Waking up on a recent Tuesday, I had no idea that the date held any significance. In fact my whole day was already mapped out: practice, load the van, drive to Baltimore, play a show and drive back. No Internet connection (which is not so rare), no thoughts of “90210” (which is rare). And then the first text message came at 8:30 am from my friend Lisa. “This must be your favorite day. The date is 9.02.10.”
As a public fan of “Beverly Hills, 90210” (I believe I’ve heard the phrase “weird obsession” come up in this context) I was wondering who else had noticed this, and the answer was quite a few people. I ended up getting text messages throughout the day, about half as many as I would for a birthday, and then also received Facebook comments, which I didn’t see until the next day. From here on out, I’ll refer to classic ’90s show as “90210”, but please don’t confuse it with the new show which is currently airing.
One of the comments held a link to this article: This Is Actually Happening, which mentions the podcast of Bill Simmons dedicated to “90210” and insults the show and the ’90s in general. This podcast was emailed to me a day or two later with the subject “Happy Belated 90210 Day” and can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2. Another publication called People also took note and posted the top six “90210” moments.
Now let me react to all of these different acknowledgments of what I consider to be one of the greatest shows in history, and also a little background as to how I’ve come to this opinion, although I emphasize that I don’t expect anyone else to hold this opinion, nor should you be swayed by mine.
Let’s start with this quote from “This Is Actually Happening”: “You know, just because you were in college when the show was on doesn’t make it interesting. The ’90s blew, and there’s nothing to say about ‘90210’ that hasn’t already been said.” For me, “90210” was actually on in middle school and throughout high school. Its last season aired while I was in my freshman year at college. As for having nothing new to say about it, maybe I do maybe I don’t. Maybe nothing more needs to be said about it. But as there are still people who think my obsession is unwarranted, I suppose I still feel the need to defend it.
Although the show was on and I was in the right age bracket for its marketing (wrong gender, though), I didn’t actually watch it. I remember seeing the first episode or the pilot or something and thinking that it was not my cup of tea. Being ironic jackasses even at that age, however, my brother and I bought “90210” watches, pencil cases and folders which we displayed proudly. Both watches had a cover that flipped over the time; mine had Brandon on it and Dan’s had Dylan. A large poster of Dylan McKay also adorned my brother’s bedroom along with posters of Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, Perry Farrell and pages cut from magazines. Obviously we’re products of the ’90s, which I consider a good thing. I can’t tell if I’m strictly a product of the time period or not, but I feel like almost everything since 1995 has blown.
In my sophomore year of college, FX had started showing the series four times a day, two episodes in the morning and the same two in the afternoon. This is when the “90210” fever broke out in our house of six college-aged males. I never tried to catch the morning episodes, since if I was up that early I’d surely be rushing to get to a class, but the afternoon episodes I would try to watch every day that I could. I had a class that lasted until a little after 4:00 and could usually make it back by 4:35 or so, missing half of the first episode. Eventually this class started to interfere with my destiny of watching “90210” and I started having to skip it sometimes (but not enough to fail).
I still can’t fully articulate what it is about the show that intrigues me as much as it does, but there’s a joy in watching it that I’m not alone in recognizing. In his podcast, Bill Simmons points out that being a “90210” fan is a great asset for straight guys trying to open up conversation with women, and after a few months of watching, we found the same thing. However, this was not what originally attracted us to its glow.
One of the classes that I was taking at the time was Public Speaking, and our first assignment was to talk about pretty much anything we wanted to. I resolved to explain why everyone should watch “90210”. I had three points, as structure is supposed to go in these sorts of exercises. 1) The show lasted ten years in prime time and was the longest running prime time soap opera in history and therefore deserves attention strictly on a popularity level. 2) I can’t remember what the second point was, because this was about ten years ago but for now let’s just go with: It’s great. 3) I found a chart with links between the characters representing romantic relationships and pointed out how ridiculous and unrealistic the connections were. If there were ever a group of friends like this they’d be the most maniacal people in school. I received a “C” on this assignment with the comment that I was misusing my intelligence by focusing on such a frivolous subject.
The first point I made is a subject that I discuss frequently at length with friends and is also something that Stephen King (not to open up the K-Hole or anything) mentions in his intro to On Writing by saying that an obvious reason for his writing that book was because someone who had sold as many books as he had must have something to say about writing. I don’t always like what’s popular, but I think that it’s important to study what does catch massive public attention and to attempt to understand why. I reiterate, though, that in general my tastes and public opinion do not coincide. I would count the major exceptions to this rule to be King’s writing and “90210”, which not only aired for ten years but at its peak was also so sensationally popular as to set records. So under the assumption that popularity is a reason to analyze something, then “90210” undoubtedly warrants attention.
For why the show is great, just listen to Bill Simmons’ podcast. The two parts together make up over two hours of material, announcing and assigning Oscar-style awards for the show. We listened to it almost straight through in the van on our way up to Massachusetts for a show, and it was possibly two of the most enjoyable hours I’ve spent in the van. His conversation with fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry is inspired, encyclopedic and magical.
In response to People’s top six moments in the show, they totally skip over some classic moments. I’m one the few fans of the show who seems to be just as enthralled with the later episodes as the early ones, but this is ridiculous. While the early episodes have a sense of surreality, the later ones just kind of settle into a warped reality. I agreed with Matthew Berry who said that Bill Simmons was missing gold by excluding everything after Brandon left the show in Season 9 in his awards, but still the appreciation for Seasons 5 and 6 can’t be denied and they both clearly have made the full trek through the series a few times (many times, it seems, for Bill Simmons). The People list, however, is almost strictly relegated to the first two seasons, and then skips to later seasons with Dylan’s wife dying and the Brandon, Dylan, Kelly ultimatum. What about Jack McKay’s death? Or David Silver’s addiction to crystal meth, Kelly’s coke addiction, Dylan’s heroin problem? Currently my favorite scene that I’ve come across recently is where Dylan wakes up in his car looking over a cliff, throws an empty beer bottle over the side, smokes heroin, sees a cop and drives away bouncing off the side of the road and veering over the cliff. It’s got to be one of the most ridiculous scenes that’s ever aired on television.
And of course for me there’s the sampling aspect of “90210”. You probably need to know me and my solo music to know what I mean by this, but I sample a lot of audio, mostly from movies and TV, and “90210” has come to play a big role in that. It’s gotten so out of hand as to progress into re-scoring full episodes, but even where it’s a little less egregious it’s still an undeniable thread through my work. The only way that I can think to describe it is when you hear a line that’s just so poignant either to current events or a personal expression that you just want to capture that line and put it together with others.
My roommate, Kahn, last night mentioned how when she sees me recognize a sample-worthy line she can almost see a light bulb go off above my head. The first time I can think of this happening was with the David Silver’s piano teacher’s line to him at the Peach Pit after her recital: “Music can be a very heady experience. Sometimes it creates emotion that’s not really there.” When I saw/heard that line, it was before the DVDs had come out and I just watched it on TV with no easy way to capture it retroactively. I called my friend and had her look out for that episode (where Steve and Brandon come across the president of the KEG House in a gay coffee shop and Steve accidentally outs him to the rest of the fraternity) and TiVo it. She saved it for years before I was able to go over there with a proper recording device to capture the sample. And that was the main line of “Heady Experience”. If enough of these moments occur in succession, one may hear me utter the words, “The gods of ‘90210’ are shining today.” Don’t worry, this only means that the “90210” has been good to me recently.
The last thing I’d like to address before bringing this way-too-long writing to a close is the “Twin Peaks” relation. I wrote about this briefly on this site back when I was wrapping up the Second Season in my quest to watch the entire series in order (in Fifth Season right now), but now my view has been honed in this respect a little bit. There’s a book out there called Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz As a Secular Myth of America by Paul Nathanson which kind of paints The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Cane as two sides of the same coin. Both movies were made at the same time, considered the golden age of cinema, and while The Wizard of Oz holds popular interest, airing frequently on TV and even recently being re-released in theaters, Citizen Cane is rarely played on TV, but it’s studied in film classes, appears on lists of the Best Films of All-Time and screened at film festivals. I’ve seen Citizen Cane and I can’t tell you what happens in it, because it was a while ago and it’s not as strikingly memorable as The Wizard of Oz. All I can remember is Rosebud.
I came across the book completely randomly and by accident while I was working on The Dark Side of the Moon, which is what I named my re-scored version of the “90210” episode “The Next 50 Years”, where Scott Scanlon accidentally shoots himself in the stomach. My version starts with the opening credits of The Wizard of Oz set to The Dark Side of the Moon as was popular in the ’90s and when the first song hits its downbeat it cuts to the “90210” intro (duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, duh-nuh-nuh-nuh [clap clap]). When I was going to the audio section of the library to get the disc of Dark Side of the Moon I saw this book lying on a shelf. I picked it up because of the hilarious coincidence, which deepened for me because in the first scene Andrea asks Brandon if he was still planning on going to see Citizen Cane with him that weekend (he forgot and made plans with Emily Valentine).
To me “90210” is The Wizard of Oz and “Twin Peaks” is Citizen Cane in this argument. They both started in 1990, which I would argue, largely thanks to these two shows represents a golden age of television (also of note: “It” the miniseries was aired that year). The former is still aired four times a day on the Soap Network (still two in the morning and the same two in the afternoon (don’t mess with the “90210” junkies’ schedule)) and the latter is taught in film school, highly regarded and referenced but rarely or never aired on television. As a fan of both shows, one of the things that I think keeps the early “90210” episodes as watchable as they are is the fact of how reminiscent the video quality is of “Twin Peaks”. Therefore I would say that they are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is made of magic.