Forget that mellow-drama running on the CW called simply 90210. This is where it all began. The pilot for Beverly Hills 90210 opens with a typical pilot premise: It’s the first day of school. Two teens, Brandon (Jason Preistley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) Walsh are waking up, getting dressed, and preparing to face a new start in a new town. As we learn in some awkward but mercifully brief exposition, they’re from Minnesota. Dad got a new job, and the family moved to Beverly Hills.
We notice a few things right away. Kids from Minnesota get along with their siblings. Teenagers are slobs universally. And the 80s lasted at least until fall of 1990.
The opening credits are endless by today’s standards, comprising a montage of rich kids doing rich kid stuff. Brenda caps it with, “I think we’re going to need a raise in our allowance.” The one small twist is the chick getting off of a City bus. She’s got serious girl hair and glasses, so we know she’s smart. She’s kind of a bitch, too, when Brandon goes to her to offer his talent writing for the student paper, which she edits. Her name’s Andrea, and she’s set up to be either Brandon’s love interest or nemesis.
Brenda instantly befriends Kelly (Jennie Garth), the quintessential SoCal girl with white blond hair and a recent nose job. Kelly emphasizes to Brenda that this is “definitely not your normal high school.” I have to wonder, how would she know? This line sounds more like it’s directed at the networks asked to pick up the show than to the character Brenda. But, despite the underscoring of everything that makes West Beverly so unique, it’s refreshing to see how decidedly normal these kids were in Season 1. The freshmen are awkward. The girls worry about their weight. The jocks pick on the weaklings.
Brandon and Brenda are really likeable characters. They’re a little unsure of themselves, but far more secure than their Beverly Hills counterparts. Loveably down-to-earth. I love when a hot girl asks Brandon what he’s wearing that smells so good and he replies, “Tide?”
The obligatory party scene gives us all we need to know about the key players. Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) looks like he came straight from playing the rich asshole in a John Hughes movie. The optimistic freshman David (baby-faced Brian Austin Green) provides some comic relief. And the poor little rich girl, Maryann, flirts shamelessly with Brandon. (And, WTF, are those people in the background of this scene playing tennis?) What is surprising, with the benefit of hindsight, is how little we hear out of Donna (Tori Spelling). She’s little more than Jenny Garth’s shadow.
A word must be said about the clothes. At the time this aired I’m sure they were the height of fashion. But today, whoo! Let’s hear it for blazers with shorts. And the hair! What is the semi-mullet thing Brandon is sporting?
By the end of the pilot we know everyone we need to know, save for one… Dylan is yet to be introduced. We pretty much know what we’re in for, and it’s got a nice blend of drama and humor. One wonders how this show morphed into a soap opera dealing with drug overdoses and whatever else went on in the later years. Not to mention the CW nonsense.