enough for her.
Before Dylan leaves the series in Season 6: Luke Perry is almost completely bald
When Dylan returns to the series in Season 9: Luke Perry has a full head of (somebody’s) hair.
Now that I Make Burgers in the New Toaster Oven using the Convection Bake setting all the time: They come out perfectly! It works like a charm. I can’t believe my wife said it wouldn’t work- she must be out of her damn mind!
Wait- scratch that last one. Not a 90210 plot line. That just happened this weekend.
Principle #3- Bad Things Happen to Good People and also to Judgmental Bitches Like Kelly Taylor
Much like the history of the Jewish people, Kelly Taylor’s career arc is just a nonstop parade of terrible shit. Her parents were divorced, her mom was a cokehead, her dad went to prison. She was raped, almost burned alive, had a miscarriage, was shot in the head, got addicted to cocaine, was nearly raped, sent to rehab, kidnapped, almost killed, raped again, engaged to be married, she killed one of her rapists, was engaged again, and ultimately became a high school guidance counselor (the ultimate indignity). She should have some holiday like Purim where she celebrates the one day where nothing bad happened to her. I guess because Jenny Garth was the cast member who was best able to do an impersonation of an actual human being, the writers thought they would give her the most challenging plot lines. Either that, or Aaron Spelling was trying to make her quit so he could get more screen time for his horse-faced daughter. Well, the joke was on him because Jenny Garth stuck it out for 292 episodes and came back for more in the recent reboot and he’s dead. Ha! Take that dead guy! In your dead guy face!
Step 3- Genuine Affection
So, OK, the other day I was sitting in this dive bar waiting for the rest of the Book Club for Dudes to show up when “Sweet Child of Mine” came on the jukebox. Now, this is a song I’d heard thousands of times and at first I sneered a little bit. Hah. Guns n’ Roses. So lame. Gradually, though, I found myself really getting into the song. Pretty soon, I was signing along quietly “she’s got a smile that appears to me / reminds me of childhood memories /when everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky-eye.” Next thing you know, I was lost in a reverie- totally rocking out, swept away by Slash’s masterful guitar work and Axl’s piercing vocals. In my mind, I was swaying back and forth, screaming along to the music “Where do we go? Where do we go now? Where do we go? Ay ya ya Where do we go? Oh, where do go now?” I mean, sure I’d heard this song before, but how had I never really heard it, you know? It’s fucking great! “Where do we go? Oh where do we go now? Where do we go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o? Where do we go now?” Yeah, man! You sing it! Where do we go, Axl? Where do we go now? I’d astral projected all the way back to my 15 year old bedroom and as the finale approached I was just about to lose my mind with a full on, no nonesnese, Axl Rose primal screech “Sweet Child. Sweet Child. Sweet Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild” when one of the other book club members showed up, tapped me on the shoulder and scared the living shit out of me. As my mind scrambled back into my body and the fantasy world collapsed, the only thing left was a slight feeling of embarrassment and the revelation that perhaps I had been giving short shrift to an awesome song for many years and that I should listen to it more closely. Of course, I had ample opportunity to do that throughout the night because the d-bag monopolizing the jukebox played it like 15 fucking times so I was completely sick of it by the time the night was over- but, still, you get my point.
It’s the same way with 90210. I’ve been watching this show for so many years that my ironic smirk has turned into a warm smile. It’s like finding a store that sells Zima and buying a six pack as a joke only to find out when you open one that it’s refreshing and delicious. And, really, it shouldn’t be so surprising that 90210 is more engaging to me now than it was when I was a teenager. After all, it wasn’t written by teenagers – it was written by old Jews about teenagers- and now that I’m an old Jew, I can appreciate their perspective. Why just look at those crazy kids- the gals with their early 90’s floppy hats and sundresses and later their mid 90’s midriff-baring baby t’s (Tori Spelling’s navel was exposed continuously from 1995 – 1997) and the fellas with their clean cut good looks and absurdly coiffed bangs. Look at ‘em all joshin’ around during the credits and helpin’ each other out when times get rough. Why, they’re just the best buncha bobby-soxers this side of the Rockies and if they just stick together there ain’t nothin’ they can’t help Kelly overcome. Plus all the issues seem so quaint- racism on campus – awwww. Sexual harassment- that’s sooo cute- I just want to pinch its harassing little cheeks (I can’t though cause that’s harassment). It helps, too, that all of the actors are in their 30’s- so they’re a lot easier to relate to than real teenagers who are a bunch of freaky little devil monsters. I mean, sure, I can’t watch it all the time. Hell, I could barely stomach watching it all this week so I could write this post because it’s such total crap. But watching it once a week, for a couple of hours, during Breakfast in Bed on SoapNet- well, like the occasional Zima or GnR song- that’s good my aging Gen-X soul.
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