Beverly Hills 90210 - The Pilot Episode

by Jennifer Bubriski
Tuesday Jun 15, 2004
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Ah the early 90’s, the excesses of the 1980s were still with us, the shoulder pads were still big, and America still had a taste for scripted nighttime soap operas. Although “Dallas” was a memory and “Dynasty” was fading, television magnate Aaron Spelling revived the genre by skewing younger, introducing “Beverly Hills 90210” on the FOX network. Although the series was eventually known for being high school version of “Dynasty” and for spawning the even soapier, cattier “Melrose Place”, the pilot, newly released on DVD, shows that the series was originally meant to be a heart-warming, fish-out-of-water, family tale.

If you’re even remotely interested in “Beverly Hills 90210” (and why would you be reading this review if you’re not?), you already know the plot. Twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestly and Shannen Douherty) move from the heartland (Minneapolis) to dreamland (Beverly Hills) with parents Jim and Cindy (barely seen in the pilot) and attend West Beverly High School. There they go through much trials and tribulations to fit in, but eventually do and embark on many adventures (such as shopping and nightclubbing) with friends Steve (Ian Ziering), Kelly (Jennie Garth), Donna (Tori Spelling), and Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris).

However, if you are remotely interested in this show, why in the world would you bother with the pilot on DVD when the show is in endless re-runs on cable? Are there any nuggets on the DVD issue that would make the trip to the video store worthwhile. Well, not really (see Special Features).

Notice Luke Perry as the smoldering, alcoholic, poor little rich boy Dylan McKay isn’t in the list above. The fact that Dylan is nowhere to be found (but we’re treated to an excess of screen time from Brian Austin Green as the beyond-geeky, pre-hip hop David Silver). Another is that the story actually acknowledges that there are teachers at West Beverly High, something the series quickly pushed to the background to focus more on Brandon and Brenda’s crowd (wise move considering how clunky the attempts in the pilot at giving the teachers life on their own are – the principal spies the Spanish teacher salsa dancing in the hallway, shots of students in Porsches and Jags valet parking at school are intercut with faculty members driving up in beat-up VW Beetle buses and Gremlins, what is this – social commentary?).

At least the pilot gives lots of nice, lingering shots of Priestly’s beautiful, boyish face and fluffy neo-mullet (the retro-50’s look would come later) and some howling bad fashion choices that must have been thought brilliant at the time (I don’t remember tangerine orange oversized blazers and polka dot bike shorts worn over electric blue lycra leggings ever being cool, but they must have been to have made it onto the bods of Doherty and Garth).

Despite massive temptation, both Walsh children manage to endorse teen abstinence in the same episode. Brandon dates one of the richest party girls in school, lands in a hot tub with her, but prefers to “take things slow” and spend the evening talking instead. Brenda pretends to be a college student and dates a 25 year old lawyer played by Maxwell Caufield (he of “Grease 2” and “Dynasty” fame) but confesses her real age (to Caufield’s justifiable horror) before the end of the third date (and we all know what a third date entails).

The pilot also hammers home the “the rich aren’t any happier because they’re rich, they have problems too” theme a little too hard (Kelly, Steve, and Brandon’s date Maryann all have parents who are too permissive and end up neglecting their children), which is a bit of a downer for escapist television. Subsequent episodes would spread the soap opera tragedy around, regardless of economic status, and concentrate on the things about being rich that are fun to watch, like pretty clothes, parties and hot cars.

The pilot itself gets a B- (subsequent episodes, sadly none of which are included on this DVD, rate higher).

So the pilot is a little different than what the series would eventually become. Is that any reason to rent or buy the DVD. Well, since you can still catch the pilot (broken up and with the extraneous scenes that focus on the teachers snipped for time) on television., there must be some extras on the DVD, right?

Despite all of the VH1 and E! Entertainment Television specials on the series, there’s not a single special feature (unless you count a scene index) on the entire DVD. Any interviews with the cast? Nope. Any with at least Darren Star or Aaron Spelling? Not a one. No outtakes or casting process stories? Absolutely nothing. Shameful! We’re even left on our own to spot the one future Academy Award nominee in the cast (Djimon Honsou, listed in the credits as simply “Djimon”, as the doorman at the club that Brenda slips into with her fake ID).

Just think what fun it would have been to have a commentary by the former cast members. We could have heard Doherty say things like, “Now here’s where you can see that I’m checking out Jason’s butt.”, or Garth saying, “Shannen was supposed to have been in this scene, but she showed up late and got in a fight with the producer, so they wrote her out two minutes before filming and gave her lines to Tori.” For crying out loud, throw us a bone and at least include some info on production or costume design. There’s got to be a good behind-the-scenes story on the choice of the electric blue lycra tights!

This DVD is a pathetically poor excuse for the distributer to scrape together some extra cash. Save your money and watch “Beverly Hills 90210” on the cable t.v. you’re already paying for.

DVD special features get an F (really an "incomplete"), so the total grade averages out to a D.

Jennifer has an opinion on pretty much everything and is always happy to foist it upon others.


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