Two more 90210 season 3 episodes reviewed! “The Back Story”, which sounds like a nice behind-the-scenes special, but isn’t, and “Highwire”, in which Jim and Cindy Walsh are forced to display the wisdom of King Solomon, and Kelly goes Artemis on David’s Actaeon.
“The Back Story”
In this episode, various members of the game are ruthlessly exploited by television. It’s all very meta.
Brenda teams up with a producer from a sleazy television programme called “The Back Story”, who wins her friendship only to let her down by exploiting all of her friends.
It’s a pointless and dull episode, but in its defense, it does develop Brenda’s character kind of nicely. She has been sort of on edge with and alienated from the rest of the gang after her trip to Paris, her best friend, Kelly, is awkward around her after her summer fling with Dylan, and Brenda is obviously having difficulties realizing herself in these surroundings. She did well on her own in Paris, and her longing for independence is depicted in a rather nice way; through her new smoking habit. But she still loves her friends dearly, and she realizes as much through her co-operation with “The Back Story” – first as she lovingly describes their personalities and later when she needs their forgiveness. So she learns something.
And that’s kind of nice.
But it’s also kind of a contrived story, and the resolution of the crisis is ridiculously rushed with the Mean Journalist turning up to defend Brenda and everyone forgiving her right away.
Mean Reporter who Had a Heart Afterall is played by one Kamala Lopez Dawson, seen here in a lovely ensemble of woollen belly-sweater and very tight pleather.
There’s also a subplot in which Nikki keeps stalking Brandon around school, going to the lenghts even of joining the school paper, where Brandon works. Brandon is reluctant to make a move on the sophomore girl, because he thinks that she is too young for him, and eventually he tells her off, acting like a conceited ass. But again, at this point in the series the writers were admirably aware of Brandon’s smugness, so he gets called on it as Nikki snaps back at him, and then, of course, he realizes that he actually does like Nikki, and the two of them share a nice kiss at The Peach Pit. It’s all so cute in a Viola/Orsino-in-Twelth-Night kind of way, and Brandon and Nikki have such a nice chemistry that I find it hard not to be endeared by it.
Morley’s – the bad habit of ficitonal characters
The bonding between Dylan and Kelly continues: neither of them are interested in going to college, while it’s all that their friends, and especially Brenda, talk about. Kelly continues to be a well written and acted character. There’s a silly subplot in which David accidentally sees Kelly naked in the shower, but even Kelly’s part in this kind of works: Kelly is keeping so many things bottled up these days between her infatuation with her best friend’s boyfriend and her doubts about her future, and the frustration and violation that she feels at having been caught naked rings true considering these circumstances.
Kelly is mortified and furious as David catches her naked in the shower. Much like Artemis and Actaeon. (Yes, I went there. I compared 90210 to Greek mythology.)
Brandon and Brenda are at each other’s throats after their parents’s revelation that they only have the money to send one of their kids to an expensive out-of-state college and thus have to choose between their two children. For a couple whose parental skills have been glorified throughout the series, they sure aren’t displaying a whole lot of pedagogy skills in this episode. The only obvious solution here is to swing the solominic sword and decide that if they only had money for one fany college education, neither of their children could go to an expensive college. Luckily, however, the twins decide by the end of the episode that they actually both want to go to California University, the local campus. So the family row is solved, and things are lined up nicely for a fourth season of the series…
I’ve realized something about this show during these re-watchings: For a show with such a plain, realistic dramaturgy it is awfully partial towards dream sequences. Unfortunately, they’re rarely done very well, as is the case in this episode, in which Andrea is having nightmares in which she’s tightrope-walking, because she’s afraid in real life that she won’t get into Yale. This results in some really unflattering worm’s-eye shots of Andrea in a leotard, which makes her look short and chubby. And, yes, old.
The dreams and the fear are brought on by Gil who proves yet again to be a patronizing jerk. He consciously leads Andrea to believe that he’s having doubts about her getting into Yale (which was his alma mater, which is why Andrea values his opinion in the first place), because he wants to “test” her. Gah! Who the hell does that? And the worst part is that the show doesn’t present his behaviour as if there’s something wrong with it – Gil doesn’t get called on his own jerkitude, not even by Andrea who’s usually pretty good at smackdowns. I hate Gil.
Donna turns out to have a talent for art, which is awfully convenient, since she was diagnosed in the previous season with a learning disability that made her slow at just about every other subject in school, but I do buy it. If there’s one thing you can say about Donna throughout the first two and a half seasons, it’s that she’s been very interested in fashion, and I guess it makes sense that a person with an eye for fashion would have some flair for art, too. But I’m still not happy about Donna’s part getting more and more airtime this way. Tori Spelling simply can’t pull off a serious dramatic part.
Finally there’s Steve who’s offered a “legacy key” from a former West Beverly student. The key would enable Steve to break into the school’s computer system with the aid of his computer-wizz freshman buddy Herbert and change his grades so that he might be able to get into California University after graduation, which is what Former WB Student has done. FWBS even gets greeted heartily by vice principal Mrs. Teasley who remembers him fondly because his grades were so good. Here’s something I don’t understand about that plot: Wouldn’t the teachers notice if one changed one’s grades? How is it possible for this FWBS to have done nothing in class and written lousy papers and yet gotten all the teachers to love him simply by changing his grades on his record? I’m sure the American high school system is probably different from what I’ve been used to at my Danish high school, but I refuse to believe that it would be reified enough to make such a scam possible.
But anyway, Steve manages to buy a master key from the school janitor (after FWBS’s key didn’t work), and it’s another one of those Steve-does-something-obviously-wrong-and-learns-a-lesson plots that I can’t really get into. That’s my one problem with Steve; that he’s so stupid and morally corrupted that there’s no real conflict to the Faustian dilemmas he gets himself into – it’s obvious what he ought to do. My other problem with him is that Ian Ziering is a really bad actor.