I was never a fan of the original Beverly Hills 90210. As a teenage boy, I guess I just wasn’t that into a show designed for teeny bopper girls. It was a big show in the day, setting the tone for many teenage dramas over the last (almost) 20 years. So of course, they’re bringing it back. Proving once again that Hollywood has no new ideas left, here comes Beverly Hills 90210: The Next Generation or more simply put 90210.
I’d pretty much made up my mind about 90210 before I’d even started watching it. I sought out a copy of it so I could rip it apart for being a sex filled, overly decadent, drug crazed blight on society. An assault on the minds and souls of youth. I remembered what I thought about the first episode of The O.C. (the only episode I ever watched of the show) and how I thought that it was a dire portrayal of youth and glamorised that which ought to have been condemned. I expected much of the same from 90210, except more full on as this is five years later and would need to be edgier. I was wrong.
90210 focuses on the Wilson family. The dad, Harry, has just accepted a job as principal at a Beverly Hills High School. In tow are his wife, Debbie, his daughter, Annie, and adopted son, Dixon (Dixon is African-American, an obvious attempt to break the stereotype of the original all-white cast). Moving from Kansas to Beverly Hills, they are preparing for the culture shock and the temptations that come from living in such a decadent and over-indulging city.
It’s at this point that I think the whole premise of the show falls apart. Aside from an implied oral sex scene in the school car park and a drug transaction, also in the school car park, the “temptations” that we’re told continuously that the family have to brave are pretty tame. On a side note, stay out of the car park.
It is pushed down out throats that Beverly Hills is a wild town. We’re meant to believe that it is a completely pagan den of sin. That this is not like normal towns. That everything here is heightened to the nth degree. That the situations that the kids will face in this school are nothing like what they would face in Kansas. Kansas is seen as a safe place free from all these problems. Aside from a lot of money being thrown around, the problems the kids face at this school are the same at every school. Seeking parental approval. Wanting to fit in with your peers. Wanting to feel the love of a boyfriend or girlfriend and being crushed when they reject you or cheat on you. Facing the challenges of meeting your potential whilst trying to be popular. Being stabbed in the back by someone you thought was your friend. Feeling the temptation to use drugs, drink alcohol and sleep around in order to be loved and accepted. These are the temptations felt by teenagers in every school, not just 90210 .
But because there are no raunchy sex scenes, because there are no scenes of kids snorting crack at parties, because there are no kids blowing away thousands of dollars they can’t afford on clothes, we start to think that it’s all okay. We’re told that this is the worst of the worst. But then we think, they’re not all bad. I found each and every one of these characters likable. Shocking, I know. Every single one of them made me want to know more about them. I wanted feel their pain. I wanted to help them grow as people. I wanted to find out more about them. Even the rottenest of characters made me feel like she had depth and potential. But if they’re the bad guys, if they’re meant to embody all that is wrong with the decadent lifestyle, then I don’t see a problem with that. And that, in itself, is a problem. Instead of being smashed over the head with how I shouldn’t be like them, I’m drawn to them. And that is real subtle there. Subtly, we’re desiring to be like them. We want the money that goes along with their lifestyle. We start to think that we can go there and not be burnt. This show is a seductive lure. My problem is, I’m not sure where it’s leading. Somehow I doubt it’s going to lead our youth into rejecting this lifestyle because it is dull. I think it more likely will convince them that it’s very much okay.
What happens when the show needs to amp up the controversy to stay on air? What happens when the formerly sweet characters break down and become bitter and twisted. It will happen. But by then, we will already be sucked in? Will we have already started thinking that what happens in this show is okay and that when it gets worse, that this new stuff is also okay, because we compromised so early on?
I’m not going to stand up and say “Don’t watch this show.” That’s what I thought I was going to say before watching it. Instead, I’m urging you to watch this show with caution. Be prepared for what you see. Be aware that this show is a form of evangelism, and it’s not pointing to Jesus. Because these characters will fall. They will be dragged through the dirt. They will do things that they shouldn’t and be worse off for the experience. And at the end of the day they will do all these things because they are living only for themselves. They have no reason to exist except to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, buy the most toys, and be the most popular kid doing it. Ultimately, their lives are empty. True life, true meaning, comes when you recognise that there is a God and he has a plan for your life. True meaning comes through Jesus.