Category Archives: Recaps

Re-Watching Little House on the Prairie: The Mime that Raped Sylvia

Last week I had coffee with a friend. This is a really sophisticated, smart friend of mine with great taste. The kind of friend I usually call up if I have two tickets for experimental theatre or a night of political debate or the like. I’m telling you this in order to set you up for the surprise I felt when she confessed to me over coffee that she has a guilty pleasure: She likes to watch reruns of Little House on the Praire. A lot. And even the really bad episodes.

I can’t tell you how much this thrilled me. It’s so great to find out that it’s not just me who has guilty pleasures, even level-headed people have them. And incidentally LHotP is a guilty pleasure of mine, too. And yes, even the really bad episodes. I’ve always enjoyed it. If I had to make an estimation, I would say that it’s 10% sentimentality (sunny fields! Happy little girls running down those fields!) and 90% snark.

Because the snark is a constant and natural companion to this series, between Michael Landon’s glorified portrait of Charles Ingalls (who would always, always take off his shirt, thus uncovering a wax-like, bronze and toned torzo) and the unreasonably high number of children adopted by the already poor Ingalls family. And then there are the story lines. Oh, those story lines. I mean, it’s not like nothing happened in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. And yet Michael Landon has seen fit to come up with a number of outrageous and sometimes completely bizarre stories for his television adaptation. Take Mary for instance. In the books Mary went blind and that was pretty much it. In the series, Mary 1) goes blind 2) gets married to a blind guy 3) has a miscarriage 4) has a healthy baby boy who 5)  perishes in the flames in a fire at the school for the blind that she and her blind husband has started. Crazy! Like, did Mary Ingalls really need any more angst, Michael Landon? There’s also an entire episode dedicated to a raccoon that may or may not have rabies, and an episode featuring Caroline Ingalls angsting about her meno-pause. Despite the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder never did mention her mother’s menstrual cycles in her books.

Michael Landon on the Prairie

Michael Landon on the Prairie

And then there are those episodes of the series that are just completely insane and awful, and one of those is the two-parter “Sylvia”. This episode, in which a 14-year-old girl is stalked and raped by a Walnut Grove local, is notorious among Little House fans and has even lend its name to the snarky thread in the Drama section of the Television Without Pity forums (titled “LHOTP – Pa, Ma, and that Mime that Raped Sylvia”).

I rewatched the two episodes the other day on youtube, and I thought that it might be interesting to do an analysis of the episode here.

Now, perhaps I should start with a brief summary of the episodes for those of my readers who are unfamiliar with them. The story is this: Sylvia is a buxom school girl in Walnut Grove who has blossomed somewhat early, a fact that has prompted her weird, widowed father to make her “bind herself up”: that is, to use gauze to bind up her woman attributes, because he’s paranoid and weird and thinks that being buxom and attractive means being a whore.

Even so, a creepy Walnut Grove resident has got his eyes on Sylvia. He starts stalking her and one day, as Sylvia is walking home from school, he attacks and rapes her. He’s dressed up as a mime, wearing a mask and tight black clothes (an outfit he got where exactly by the way? At the Walnut Grove Mercantile? Maybe the mercantile had a section of varieté costumes right next to their supply of beans and flour?), so Sylvia doesn’t know who he is. Devastated, Sylvia makes it home to her father who is appalled to hear of her loss of virtue. He tells her not to reveal her story to anyone.

Sylvia’s schoolmate Albert Ingalls (one of the adopted Ingalls kids that never actually existed) senses that Sylvia is upset and tries to console her, and the two youngsters fall in love. Soon, however, Sylvia starts fainting randomly, and it turns out that she is pregnant. When Albert finds out about Sylvia’s pregnancy, he is sympathetic towards her, unlike her father who isn’t convinced that Sylvia didn’t somehow lead her rapist on, and he forbids Sylvia to see Albert, and arranges for himself and Sylvia to go away to another city where noone knows of her shame. This prompts Albert to propose to Sylvia.

The engagement doesn’t please Charles and Caroline Ingalls who think that Albert is too young to be getting married, so Albert and Sylvia decide to elope. However, as Sylvia is waiting for Albert in the outskirts of the city, the mime rapist stalks her down again, and tries to attack her once more. Sylvia takes a bad fall trying to escape him, and dies from her injuries. The mime rapist turns out to be the town black smith.

I’ve seen the episode plot cited sometimes as a remarkably controversial subject matter for Little House on the Prairie, but that’s not how I see it. Quite the opposite in fact. Because one thing that really struck me upon rewatching the episodes is how entirely orthodox and reactionary the dramaturgy of those two episodes are, especially when it comes to the depiction of its main character, Sylvia, the rape victim.

In the article “Women as Children, Women as Childkillers” by Susanne Kord (an article on infanticide in German Sturm-and-Stress Literature which I read part of the research for my latest university project), Kord notices a common trait in late 18th-Century male writers’ depictions of the seduced woman: They all tend to depict the seduced woman as innocent to a degree that makes her seem child-like, in order to make the woman seem more pitiful and thus to evoke sympathy at her “fall” and subsequent misery, and so as to ensure that her character does not become a threat to the patriarchal society that she is a victim of. That’s all very well for Storm-and-Stress literature, and some brilliant literature did come out of it: Goethe’s Gretchen in Faust is among the child-like seduced women mentioned in the text.

Disturbingly, however, Michael Landon’s “Sylvia” two-parter from 1981 has a lot in common with these 18th-Century child-like seductees. The casting of Sylvia alone bears witness to this: actress Olivia Barash is the perfect mix of a child and a woman. She’s womanly buxom, but apart from this she’s presented with an very child-like personality: Cute-looking broad face, bangs cut across her forehead, small nose, and then a remarkably child-like lisp, rather like that of Cindy Brady. Add to this the fact that Olivia Barash had a career as a semi-famous child actress, and the fact that I just want to hug her, and cook her a warm meal and tug her in every time she’s on screen. Pity, sympathy and maternal instinct is what she evokes.

All this might be dismissed, I suppose, as basically irrelevant observations about how the actress portraying Sylvia happened to look, talk etc. If not for the fact that the child-like depiction of Sylvia is even more visible in the composition of the episode, especially in the point-of-view of the story.

Because, and this is my main problem with the Sylvia two-parter, the story is so much of a man’s story, it’s ridiculous. Here we have the story of a young girl who is raped and impregnated by a stranger, estranged by her father and seperated from her lover, all at the tender age of 14. And yet, as a poster on TWoP remarked once in the LHOTP thread, right from the outset of her story, all we get is a man’s point of view. Sylvia is constantly discussed throughout the episodes, and most often she’s not herself present when the discussion takes place, or even aware that she is discussed. When Dr. Baker has examined Sylvia and found out that she is pregnant, he tells Albert and we get Albert’s shocked reaction while Sylvia, who’s just learned that she’s carrying her rapist’s baby, remains dutifully off-screen. Disturbed by the news, Albert is off, not to talk to Sylvia and give her a chance to explain what happened to her, but to have a man-to-man talk with Charles Ingalls. Charles Ingalls suggests that Sylvia’s pregnancy “could have happened to her against her will” which is about the closest we ever get to someone actually saying the word “rape” in the episode. The character of Sylvia is never allowed to fully articulate to anyone what happened to her. The two times she attempts to (to her father, and later to Albert) she is overcome by tears before being able to finish the sentence.

In a discussion with Albert, (where Sylvia is of course not present) Caroline Ingalls does raise the rather interesting question: How does Sylvia feel about the fact that she’s carrying her rapist’s child? Has Albert even asked Sylvia that? Alas, the question remains unanswered as not one scene offers us an insight into Sylvia’s no doubt conflicted emotions concerning her condition.

And then the most gruelling part is the last scene of the two episodes, in which we find Sylvia dying from her injuries in her house. Sylvia’s father, Charles Ingalls, and Albert are all assembled and apparently all acutely aware that Sylvia is dying. Even so, when Albert goes to see Sylvia one last time, he lies his ass off and tells her that she is going to be fine, and in fact they’ll be getting married soon. Sylvia dies believing him, without knowing that she’s dying, and while we get to see Albert tear up several times, we never get to see Sylvia’s reaction as she becomes aware of her own tragic fate.

The irony is of course that I’m sure Michael Landon wanted this to be woman’s story, a controversial story about rape. His depiction of Sylvia’s father who is so intimidated by his daughter’s sexuality that he has her binding up her breasts is certainly an unsympathetic one. And yet the episode does nothing to challenge a patriarchal idea of woman as a weak, helpless creature unable to take control of her own destiny. It shines through even in the photography of the episodes: It’s always about the male gaze seeking out Sylvia and taking her by surprise, be it Albert and his no-good friends peeking at Sylvia through her window at the beginning of the episode, the mime staring at her from the bushes, or Dr. Baker looking up her wazoo and finding that she’s pregnant (a fact she is of course oblivious to until he tells her). We rarely see as much as one frame from Sylvia’s perspective.

My point with this entry? Well, I’m not sure I have one. Other than to say that seeing as this show is still regularly re-run and still has a devoted young audience, I think it’s important to challenge and discuss the message that an episode like this sends. As they say at Televison Without Pity: Spare the snark –  spoil the networks.

And then also to send the message to young girls to say no to mimes, I suppose.

PS: As I was researching for this entry, I came across a rather funny blog named WTF Little House on the Praire by one Rube Goldberg who describes his own blog as follows: “A 21st Century look at a 20th Century interpretation of life in the 19th Century. The goal is to answer the following question: Seriously?”
Check it out!

Re-watching Beverly Hills 90210 – “Isn’t It Romantic?”

So, I haven’t been re-capping Beverly Hills 90210 for, like, a year now, and I figured it was about time I got around to it again, especially now with the series being revived and all!

Unfortunately, my one source for watching the series has been removed; that is, the youtube poster who uploaded full episodes of the series on youtube last year has gone and had her profile deleted, so I don’t have a lot of episodes to pick from. In fact, the only episode I could find online was season 1 episode “Isn’t it Romantic?”.

But what an episode that is! As 90210 connoisseurs will be aware, this is the classic episode in which Dylan smashes a potted plant at Brenda’s feet and the two of them get together. This was the one 90210 episode I had on tape when I was a kid, and I would watch it over and over again, simply because I thought that it was one of the most romantic things I had ever seen. The brooding rebel! Falling for the innocent good girl! It set a new standard for the romantic fantasies of every good little innocent girl in the early nineties, and I was no exception. I wanted someone to smash potted plants at my feet, too, dammit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

The episode opens with Brenda coming home to Casa Walsh, carrying a bag, and she is met in the front yard by twin bro Brandon who’s working on his car. He’s got the television trademark oil smeared all over on his face and his arms so that we know that that’s what he’s doing. Because it is of course impossible to work on a car without getting it all over yourself, like a toddler consuming its first birthday cake. Whatever.

This first season focused a lot on the twins trying to adapt to Californian life after having spent their whole lives in Minnesota, and Brenda complains to Brandon about the weather being way too hot for winter. Brandon asks her who needs winter, and I’m inclined to agree with him, seeing as I live in a country where there’s often snow and minus degrees from November through March, but Brenda goes emo on Brandon’s pro-Califronia ass and claims that she needs a wintry season to “sulk and be depressed in”. The conversation then turns to the contents of Brenda’s bag which is apparently Dirty Dancing on tape. It turns out that Brenda has a babysitting job that night, and whenever Brenda babysits, this is what she watches. Brand-o speculates that Brenda must have the movie memorized by now, and Brenda says “Whatever gets you through the night – isn’t that what you always say?”. She says this in a skeevily flirty way, considering that she’s talking to her brother. There is tons of weird, sexual chemistry between Shannon Doherty and Jason Priestly throughout the first seasons. I once heard a rumour that the two actors were hooking up during the first season, and I totally think that’s true.

But I digress. Brenda’s flirty remark triggers the historic moment where Dylan surprises Brenda by rolling out from under the car, Bruce Springsteen-style, Trademark!Dirt smeared all over himself. He checks Brenda out big-time and takes it upon himself to reply to Brenda’s incest-tastic remark. “That’s what I always say…” he says, while still undressing her with his eyes. Which is the only thing to do, really, because Brenda’s wearing a hideous ensemble: running shoes and white tennis socks (seck-say!!), jeans shorts and an ugly, large mint-green t-shirt that bulges out and makes it look like she’s got a huge belly, and a broad head-band with flower print on it. Not good.

Brenda’s taken by surprise by Dylan and more flirtiness ensues (Brenda: “I didn’t see you…” Dylan:”I saw you.”), but then Ma!Walsh Cindy pops her head out of the Casa and tells Brenda there’s a telephone call for her: the child she was supposed to babysit has come down with the chicken pox.

We’re then treated to the first appearance of prejudiced!Jim Walsh, as Jim meets up with Dylan by the car. Jim is acting all suspicious around Dylan. He tells him that he’s heard from Brandon that Dylan’s got a Porsche. “You bought it from your paper round earnings?” he snarkily asks Dylan, because having money apparently makes you a morally dubious person who’s worthy of scorn. For Chrissake, Jim, if you were so wary of people with money maybe you shouldn’t have moved to Beverly Hills in the first place. Just a thought. But Dylan’s pretty goodnatured about the whole thing and goes on to ask Jim if he may please use the shower, because he’s got Trademark!Dirt all over him. Jim agrees but not before asking Dylan whether he takes his earring out before he showers, which, what the hell? I mean, I get that they’re trying to show us that Dylan doesn’t fit in with Jim Walsh’s midwestern lifestyle, but asking Dylan about his showering habits just seems weird and vaguely like a come-on.

We cut to Brenda, who’s yelling to Brandon in the bathroom to keep the door shut while showering because it’s hot enough in the house already. She’s mortified, however, when the showerer pops out from behind the curtain and it’s not Brandon, it’s Dylan. Cue: teenage girl viewers all over the show squealing, because Dylan’s shirtless and we get to see his wet, upper body and his hair is all tousled. I have to admit that he’s looking pretty cute here. Brenda is startled and retreats out of the bathroom so that he may shower unseen.

This is where any normal high school girl (read: me at that age) would have run to her room and hid under her sheets with embarrassment, but obviously Brenda’s a stronger person than I am, because she just lingers in the hallway and continues to talk to Dylan from a distance. Luke Perry has the weirdest intonation as he asks her “So you’re into video tape, huh?”. I have no idea why he would emphasize the word “tape” like that. Surely “video tape” would have made more sense? Anyway, the two talk about movies, and Dylan smarmily shows up in the doorway up wearing nothing but a towel around his waste because the producers were aware that they depended on the rating of their female audience, and he ends up inviting Brenda to go to the movies with him and Brandon tonight. Brenda accepts and smirks to herself as she walks away.

Dylan takes Brandon and Brenda to a Marx Bros. Film Festival, because Dylan is sophisticated and worldly. So wordly in fact, that he’s approached by a slutty-looking broad in the hall before the movie starts. He’s so used to attention like this that he’s forgotten the chick’s name, otherwise he would have introduced the twins, he explains after she’s left. He’s chastised for this by Brenda, but defends himself: The name escapes him because she keeps changing her name to something exotic, because her real name is “something like Gertrude, or Beatrice or… Brenda.” Brenda then hammers what I think is a straw into his chest, because she’s feisty, despite being a Minnesota girl with a wholesome name like Brenda.

After the movie we find the three youngsters in Dylan’s hotel room where they have fastfood and Dylan impresses the twins with his subwoofers. Once again; Dylan’s rich and sophisticated and wordly and thus impressive to the twins.

We then cut to West Beverly High and the episode’s B-plot, but the youtube poster who uploaded this has apparently chosen to skip the B-plot altogether. I don’t blame him/her, I always fast-forwarded through that part myself because it was really boring and lame. But I’ll try to recap the plot all the same. From what I remember, the first scene of the B-plot goes something like this: Brenda and Steve are in health class and they are told that they are going to be getting sex ed, but the teacher needs their parents’ permission first. As Sars pointed out in her excellent recap of the 90210 recap on TWoP in these early episodes the writers were serious about sending a positive message to kids, and so I guess they didn’t feel like they could show us Brenda going out with a hot guy without also teaching their audience an important lesson on sex. Steve leans over to Brenda and asks her if she’s ever noticed that their health class teacher starts playing with his beard whenever he talks about sex. Brenda glances up at the teacher and sure enough; the teacher’s playing with his beard.  Ew. Gross and kind of masturbatory.

Casa Walsh, evening. Brandon’s on the sofa wearing a robe and reading a book and doing some television trademark!Sneezing so that we know that he’s got a cold. He and Brenda had plans to go out with Dylan, but obviously now Brandon can’t go, so Brenda goes out with him alone. Jim is none too happy about this because Dylan’s father is known in financial circles as an “unethical bastard, and that’s putting it politely”. Cindy asks him why he would judge Dylan by his father to which he replies that in his experience “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Nice, Jim. Prejudice is not unethical at all. Cindy rolls her eyes at him, like, “Kids say the darndest things!”, when really she should have been calling him on his bigot ways.

Brenda and Dylan are at the movies, and Dylan is once more displaying his wordliness as in contrast to Brenda’s Midwestern-ness as he demonstrates to an impressed Brenda how he can tell by every couple’s body language at the movies whether they’re on dates or picked each other up or whatever. Like, we get it already, writers. Dylan’s worldy. He flirtily puts his arm around Brenda and decides that they skip the movie and do something else. “What did you have in mind?” she asks, all coy and eye-battingly, and again I’m impressed by her coolness. If that was me as a 16-year-old getting hit on by Hot Rebel Guy, you can bet I would have been tripping and falling on my ass or accidentally spitting on him or something equally embarrassing. Fictional characters have it so much easier.

What Dylan has in mind was apparently for the two of them to go back to his place! Oh my. Brenda’s obviously all for this, and the two of them are even holding hands as they enter his hotel suite. I never noticed that before. But alas, as soon as they’re inside they find that Dylan’s father is there, having a meeting with his Unethical Bastard Business Associates. I notice that Dylan’s father is played by a different actor in this episode than in the rest of the series. This one’s more sleek-looking and less rugged-criminal looking. I’m glad they recast him. Dylan’s father drags Dylan away and the two immediately get into an argument off-screen, while Brenda stands around in the hallway, looking uncomfortable. An angered Dylan rushes back into the hallway and tries to pour himself a glass of whiskey, but Brenda stops him because he’s her ride home. Dylan’s pissed and rushes out of the building with Brenda in tow.

Brenda wants to calm Dylan down and proposes a walk on the beach, which seems a little hazardous to me, considering that it’s late at night and she’s with an angry, aggressive guy she hardly knows. What do they teach her in health class sex ed anyway? Luckily, Dylan’s not in the mood for walks on the beach: “And check out the homeless people?” he snarks, “That’d be great!”. Brenda tries to talk to him about what happened between him and his father, but he keeps interrupting her. Brenda gets pissed and Dylan snaps “Excuse me, I’ve got a knack for interrupting things because I’ve had just about noise for one night!” (again with Perry’s random over-empasizing of certain words!). Brenda tries to get a picolo to hail a cab for her, but Dylan angrily cuts her off. “No, I want a taxi!” Brenda insists, but Dylan yells “No, just come on, dammit!!”. “Stop yelling at me!” Brenda shrieks – at which Dylan grabs a potted plant and smashes it at her feet.

Brenda is understandably freaked out by this display of violence, and she starts running away from Dylan as fast as she can. Aren’t you glad now that Dylan turned down your suggestion to take a walk on the beach, Brenda? But Dylan’s faster than her, and he catches up with her and grabs her from behind. “Let me go.” Brenda pleads, but Dylan begs of her not to leave, “I’m an idiot, please don’t go!” he says while grabbing her wrists. “You’re scaring me!” Brenda shrieks, and Dylan lets go of her, steps away and apologizes, looking all wounded-kitten-y. “He just gets to me, he always gets to me…” Dylan weeps and falls into Brenda’s embrace. He kisses her cheek and the two end up facing each other, gazing into each other’s eyes. Fireworks. They kiss, passionately.

(I imagine I’m not the only who remembers that scene fondly, so here it is, via youtube. Thanks to youtube poster knnarmst!):

You know something, after all these years that scene still works. I hate to admit it, but it still does. Which is so weird, because it’s totally random! A potted plant being hurled to the ground and two sobbing, shrieking teenagers? Why is that hot? It’s a mystery. It’s just one of those moments, I guess. Like in Lady and the Tramp. Two Italians serenading two dogs who are rolling meatballs around on a plate with their snouts oughtn’t be romantic either, and yet it is.

The next thing we see is Dylan pulling up in front of Casa Walsh, having driven Brenda home. He’s in the middle of angsting to her about his difficult life with an absent father, and Brenda’s totally sucking it up.  Dylan makes Brenda promise she won’t say anything to Brandon about his little potted-plant freak-out, and she promises. “So,” he asks her, all suavely, “are you sorry we missed the movie?” (Oh, Luke Perry, you and your wacky emphasizing of words!). “Oh yeah…” Brenda says seductively, and Dylan moves in for some more kissage.

The next day, the Walsh family is having a wholesome Midwestern dinner together. Cindy is trying to convince Jim to go to a spa for the weekend, and Brenda thinks they should go, because Brandon’s working that weekend and Brenda has plans anyway-  she’s probably going out with Dylan. Cue: grumpy Jim who tells Brenda that he doesn’t want her dating him. Brenda tries to get Brandon to help her out, but Brandon doesn’t know what to say. Brenda says she’ll make plans with Kelly instead and leaves the table in anger. Cindy is pissed and tells Jim that she happens to like Dylan, before she leaves the table, too. Jim asks Brandon to try to break up Brenda and Dylan and man, for someone who’s supposed to be a wholesome father figure he’s really messing up big time here.

Cindy goes to see Brenda in her room and reminds Brenda that she was supposed to sign her permission to receive sex ed at school which launches a mother-daughter talk about sex. “[Sex ed] doesn’t deal with the most important stuff,” Brenda waxes poetically, “Like how it feels, in your heart, when you really want to connect with someone.” Cindy strokes Brenda’s hair and says it feels wonderful when it’s at the right time with the right person, and are they actually talking about sex here? That seems really awkward, Brenda talking to her mom about how she really wants to shag Dylan. Cindy says that there are a lot of things to a relationship, like mutual respect and whatnot, “it doesn’t have to be about sex.” “I hate to say this, mom, but it definitely has something to do with [sex]!” Brenda says. Um, ew? Enough with the sharing with your mother how much you want to get into Dylan’s pants, Brenda! Couldn’t they just talk about how Jim’s a jerk instead?

Brenda goes to Kelly’s place and complains about her family’s attitude towards Dylan. We learn that Kelly has agreed to cover for Brenda on Friday night so that Brenda can still keep her date with Dylan. Kelly offers Brenda some condoms from her stock by the bed. Brenda protests that this is all too clinical, but Kelly convinces her to take the condoms because it’s better than having to pick out names, “How about Dylan Jr? or Brendina?”. I don’t get why everyone’s acting like it’s a given that Brenda and Dylan are going to do the nasty the next time they see each other. They went out once and they’re in high school. Surely they don’t have to get at it right away? But again, the producers were all about the Positive Message to its Teenage Audience during this first season of the season and were obviously willing to sacrifice dramaturgy and continuity on the altar of the Positive Message. “If things go well, you won’t be thinking at all,” Kelly predicts, and Brenda looks pensive.

Kelly Taylor – Knows Stuff about Sex

The next day, Brenda and Dylan are being all couple-y during lunch break at school, feeding each other french fries and rolling around on the ground, kissing and mock-fighting. Brandon watches them from a distance, not happy about their promiscuous behaviour. I’d be a lot more sympathetic towards his case if he hadn’t been sexing it up at Casa Walsh with his old girlfriend Sheryl at Casa Walsh while his whole family was at home, just a couple of episodes ago.

In class, Masturbatory Beard-Fondling Teacher is trying to get his class to settle down and listen to him, so that he can tell them about the guest speaker named Stacy Sloane who is coming to “address the student body-“. “Did you say undress the student body? I’m there!” Steve lamely quibs and everyone laughs, and God, am I glad to be out of high school where lame remarks like this one were actually considered cool.

Between classes, Brandon tries to get Dylan to work on the car with him that weekend, but Dylan’s all angsty about his father and doesn’t have the time. Suddenly angry and frustrated, Brandon grabs Dylan saying “Oh, but you do have time to make out with my sister? (…) You better really like her. She’s very romantic and dreamy. (..) Dylan, she’s a virgin!” Gah! What the hell?? I know Brandon could be a douche sometimes, but this is just ridiculous. I cannot believe that he would actually stand there in a place as public as a high school hallway and talk about the status of his sister’s hymen to a guy she likes! And again, why does everyone automatically assume that Brenda and Dylan are just minutes away from doing the naked pretzel? And more importantly, why does everyone feel a compulsive need to discuss this subject all the time? I know, I know, the positive message to kids thing. It grates. Understandably, Dylan is pissed, too. “What kind of a jerk do you think I am?” he asks Brandon before he walks away.

We now cut to a montage of Kelly and Donna dressing up Brenda for her Big Date. Obviously the youtube poster has this episode from the released DVD because the scene has a completely different score than it had when it first aired on TV. The music for the original montage was “Doing the Do” by Betty Boo, a wonderfully cheesy early 90s rap, slightly reminiscent of the kitsch-y Wham! Rap. I guess there must have been a copyright issue or something. Too bad, because this new music is a weird, noisy guitar-riffy song that doesn’t fit the girly scenario at all. Anyway, the three girls end up contemplating the result of their stylings in the mirror and everyone’s satisfied. Brenda’s outfit is actually not horrible, when you disregard a hideous handbag with a gold chain. Very grandma. Brandon shows up in the doorway and stares at them in a really creepy way, but everyone completely ignores his stalking and glaring. Shannen Doherty does nervous-and-excited really well, and the three girls rush out while we zoom in on a sad Brandon who bids his sister’s hymen a silent goodbye.

But then it turns out that Dylan has decided to stand up Brenda. We actually see her still standing there in front of the movie theatre, waiting as the audience leaves the theatre, and I take it that this means that Brenda’s been waiting for Dylan for about two hours? Come now, Brenda, that seems a little desperate.

The next day, Brenda is staring out the window in her room, sad and depressed. Brandon offers to talk to her about it. Nobody in this episode turns down the offer to talk about sex, so the twins walk over to sit on Brenda’s bed together (oh yeah, that’s not inappropriate), and Brenda reveals that she was “ready to spend the night with him, and he didn’t show up…!”. Brenda wails that she thought she was special, and Brandon says that he thought Dylan was different, but that he obviously doesn’t let people in. What, Brandon’s pissed that Dylan didn’t elaborate on his personal tragedy after Brandon publicly accused him of trying to steal his sister’s virginity? Brenda cries that yesterday on the lawn in school they were so in sync, and that she doesn’t know what happened, but something did happen. “I need. To know. What happened.” she says. She’s a total drama queen about being stood up by a guy she’s only been out with one time, but I can appreciate the fact that that’s probably how one would react at age 16. Still, I don’t see why the producers have to underline the DRAMA with some very dramatic, serious music, like someone just died.

Monday morning. Dylan is in the school computer lab, typing angrily away at a typical, big-ass 90s computer. Brandon comes up to him and asks him just what in the hell is going on with him. Apparently, stalker!Brandon has been to Dylan’s house and found out that he moved away and didn’t even leave a forwarding adress. Dylan doesn’t want to talk about it, but insists that his standing Brenda up had nothing to do with either Minnesota twin. Brandon wants Dylan to tell Brenda that. “She was so upset all weekend, she even stayed home from school today.” Again with the sharing intimate details about his sister in school. Let her have her dignity, man. From a guy whom we were supposed to believe was a talented journalist, Brandon sure didn’t have a lot of intuition in this episode.

The next scene is cut in the youtube video, but I can see that it begins with Masturbatory Beard-Fondling Teacher trying to start his car, so I think I remember where this is going: If I recall correctly, the teacher is unable to start his car, so when he sees Steve and his ‘Vette, he asks Steve if he would please do him the favour of going to pick up the guest speaker somewhere (at the airport?). Steve agrees.

From what I remember, Steve then goes to pick up the guest speaker, and she turns out to be a very pretty young woman, so Steve pretends that he’s actually a teacher at West Beverly High and flirts with her a lot. I especially remember the ending of the scene where Steve kisses Stacy Sloane’s hand and then we see Stacy Sloane standing around, gazing at him as he walks away, all impressed by his moves. Except Steve totally walks like a woman! I guess Ian Ziering is unusually hippy for a guy or something, because he kind of wriggles and waddles his way out of there, like he’s in high heels. It really ruins the mood and between the waddle and his blond mullet perm, it’s hard to believe that this pretty older woman would actually be attracted to him.

Steve Sanders – Waddler

The youtube poster is obviously as disenchanted by Steve and his waddling as I am, so he/she’s cut directly to the next scene, in which we find Brenda who’s at home in the living room, wearing her ugly jeans shorts again, this time paired with an ugly, longsleeved green shirt. She’s listening to music, and I’m almost sure that this music wasn’t in the original episode either. It seems out of sync with the scene somehow and it completely drowns out every other sound in the scene. So we can’t hear that there’s a knock on the door at some point, but obviously Brenda can, so she goes to open the door and finds Dylan there. She turns off the weird music, and Dylan awkwardly says that he’s sorry. “I know: ‘You’re an idiot'”, Brenda says, reminscing their Hot Potted Plant Moment together. “That’s not good enough this time.” She chastises him for not even explaining to her where he were and what he was doing that night, but really, he hasn’t even had the time to try to explain himself, has he? This scene isn’t very well written. Dylan cuts to the chase and reveals that he had to help his father disappear, because there’s going to be some charges against him. Fraud, things like that. He tells her that he was thinking of her the whole time and that he cares about her.The two make up and start kissing. Things heat up and they end up on the couch, making out, until they hear a car pull up and rush to the window to see who it is. I notice now for the first time that Brenda is wearing the white tennis socks again! Loose the socks, Brenda!

It’s Jim coming home! Both Dylan and Brenda completely panic and start arranging things so that it looks like Dylan is just leaving. I don’t really get this. So far I haven’t seen any indication that Dylan is aware that Jim bears a grudge against him. Oh well. I guess Brenda thought it was an appropriate topic to bring up while she was rolling around with him on that school lawn. If she has inherited any of that fine intuition that her brother’s displaying, I wouldn’t put it past her.

But Jim is not tricked by their little performance. As soon as Dylan is out the door, he asks Brenda what kind of a fool she thinks he is. I assume that’s a rethorical question, but this might be a good time for Brenda to get some things off her chest. But Jim just hands her a newspaper and tells her what she already knows, that Dylan’s father’s skipped town because of the charges against him. “You deserve better than that!” Jim yells. “Like who?” asks Brenda, “Someone straighter, someone younger, quieter?! (…) Dad, those nice boys may look mild-mannered on the outside. But mostly what they all think about is sex!” “Who said anything about sex?!” Jim says, and I have to say I’m on Jim’s side here. Nobody said anything about sex. Stop talking about sex all the time! Brenda calls Jim on the fact that when Brandon was getting it on with his girlfriend, Jim just gave him a lecture on protection, but with her sex is all about values. Which is a good point, but again, why are we talking about sex here? Jim has said plainly that he doesn’t want his daughter dating Dylan, so why don’t we start with the dating part?

Brenda Walsh – Talks about Sex a Lot

Back at school, Kelly can’t believe that Brenda actually said those things to her father. Neither can Brenda. Neither can I, but I guess I’ve established as much already. But apparently the argument ended with Jim letting Brenda see Dylan. Because nothing says “Trust me, dad” like bringing up sex in random conversation all the time.

Then we cut to the scene were the guest speaker is going to give her sex-themed lecture to the school. While the microphone is getting tested, Dylan and Brandon apologize to each other and make up. The youtube poster cuts again before we can hear the guest speaker’s lecture, which is indeed pretty stupid. From what I remember, the scene goes like this: The guest speaker starts out by talking about how she met Steve, and how he was all charming and handsome (like, yeah. If you’re into blond mullets and waddly walks). But that for the rest of her life she will have to tell interested guys like Steve an important thing about herself: That she has AIDS. Omg!!1!! Cue to shocked atmosphere at West Beverly High, as the students listen to her story about how she contracted the disease as a teenager after practising unsafe sex with her boyfriend, and now the boyfriend is dead, and she’s tired and sick and losing weight. Because sex is a serious matter, that should not be taken lightly, but should be talked about endlessly and with everyone you know, including your father and brother, from the moment you go out on a date with a person. Right, writers?

Evening at Casa Walsh. Dylan comes over to pick Brenda up, and he kisses up to Jim some while he waits for her to come down from her room. He explains to Jim that he hardly knows his criminal father, and that Brenda and Brandon are lucky to have the parents they’ve got. Then Brenda comes down, and I didn’t think that she would be able to find a more hideous outfit than the shorts-jeans-tennis-socks thing, but she proves me wrong. She’s wearing a bodystocking… in red faux-velvet. Ugh! Faux velvet is definitely a fashion faux-pas, and the bodystocking makes the otherwise prettily curvy Shannen Doherty look short and chubby.

Brenda’s sufficiently scared by the AIDS-stricken Guest Lecturer’s speech that she decides that it would probably be best if she talked about sex some more. The final scene of the episode shows Brenda and Dylan at some Beverly Hills viewpoint, and Brenda very romantically starts asking Dylan if he’s ever had unprotected sex. Dylan says “not lately”, but yes, it has happened. It really bugs me how the writers are always writing Dylan’s character like he’s about 40 or something. From what I can gather, Dylan must be about 17 at this point. This means that he’s been sexually active for, what, two or three years? Four years at the most? Then what’s with the “not lately” thing? Three years ago that’s “lately”, I’d say. Unless they expect me to believe that Dylan was heavily experimenting as a ten-year-old or something. Again, I get it, the writers want the Dylan character to be a worldly sophisticated counterpoint to Brandon and Brenda, but they’re really taking it too far.

Anyway, Dylan asks Brenda if she’d like him to get tested. “Would you do that for me?” Brenda asks him, and Dylan says “I guess I’d be doing it for me.” The scene ends with Brenda angsting about how she needs for them to slow down, and again, Brenda, you’re the one who keeps bringing up sex. Dylan reassures his pushy new girlfriend, and we fade to black, and, man, this was the episode I watched over and over as a kid? Hard to believe. Apart from the Broken Potted Plant of Hotness scene, this episode is extremely clunkily written. I’m so glad that they decided to downplay the Positive Message to Kids thing in later seasons, and just focus on the teen angst soapy goodiness. Otherwise how would we ever have had awesome scenes like Jack McKay being blown up in his car by the mob?


PS: Holy Christ, I think this is possibly the longest blog entry I’ve ever written. On an episode of 90210 at that. That is kind of unsettling.

Re-watching Beverly Hills 90210: “The Back Story” and “Highwire”

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.

Kamala Lopez Dawson

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 Cigarettes

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.

Artemis and Actaeon

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.

Ian Ziering


Re-Watching 90210 Beverly Hills: “A Song of Myself”

Episode no. 57: “A Song of Myself”

Ah. It’s nice when I don’t even have to make up a neat little high-cultural excuse for reviewing 90210 in here, about how I think it’s important to understand pop culture in order to understand the values on which our society is founded and blah blah covering-up-for-bad-taste-in-guilty-pleasures blah. This particular 90210 episode provides high culture itself – it’s named after a Whitman poem! Let’s just take a look at that Whitman guy, then:

Walt Whitman

Ahh, yes. I feel less sinful already about my pop cultural streak already.

But to get on with the review: It’s the first day of school in this episode, and the Gang are now seniors (except for David who’s one year younger than everyone else). But of course there is a whole new class starting school this year, and this becomes significant for our main characters, half of which become senior buddies, that is a kind of special, personal counsellors, to newcomers at West Beverly High.

I would have liked a senior buddy when I started high school, I think. All the senior buddy-ness I got on my first day of school was that senior girl in the hallway whom I asked to tell me the way to the nearest bathroom. Then I rushed to said bathroom and got sick because I felt so nervous and awkward and insecure and my scoliosis brace was killing me in the late summer heat. Poor me.

Brenda’s freshman buddy is an equally nervous- and insecure-looking young girl named Sue, who also asks for the bathroom. Once there, however, she does not get sick as much as she changes her personality completely! To Brenda’s astonishment, sweet little Sue emerges from the bathroom looking decidedly bad-ass, complete with heavy make-up, a leather vest with weird plastic-ornaments on it, a belly tee, and weird, fringy jeans (the early 90s. They remain my least favourite period, fashion-wise. I am not happy to see that grunge is back in style these days. Neo-grunge my ass.) The actress is Nicholle Tom who was in just about everything in my late childhood so we know we’ll probably see more of her, and it turns out that the character is Sue Scanlon, as in deceased Scott Scanlon’s younger sister, and she’s apparently reacting to the trauma of having her brother accidentally shoot himself the previous year and living in a generally f’ed up family. Disregarding the television cliché of Sue’s good girl/bad girl split personality, I’m glad Sue’s there, because I think that batty Mrs. Scanlon, Scott’s and Sue’s mother, is one of the better and more interesting recurring characters and I love the depiction of the dysfunctional Scanlon family.

Steve’s got a freshman buddy too – a boy named Herbert (whom Steve keeps calling “Hubert”), who’s into computers and hacking. This will be important later!

David is off the hook when it comes to freshman buddies, seeing as he’s not a senior, but he’s got some trouble of his own to take care of: Nikki, whose tongue he had in his mouth while Donna was in Paris, has transferred to West Beverly High! The explanation they give for her transfer is very lame and half-hearted; things got “hairy” at home in San Francisco, so she convinced her parents that it would be best if she went to live with her aunt in Beverly Hills. Whatever. They obviously just wanted Nikki in for some more episodes, and I’m okay with that because she is kind of nice, and unlike a lot of the actors in this series, she actually looks like a real teenager.

David, however, is less than enthusiastic about this reunion with his summer fling, because he hasn’t gotten around to telling Donna about what happened. And who should turn out to be Nikki’s senior buddy? But Donna Martin herself! And hilarity ensues. Between Nikki’s sudden transfer and Donna being her senior buddy there are just one too many coincidences for this subplot to work, and it’s kind of tired. It all ends with Nikki and Donna teaming up to put David to the test, and David passes after turning down Nikki’s schemed advances. But Nikki bumps into Brandon thrice during the episode and asks Donna if he’s got a girlfriend, so we know that her relationship with him is just around the corner. She used to be my favourite Brandon-girlfriend, so that’s good.

More coincidences take place as Brenda, Dylan and Kelly are all in the same classes by accident. Dylan continues to be a total jerk, flirting with both his girlfriend Brenda and her friend Kelly, while Kelly tries to do the right thing. In this case, that means signing up for other classes, which Kelly does. Jennie Garth plays this whole plot quite well, making Kelly a refreshingly sympathetic Other Woman.

But the most interesting plot in this episode is probably Andrea’s, actually! Mr. Meyers, the attractive young English teacher with the beard, who insists on being called by his first name (Gil), is now in the picture, and he’s in charge of Andrea’s beloved school paper. I don’t remember there ever being a teacher involved in the editorial process prior to this episode, but whatever. He’s young, he’s innovative, he’s handsome, and he teaches the class Walt Whitman’s “A Song of Myself”, the poem that lends its title to this episode, and features the lines: “It is as great to be a woman as to be a man.” The lines are quoted as an example of an early struggle for equality, which I think is a completely wrong and simplistic interpretation of the poem: Considering Whitman’s style, themes and motifs as a poet, it’s much rather an expression of a universal sense of life and unity, so this annoys me a little, and subtracts considerably from the joy I felt upon pasting Whitman’s valuable picture into this not-so-valuable review. If the writers wanted to introduce a poet with a gender-related political message, why didn’t they go for, I dunno, Sylvia Plath or someone?

But Andrea obviously has a crush on Gil and tries her best to impress him with her intelligence and ambition. She’s hurt, however, as Gil tells her he wants to make Brandon the chief editor instead of her, despite the fact that she’s had the task for years and worked so hard for it. He explains that he’d like to “push” and “motivate” Brandon a little, and Andrea tries to be brave about it for a while, but eventually she calls Gil on it, and that makes for kind of a nice scene: “…You ripped me off… I sacrificed my nights and weekends! And then you walk in and in one fell swoop you take the whole thing away from me!” Why didn’t she just tell him? Gil wants to know. “Because I wanted you to like me.” admits Andrea. “I do like you. (…) But don’t you think it’s time you learn how to be a team player? Sometimes, overachievers like you, have to get past their own egos and learn how to accept disappointment.” There’s a nice pause after that statement where you wonder whether Andrea is going to buy it, but then: “That is so bogus! If I were a guy, you would be congratulating me on my ambition instead of calling me an overachiever. (…) Why is it we call a male assertive and a female pushy? Why is a guy tough and a girl a bitch? What would Walt Whitman say about that… Gil?”

Then things take an unlikely turn where Gil immediately sees the errors of his ways and makes Brandon and Andrea co-editors of the paper. I doubt it that anyone sexist enough to take a job away from a qualified girl just so he could give it to a guy would be convinced of his own sexism so easily, and besides I don’t think Gil was being as much sexist towards Andrea as he was being a jerk (strutting in and telling her to get past her own ambition after knowing her for just a few days…! That’s bad karma that transcends gender), but I like Andrea in this storyline. I like how the writers tend to depict Andrea in constant conflict with her ambition and her need for affirmation from men/authoritative figures – especially because she wins the struggle most of the time and manages to tell off the men in her life who try to hold her down (like Brandon did in “Too Little, Too Late”).

All in all, I think this was kind of a dissapointing follow-up on the turbulent summer episodes, but I’ve got my hopes up for “The Back Story” which is next in line.

Re-Watching Beverly Hills 90210

Beverly Hills 90210

Since I’ve gotten in touch with other young opera lovers, I have observed that young opera lovers usually come from one of three different backgrounds, teen-age wise. There’s the Hard Core Young Opera Lover, whose love of opera was symptomatic, and who grew up an atypically smart, serious, no-nonsense kind of teenager, studying hard, listening only to classical music, and hanging out almost exclusively with fellow no-nonsense teenagers. Then there’s the Late Bloomer Young Opera Lover who had a normal teenage doing regular silly teenage stuff and only discovered opera when in their 20s. And then there’s the third type, the Grey Zone Opera Lover who’s a little bit of both: The GZOL discovered opera early on, but was kind of in-the-closet about his/her fascination with this un-hip musical interest, and thus strived to live a fairly normal teen age, hanging out mostly with normal teens and listening to opera only on the quiet.

That’s me, that last one, the GZOL. I discovered opera at age 12, but I was so embarrassed about it that I didn’t really explore that side of myself fully during my teen years. I would listen to opera, and I’d let my closest friends in on my little secret, but apart from that, I did the usually teen age thing; hanging up posters of Pierce Brosnan and Hugh Grant in my room (which is creepy, actually, because my dad look so much like Hugh Grant), slamming doors and listening to loud rock music trying to annoy my parents, getting drunk and kissing boys at parties (that is, once I got off my scoliosis brace. A thick, plastic shell covering your entire upper body is not a turn-on, in case you were wondering. Oh my God, how I hated that thing.), and it was only when I escaped from the big-brother society of high school cliques that I started to explore openly my operatic passion.

This means of course that I have been exposed to all the same teenage cultural phenomena as the rest of the generation that grew up in the 90s, which in turn means that I have of course been spellbound by Spelling’s teen soap Beverly Hills 90210.

Casa Walsh

The second home of my generation – Casa Walsh

Out of nostalgia and guilty pleasure, I’ve been rewatching some season 3 episodes of 90210 lately, and what fun it’s been! These episodes first aired when I was 9-10 years old, and this was when I started watching. I wasn’t a fan of the show for a terribly long time (for about a year, I think, then Danish TV started re-running Dynasty and that was where my focus went), but it was very intense for a while. 90210 was the hot topic in the fourth grade, and my best friend back then and I had a minor crisis in our friendship when Dylan was made to choose between Kelly and Brenda – with my friend rooting for Kelly and me rooting for Brenda. Ah, good times.

I want this t-shirt SO BADLY!

Anyway, I’ve always disregarded 90210 as exactly that; a show of dubious quality that I liked when I was very, very young. But it’s still part of my past, and after writing reviews of 90210 episodes for an online soap opera discusssion forum, I decided to bring the reviews here on this blog, in order to shed some light on my (pop) cultural background, inspired by my friend Kåre’s blog post about a new Danish soap opera. Comments and discussions are of course very welcome!

I’m starting my reviews at The Paris episodes (where Brenda and Donna visit the Capital of Romance and learn valuable lessons) in early season 3. There are four of these episodes “Too Little Too Late”, “Sex, Lies, and Volleyball”, “Shooting Star”, and “Castles in the Sand”), but I can’t tell them apart, so I’m just going to review them collectively.

Let’s roll those credits, just to get in the mood, shall we?:

Aw, yeah. That’s the good stuff. I feel like wearing flannel and tuning in to Ace of Base.

Anyway. These episodes I’m reviewing are from back in the day when Brenda was still the female lead, and I’m somewhat impressed with the way the writers depict Dylan’s and Brenda’s relationship and how it’s starting to fall apart – it rings true to me. Brenda is obviously starting to have a problem with her dependency on and commitment to Dylan, which is only natural for a teenage girl in a serious relationship, and that is quite obviously why she chooses to go to France.

Dylan and Brenda

Aw. I’m pretty sure I had this promo picture as a sticker back in the day.

The Paris scenes themselves, however, are problematic, to say the least. The stereotypical way in which the country is depicted (rudeness, overly flirtatious men, weird food) is probably meant to be cute and funny, but really only comes off as xenophobic and annoying. Especially since it’s not balanced by anything – no positive statement is made about France or Paris throughout the episodes, at all. Even when Brenda meets a guy in Paris he’s not French, he’s an all-American college boy with a big white grin.

This would be Rick, or should I say “Reeck”. The whole “Brenda-fakes-a-French-accent” storyline is ridiculous (although nicely done when it comes to continuity. It takes up on Brenda’s enthusiasm for acting, and her very random love for faking accents, as seen in the “Laverne” episode), but Rick is so likeable he kind of wins me over. Dean Cain is f’-ing dreamy, the character is sweetly written, and I wish they’d made Rick a regular character. He’s a nice contrast to Dylan, and seems credible as a love interest for Brenda, who’s growing weary of Dylan I-play-by-noone’s-rules-but-my-own and-oh-btw-I-am-also-deep-and-troubled-and-like-to-read-Lord-Byron McKay.

Dean Cain - Superman!

Useless Piece of Trivia of the Day: the guy who played Rick went on to portraying Clark Kent/Superman in that very classy show Lois and Clark

Donna is in Paris, too, and also away from her boyfriend – David Silver. Their relationship is still quite new, however, and there isn’t much of a conflict for Donna, who spends most of the Paris episode being a kind of comical bizarro-version of Brenda. Which is nice. I think Donna worked well as long as she was mostly a comical character, but sadly one senses that this is the end of that era. The new era, the one where Donna is beautiful (ha!) and amazing and, possibly, a saint is kickstarted during these episodes, in which Donna is spotted by a scout from a model agency. Who wants to make Donna their new supermodel. That’s right, Tori Spelling as Face of the Year. Ugh. This is probably one of the least credible storylines I’ve ever seen on TV, and this says a lot considering that I’ve also been an avid viewer of The X-Files. And of course it just screams Daughter of the Producer, and I hate it when I have to spend energy on meta-topics like that when watching a show.

Tori Spelling

Notoriously hideous Tori S.

But things still haven’t gotten completely out of hands with the sanctification of the Donna character the way it is later on in the series, and she’s still kind of endearing a lot of the time. David and Donna make a cute commedia dell’arte-servants-type couple to Dylan’s and Brenda’s Gli Amorosi, and Brian Austin Green does a nice job depicting David’s gentle love for his first girlfriend, placing chaste little kisses and smiling warmly at her upon her return from Paris.

Brenda’s return is more problematic, thanks to her Troubled Boyfriend. And boy is he ever troubled, that Dylan McKay! Except he totally isn’t, and that’s very disturbing, considering that he’s spent a great part of his summer macking on his girlfriend’s best friend, Kelly. What an asshole he is. At this point, by season 3, we’ve suffered through episode after episode in which the writers have gone out of their way trying to present Dylan to us as a wild child, to be sure, but a wild child with a heart of gold. A big heart. And a love of poetry, and the ways of a gentleman (hence his whole don’t-kiss-and-tell policy). And yet here he is, cheating on his girlfriend with her friend and leading an obviously smitten Kelly on, and not even feeling guilty about it. His this-feels-too-good-to-feel-bad-about attitude grates, not because it’s immoral, but because the writers in previous seasons have pretty much forced me to expect more from Dylan, even though God knows most of the time I didn’t want to do so, because Luke Perry was so annoying with his permanent James Dean-wannabe furrowed-brow facial expression and his phony smokey voice. Barf.

Dylan McKay

The man who taught us all that it’s okay to be a total ass towards women if you only make sure to look really pensive and brooding and read a lot of Lord Byron at the same time

But Kelly is surprisingly likeable in these episodes, and that helps. There’s a lot of motivation going on, because Kelly has indeed had a crush on Dylan for as long as we’ve known her, but also because she’s been struggling to free herself from her skank-ho reputation throughout the first two seasons. The fear of getting caught in Dylan’s arms is induced by more than the noble fear of losing Brenda’s friendship – it would also mean a fatal set-back for Kelly, reputation-wise: Because what could be more slutty than sleeping with your best friend’s boyfriend? Also, Kelly and Dylan really do have more in common than Dylan has with Brenda – neither of them have Brenda’s somewhat bourgeoise college ambitions and plans for the future, and they’re both starting to realize this as their last year of high school is approaching.

Kelly Taylor

I wanted so badly to have hair like that.

Meanwhile, Brandon and Andrea are both working at the beach. Brandon works for the Beach Club as a towel boy or whatever (we never really see him work, so I’m not entirely sure), and Andrea is the leader of a summer camp. This leads to a seemingly endless amount of scenes featuring Andrea and a hearing impaired little boy. I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell that storyline was all about, and I figure it was meant to serve as character development of Andrea: She’s been an ambitious over-achiever, but she’s softened, possibly through her friendship with The Gang which has forced her to go out and socialize more, and she’s realized that Life isn’t all about good grades and scholarships. Whatever. In any case, Andrea turns down an internship at a political convention with an Ambitious Republican Boyfriend in order to stay and help out the deaf kid. It’s all kind of dull, and there’s really no avoiding the fact that Gabrielle Carteris was just wrong for that part. About 32 years old by the time these episodes were shot, she was only six years younger than the guy who played Brandon’s and Brenda’s father, and she looked it, too. I never could get past that, and for all the Hermione Granger potential the Andrea-character might have had on paper, I always found myself staring at her crow feet wrinkles and losing concentration.

Andrea Zuckerman

Looking like she failed high school about ten times: Andrea Zuckerman

But she does have a few interesting scenes, all of them with Brandon. It’s funny, this time around I find myself strangely intrigued by Brandon’s character. Sure he’s sanctimonious and hypocritical as all hell, but the writers seem to be aware of this, and he almost always gets called on it. Like in the very nice episode “Too Little, Too Late” in which he decides to make a move on Andrea – who’s been pining for him for years – simply because she’s dating someone else. Andrea will have none of that, and then she gives him that brilliant burn that we all wish that we’d given That Guy in our Past Who Took Advantage of Our Loyal Devotion: “What the hell was that?” she says warily as Brandon kisses her. “Just how I feel” says the loveable douchebag. “Look, don’t insult me like that, okay, not now… The only reason you’re interested in me is because I’m seeing someone else, and you know it. …You had your chance, you made your choice. Now I’d appreciate it if you’d get out of my way, because I have a date.” “So break it” he says smugly, and then Andrea: “What makes you think you’re so damn irresistible?” Squee!!! Love it! One of the best TV burns ever, IMO, although, as already indicated, I’m probably mostly influenced by the by-proxy satisfaction of hearing a young girl telling off a suave guy who’s just not that into her.

In the rest of his scenes, Brandon is making out with a racist, prejudiced girl named Brooke, who doesn’t like the homeless. Somehow Brandon’s relationship-storylines always seem to lead to Very Special Episodes. This time it’s about how prejudice is wrong, another time it was about the things you sacrifice in the name of ambition (when he was dating the ice-skating girl), then there was the unwed teenage-mom who taught him about the difficulties of combining a high school life with being a parent (and thus indirectly it was also about the perils of unsafe sex), and of course there was Emily Valentine who introduced him to such issues as Mental Illness and the Danger of Drugs. Luckily, cute little Nikki is waiting for him around the corner (she’s flirting with David Silver in the Paris episodes), and I remember her as a nice, balanced break from Brandon’s usual freak girlfriends, as well as a girl with a personality youthful and elfish enough to go well with boyish Brandon’s – I never did like him with more womanly types such as Emily Valentine or Brooke or That Professor’s Wife that He Was Doing in College.

Brandon Walsh

Loveable douchebag with an Elvis ‘do and a lot to learn: Brandon Walsh

Next up: “A Song of Myself”!