It's easy to forget (or not even know) that at one point, Beverly Hills, 90210 (created by Darren Star who'd go on to Melrose Place before the phenomenon that is 'Sex & The City') was the biggest teen-orientated show in the world. Yes - the world! One minute, it was struggling to survive and the next, the stars of the series inspired scenes reminiscent of 'Beatlemania'. And justly so because in those halcyon days of yesteryear, 90210's blend of drama, cheese, humour, pure unadulterated escapism, great scenery in terms of cast and location and strong characterisation was compelling viewing.
The early years concentrated on the Walsh family - who promptly became the emotional core of the show - and their efforts to adjust to life in Beverly Hills after relocation from Minnesota.
Twins Brandon and Brenda (Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty) befriend a diverse group of mostly-rich rich kids at West Beverly High: spoilt son of a movie actress, jock and joker Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), persistently in trouble and always relying on Brandon to bail him out. Brainy (but not as affluent) crusader Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris) doomed to an unrequited love for Brandon. Ditzy, naive Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) - probably the most (in)famous virgin on American TV. Insecure, school DJ David Silver (Brian Austin Green), desperate to be accepted by the gang. Blonde bombshell Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) who'd go on to sleep with her best friend's boyfriend and also, her ex-boyfriend's best friend. And last (but by no means least), moody alcoholic Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) - the quintessential troubled teen.
From High School (Seasons 1-3) through to College (Seasons 4-7) and life after College (Seasons 8-10), they face a series of crises together ranging from the death of a friend to depression, drugs, physical and sexual assault and tumultuous love triangles.
The earlier High School years are undoubtedly the best; the original cast is intact, the strongest scripts are to be found within this time frame and it's the period that, to this day, defines the show.
However post-Shannen Doherty and with Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as vivacious, vampy schemer Valerie Malone and Kathleen Robertson as the acerbic, sarcastic Clare Arnold on board, 90210 remained very entertaining viewing right up to College graduation at the end of Season 7 - notable as the episode in which High School sweethearts (and future spouses) David and Donna finally consummated their long on-again/off-again relationship.
Admittedly, the last three seasons are weaker than previous ones. A deadly combination of changes to cast and crew (it survived the loss of Darren Star, Shannen Doherty and Luke Perry in Season 6 but to all intents and purposes, the show ended with Jason Priestley's departure in Season 9. Not even Luke Perry's return could compensate for that), a more overt soap opera format and weaker new characters (embodied by the faux-Dylan imitator Noah Hunter ineptly played by Vincent Young) sounded the death knell for a series that had become a shadow of its former powerhouse self.
Still, in the cutthroat world of TV, you've got to have something very special to last ten years on an American network and that's exactly what Beverly Hills, 90210 did. It outlasted all its contemporaries such as the infinitely superior teen drama 'My So-Called Life' starring Clare Danes and Jared Leto, which only made it to air for a year, and it gave the likes of 'Buffy', 'Party of Five' and 'Dawson's Creek' a recipe for success to follow.
Love it or hate it (and I LOVE it) - Beverly Hills, 90210 is a TV institution.
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