Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What January 10th Means To Me: 90210

My friend's blog made mention of the 90210 soundtrack this morning, and it got me thinking about my fav show from my teen years. 

I grew up in the 10920 Zipcode (I used to love this fact.  A hell of an anagram).

Now, with partial thanks to 90210, I now live in 90038.

Tons has been written on the expansion of cable television, and with it, targeted programming to pretty much every demographic imaginable.  Due to all the choices we have to watch, along with the rise of the internet and the DVR, appointment television is essentially dead, making it hard for networks to find iconic shows that not only are accepted by an entire generations, but also defines them.

But when I was growing up, Beverly Hills 90210 was that show. No, it was THEE show.  The show that had me calling my buddy during commercial breaks to quickly discuss what just happened, and what the future might hold. Sure, it dealt with hot bed issues such as rape, cheating, drugs, and other situations most other shows wouldn't touch, but it's "risque" programming was not why we loved this show.  We loved it because it made a complete fantasy world seem incredibly accessible.  It was escapism at it's purest...especially for 13 year olds sitting in their living rooms when it was freezing cold outside.  It depicted LA/BH as a type of panacea, a device that clearly burned itself into my brain as it, no doubt, partially motivated me to move here (even if only on a subconscious level).

Obviously, most of the 90210 audience wasn't from Beverly Hills, or Los Angeles for that matter.  When you're young, especially during the period when I grew up, there was nothing sexier than Hollywood.  After all, most TV shows seemed to take place there, while glorifying it, and movies were made there.  It was glamorous. It was where all the action went on. It's where girls like Kelly Taylor lived. That's what life was about.  It was a universe that seemed as foreign as Mars to most, but one made understandable because the  90210 creators successfully made the audience the main characters of the show. 

Brandon and Brenda Walsh, the shows literal main, teenaged characters, represented everyone who didn't live that lifestyle.  They were two "normal" kids from Minnesota trying to find their footing in this hyper realistic environment, and they gently waded in waters that none of us were accustomed to, while allowing us to live vicariously through them.  Their best friend, Steve, had a famous mother.  Their other friend, Dylan, lived in a hotel and rode a motorcycle (and had cool hair before it started receding like a lake during a year long draught).  Kelly was just hot and otherworldly to most of us boys with thick braces and bad acne.  Hell, even their high school looked like a college campus and featured a newspaper (run by the Ancient Andrea Zuckerman...*** funny story to follow) that seemed to rival the New York Times in resources.  Palm trees swayed, great parties often occurred, a sexy adult lifestyle for teenagers was clearly established.  Essentially, it suggested that if we moved to Beverly Hills, our lives would be 15x more exciting than they were.  Brenda and Brandon constantly questioned their new environment, had apprehensions about it, and were awed by it much in the same way we would be if we were the one's experiencing it.  They generally didn't dive into any situation headfirst, and were always hyper aware of the absurdity (for lack of a better word) of their situation.  Their reactions made the transition seem plausible. 

And though this world might have seemed overwhelming, there was a MAJOR detail that grounded it all:  The Peach Pit!  Even though these kids seemed adult, sometimes engaged in "adult" activities that would seem unimaginable to someone not used to the lifestyle, the episodes often ended with the cast sitting in their comfortable 50's style diner sharing malts and grilled cheeses.  In retrospect, it was a brilliant touch because this detail, above all else, grounded the show in a reality the rest of us non BH kids could understand.  It made the entire environment seem like something we could  feel comfortable in because all of us had similar experiences in diners, Friendly's, whatever.  No matter what hijinks we might get into, we know we'll end the night eating french fries with Nat (and, really, whats more comforting than that).  Even though the show got soapier as time moved on, it generally remained positive, somewhat funny, sexy, and, most of all, safe.   And, strangely enough, the entire viewing experience satisfied a social need for "dorkier" thirteen year olds who were 1) not accepted into the "cooler" circles of their high school and or 2) too scared by it.  It provided an outlet to feel "cool" even if you weren't.  Again, escapism at it's finest. 

That's why I miss watching this show...but what I miss more is being 13 years old and watching this show.

*** The funny story.

Nesting doll...for those who don't know.
I was in Prague a couple of years ago, and found, deep in the corner of some gift shop, a 90210 nesting doll.  Once I saw it, I knew I had to buy it for the aforementioned friend that I used to make the phone calls to.  So, I grabbed the doll and handed it to the gruff, old Czech shop keeper (picture Hagrid from Harry Potter...seriously) who looked like he hadn't smiled in 16 years.  He started opening the nesting dolls to make sure they were all there.  He opened the main one, revealing a smaller one with Jason Priestley's likeness. Satisfied, he grunted.  He opened that one to find one with Shannen Doherty's.  Again, he grunted.  He opened the Shannen one to find a smaller one with Jennie Garth's face painted on it.  The same grunt.  Finally, he opened the last one to reveal the smallest part of the doll: One with Gabrielle Carteris's picture on it.  He squinted one eye and held it close to inspect it.  Suddenly, a big smile graced his bearded face and he said .... "Andrea!" a few octaves higher than I figured his voice could go.  I couldn't help but laugh, and immediately hoped he wouldn't be offended.  After all, Eastern Europe, Hagrid...who knows. 

90210...making the world a smaller place.

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