M. Doughty presents his insights into the 1995-96 season of Beverly Hills 90210, in chronological order.
Subj: For the Love of Cindy
Date: 95-12-23 13:20:21 EST
I was in the studio lounge yesterday, drinking coffee and talking to one of the receptionists, when I was startled to notice a mullet-headed, rolled-sleeve-t-shirted, younger Brandon, on the TV, standing on Andrea Zuckerman's steps. Yep, that's right, we're talking all-time-classic 90210 here; the episode in which Brandon follows Andrea's bus home, to discover she's poor, and only attending Beverly Hills High by some act of subterfuge. The episode in which Brenda--Oh! Glorious Brenda!--fakes that she's a college student on a date, telling her dinner companions that she's majoring in astronomy.
What bliss. I begin to breathe heavily just thinking about it. The Golden Age of Brenda, ripe with all those episode-ending dialogues between her and Brandon, in the bathroom that connects their rooms in the Walsh household. Pure joy.
So, of course, this week's new episode was an utter sham--essentially, you know any episode is doomed to stankiness when Steve Sanders is called upon to show emotion. He gets that weird Constipated Samurai look on his face. Most distressing. Who cares who his real father is? Well, Claire does, and I can't front on Weird Crosseyed Claire, but I'm sorry, I'd sooner watch an episode dedicated solely to Kelly.
And, of course, Jim and Cindy are staying together. Just like those idiot writers to put us through the anxiety of Final Walsh Dissolution, when suddenly Jim sends an angel pendant to the Walsh Homestead and everything's fine again. Sickening thought, but moments before, when Nat brought Cindy on a date to midnight mass, I considered that maybe Brandon's Mom and Dylan's Surrogate Father were gonna be getting it on. The truth is so much more dull. Goodbye Los Angeles, Hello Hong Kong.
At least, when Cindy's on, there's some guarantee of a Brenda mention, though it was unsatisfyingly brief.
I'm sick of Boring Art Guy Colin and his coke habit, despite all the ill will I wish on Kelly. Nice verbal catfight with her and Valerie, though, as Valerie hips her to Colin's wiredness. Good to know that that whole painting-auction episode wasn't a sign of a lasting truce.
Really unsatisfying episode, all in all. Particularly considering my brief glimpse of Ancient Walshhood. And this:
I was at a Christmas Party at my manager's office, watching music-business types get drunk, and I ended up talking to a girl from Los Angeles. She was an actress, she said, she mostly did extra work. On what, I asked?
90210, she said.
That was the sound of my mind blowing. She went on to say that most of the cast members were snooty or dull or both, except one, with brown hair, what's her name again? Kind of voluptuous...
Tiffani? I breathed, incredulously. Oh, yeah, that's right, she said, Tiffani, yeah, I'm friendly with her.
Needless to say, she left the party with a Soul Coughing CD and a drunkenly scrawled note proclaiming my undying affections. You're on the guest list plus one at every Soul Coughing show ever, I wrote, feel free to show up anywhere in the entire world.
And who knows? I may end up with an interview for my 'zine, Peach Pit Babylon, that I intend to start when I have the time.
Subj: Peach Pit Babylon
Date: 96-01-04 00:40:20 EST
Alright, so I was having this Big Important Meeting with the inimitable Frank, who's art directing the packaging for the new record, and I missed the first fifteen minutes. So, someone out there is absolutely obligated to post or e-mail and tell me--
Where exactly did Valerie get the cocaine? Why exactly did she give it to Boring New York Art Guy?
I like his Drug Problem, actually. What my dear friend Gus refers to as "booger sugar"--and his subsequent bursts of bad acting hyperactivity--are the only things that don't make me cringe about Colin. When he stepped into Valerie's car and said "Taxi, take me to SoHo!" I could've shot the man. If they really need a bad impression of a New Yorker, honey, I could give them some phone numbers.
Weird ethical territory they're treading, those 90210 writers, with this cocaine business. Kelly has become almost blase about it. I love that Valerie and David have become the Drug Couple--not that they're snorting with Boring Art Guy in the Peach Pit bathroom, but they're so hip to it. While Valerie's hardly endorsing, she's not condemning it either. I have such fond memories of her first episode, when she rolled a joint in Brenda's old bedroom. And David Silver's immediate recognition of Colin's Highness--Brandon probably doesn't even remember what U4EA tastes like. More orange juice, Mr. Silver?
My favorite moment--oh how it warmed my heart, now heavy with overdubbing--was, of course, David climbing the tree to fetch Donna's bird. "We'll always be more than just friends," says Donna, while David keeps reaching for a parrot barking "Joe Loves Donna! Joe Loves Donna!" Magnificent. Weird how those two don't even look correct standing next to each other anymore. I hoped for a dalliance, but of course they wouldn't let that happen. In my conspiratorial mind, I hoped that Valerie would throw the drunken Colin down on his bed, and David and Donna would, uh, oh, I don't know, whatever they actually did without sleeping together. Did you ever wonder whether Donna went down on David Silver? Given his luck in inspiring chastity in 90210 Pantheon Women, I'm sure it's safe to dub David Silver the Blowjob King.
I loved the episode structure--surely it's some sort of innovation to have a flashback episode, involving a warp-dissolving screen and tinkling chimes and such between segments, for an episode that hasn't even aired yet. Why, "The Jeffersons" had to spend the fruits of an entire season to flesh out a flashback episode. And you people doubt the validity of my obsession over this television program.
The only sad part being, given the central conceit of explaining the New Year's Eve happenings to the absent Weird Crosseyed Claire, there was very little Weird Crosseyed Claire action. And she was looking disturbingly less crosseyed than usual. Randy--he of the "Who Put Kelly Through the Ugly Machine" remark--asks me how I think Claire would feel if she read these posts. I tell him I hope she takes it as an homage, and, for Christ's sake, not an impetus for corrective eye surgery. Claire, come to Soul Coughing, we love you.
More of Steve Sanders in his I Am The Dad role--more awesome Constipated Samurai looks, but nothing more interesting than that. Eh for Steve this week.
And Brandon! Good Lord! Will you dump that blubbering harpy already! Or at least get into a fistfight with her dull, self-important ex-boyfriend. They didn't even reveal the much-ballyhooed Secret Reason Susan Dumped Him.
In general, y'all--detente is getting me down. Valerie is safe with David, Kelly is safe with Colin--even as the artistry of their hissing catty exchanges increases exponentially per episode. Brandon and Susan, Steve and Claire. If they can't come up with a little trauma, they should've made the episode something like a PoMo Arty 90210--nothing but a loop of that shot of Donna in the Rose Parade, with the roses and the tiara, waving that freaky wave and smiling her massive alien smile.
I propose a 90210 apocalypse--Kelly on Brandon, Valerie on Colin, David on Donna, and, oh, I don't know, Steve Sanders on that bird that won't stop saying "Damn Bird." Wait, no, more intriguing than that--Valerie on Brandon, Kelly reunited with Steve, Colin on David--you know, something to shake things up a bit. And Weird Crosseyed Claire rushing the float that Donna is waving from, clocking her and taking her roses and tiara.
A brief tangent--I'm reading this Bette Davis autobiography. Apparently Bette married a man in the mid-40's that she had met at a party. The man had no idea she was a movie star. Then, on their way to a Mexican honeymoon, their car broke down. They sat on the roadside drinking scotch, until, surreally enough, the motorcade of the President of Mexico drove by, picked them up, and drove them to the premiere of "Deception" in Mexico City. Thousands of fans cheered Bette outside the theater.
So the new Mr. Davis turns to Bette and says: "Who the hell are you, anyway?"
Were Bette Davis in the role of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, she'd have loaded Boring Art Guy full of whatever drug she pleased and screwed the living hell out of him by now.
Subj: Melrose Vs. 90210
Date: 96-01-10 11:01:43 EST
But, see, look--nothing ever happens on 90210. This is the beauty of choosing a prime time Soap Opera as your Soap Opera of choice. This is all you have to know: Kelly is bad.
Okay, maybe that's subjective, but, really, all you have to do is decide whom you like and dislike. This is all serial television is about. 90210 is one of the most clumsily expository television shows around. Everything that relates to something from a previous episode will be introduced by a hilariously awkward explanation.
Case in point; David Silver, who in the Golden Age of 90210 was Donna Martin's girlfriend, is fetching the bird that Donna's current boyfriend gave her for Christmas from a tree. Now, theirs was a legendary union, and anyone that's watched anytime in the past three years would know this. But, to make sure everyone watching understands the ironies, they have an exchange that amounts to all but one of the show's producers coming out onto the set and saying, "Hello, I'm one of the show's producers, and we here at 90210 would just like you to know that these two used to be an item, and him fetching her bird from a tree sure is kinda weird."
There's three essential reasons that 90210 is interesting:
1) It's always conscious of the fact that it's a television show. There's no real difference between the actors and their characters, and the acting is often so bad, and reliant on clumsy gestures--Steve Sanders' trademarked Constipated Samurai Angry Look, Kelly's trademarked nose-crinkle, Brandon's trademarked Bewildered Look--that there's no compelling reason to suspend one's disbelief. It's not a dramatic series, it's a spectator sport. All serial dramas are about this, but 90210 executes it in such a way that it's mindblowingly obvious
2) Everyone is insanely weird-looking. I mean, look at Tori Spelling, will you? Look at that huge jaw, those bug-eyes. Look at Claire, who is undebateably CROSSEYED. Look at how chubby Valerie is. Check Brandon's freaky, perplexed look. Look at how damned old Dylan was looking before he split the show.
Television is about people at home, with remote controls, searching for people they're attracted to. Look at "Friends"; same deal, essentially. An ensemble of attractive people that the home viewer can study the sexual tensions between. Same thing with "Melrose"--it's about how good-looking people seduce each other and generally search for new and interesting ways to be evil to one another. There was a time when they used to be really good at it, too.
But 90210? Well, both shows mentioned above are at least half-decently written. 90210 is not. So, technically, it should be more like "Baywatch"--Ooh, look at them boobies. But, it's not. Who out there in TV land is honestly attracted to The Alien Tori Spelling?
3) Its roots are in relentless optimism, innocence, and do-goodism, and it's always grappling with the problem of looking like a page from "Sweet Valley High" and offering the viewer sex and scandal at the same time. It's a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "Hey, Let's Put On A Show!" movie thrust into modernity. It's parameters are Standard Oh, Golly American Teen--the soda shop, school, the beauty pageant, parents, isn't-that-band-awesome?--and its plot devices are murder, seduction, drug use, and hostility.
The original premise of the show was--two wide-eyed and upright teens from Minnesota move to Sodom and avoid temptation.
Here's an example, from the first season, which I saw last night as a syndicated rerun: The Women are having a slumber party. It's Brenda, Donna, Andrea, Kelly, and a particularly bitchy friend of Kelly's that wants to blow the slumber party and head to a place where college boys are getting drunk and taking advantage of high school girls. They play with a Ouija board--the bitchy friend of Kelly's scoffs. They eat cookies--the bitchy friend of Kelly's scoffs. Then they begin to reveal their secrets. Donna has no secrets. Andrea's only secret is that she has a crush on Brenda's brother. Brenda admits to having made out with a boy in an attempt to steal him from a friend of hers. Kelly was taken advantage of, drunkenly, in a car. And, oh, yeah, she also sorta did the exact same thing Brenda did--but with Brenda's boyfriend, Dylan. Conflict erupts, and the Bitchy Friend leaves, snickering.
But, she leaves her purse behind. In noticing this, Donna accidentally knocks the purse over. And a thousand amphetamines pour out of it, onto the floor. "Diet Pills!" Kelly exclaims, then goes on to explain that diet pills are not only a Dangerous Drug, but a thing that unquestionably turns a person into a raving bitch. The Bitchy Friend returns, discovers she's been found out, and is coaxed into admitting her fears of fatness. She sheds her bitchiness, is redeemed by their innocence, and joins the slumber party. As a final display of her redemption, she asks Donna to fetch her an Oreo.
The message? Even in Sodom, where innocence is an embarrassment, it's okay to feel okay about being pure. And under the pancake makeup and the drug use, inside every shallow and trendy sophisticate, is a refugee from a turgid teen novel screaming to escape.
Is that weird hoodoo or what? Now THAT'S Television.
I like Melrose--at least, I used to. But Melrose is about Evil. Though its roots are as an adult version of 90210, it came into its own when it realized it wasn't 90210, it couldn't really address the Myth of the All-American Well-Intentioned Teenager, it added Sidney and Amanda and went into a stunning streak of pure malice. It doesn't really have a worldview to grapple with. The interest in the show is--what evil shall be done next? And when it's just baldly trying to top itself, I find it kind of uninteresting.
90210 is in a weak stretch--after all the melodrama that accompanied Dylan's departure, it's still feeling its way around the cast's imbalanced chemistry. What makes it interesting to me, still, is that with every drug addiction, with every semi-adulterous act, it's still fighting to say, No, no, we're just a bunch of Well-Intentioned Teens. Look at the opening sequence of the show; they all stand around smiling, with their arms around each other. As if to say: These people are all friends. These people all love each other. These people are Good.
I urge anyone reading this to set aside their upcoming Wednesday night, use some drugs shortly before eight o'clock, and spend an hour focussing on how weird Kelly's nose looks.
Subj: Peach Pit Babylon
Date: 96-01-11 10:46:54 EST
So Kelly's on blow.
I feel cheap and dirty.
Not because she's on blow, but because I was sitting over at my friend Mr. Jim Schurko's house, and as she rummaged through the drawer for the little vial that she intended to use as evidence against her jerkoff Art Boy boyfriend, we were yelling "Yes! Kelly! Do it! Snort the coke! Begin your path to Hell! Yes! Yes!"
And then she rolled up the check that her father that abandoned her gave her and snorted it with it.
Of course, she's doomed, but not for more than a few episodes. My friend Randy, he who once asked "Who Put Kelly Through The Ugly Machine?", postulated that she'd end up a crack ho. And I must admit, I emitted a delighted sigh when he said that. He was calling from Los Angeles, where the episode I had seen three hours ago was coming on fresh, and I was straining to listen to it through the phone. But, it won't happen. I fear the downside of this is that, when she's all clean and holy again, she'll have one up on Tiffani in her Eternal War against her.
Damn her. I hate Kelly.
Let's face it; Joe's gonna die. And probably before Donna gets a piece of that ass, too. I can't imagine they're gonna just make it a big rift between them that Joe thinks her father's diagnosis is incorrect; this has to end up in death. Why? Because He That Resembles Eli From Girls Against Boys isn't gonna cheat on her or beat her, and Donna's Curse is that The Boy leaves before she screws him, everytime.
Can I just say--Oh, that Joe E. Tata.
Interesting that it was another Jason Priestley directed episode--that Roger Corman made a guest appearance is no accident. Mr. Priestley, I think, is well aware of the kitsch value of 90210. Does anyone remember the episode in Las Vegas a couple of seasons back? There was all this cheesy rollerrink organ music, strange camera dissolves, homages to "Bye Bye Birdie." This was Brandon-As-Auteur as well. The boy is cognizant.
Did anyone else catch Donna's Weird Gangster TV Movie with Richard Belzer the other night? I just loved this one sequence where she's wandering down the Colorful and Sooty Urban Boulevard, with a dreadlocked saxophonist pretending to play, completely out of sync with the sax on the soundtrack, as she sashayed by. Thank the Lord the woman hasn't learned to act yet.
How about David Silver's appearance on Conan? He couldn't stop talking about his damned Hilfiger jacket--Randy, he who asked "Who Put Kelly Through The Ugly Machine?", theorized that the only reason he started complaining about how cold it was on the talk show set was so he wouldn't look stupid rhapsodizing about his parka. But, I have sympathy for Mr. Austin-Green. It must be difficult for him, being the Only Black Man on 90210.
Let us all pray for Kelly's demise.
Don't stop now! Move on over to the Peach Pit Babylon Page II!