The Third Season
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
Having spent most of the ‘90s watching movies and very little broadcast TV, “Beverly Hills, 90210” was a slice of pop culture I missed out on entirely. (It’s always mildly baffling to realize any series was on the air for 10 seasons and you never saw a single episode of it.) Something as iconic as “90210” carries loads of preconceived baggage, and for education’s sake, I was eager to find out what so transfixed audiences back in ‘92. This box set was my intro to the world of Brenda and Brandon Walsh & Co., and going in I was sure I was gonna hate it, but I gotta admit: “90210” sucked me in, and I played disc after disc with a ravenous appetite.
The average teen doesn’t want complex fare like “My So-Called Life” or “Freaks and Geeks,” two teen angst dramas frequently cited as having left too soon. Who championed those shows? Adults who recognized their brilliance…but not teens. The average teen spends so much time wallowing in various states of confusion that any show presenting situations in black and white, easily resolved scenarios is bound to be preferable. When you’re young, you crave simplicity because you’re learning the real world is anything but. That’s where a show like “90210” comes in handy. It says that personal drama can be resolved if not before the end credits, then certainly by the end of next week’s episode. Most kids also know it’s television, and that the real world doesn’t always work this way, but that doesn’t make it any less comforting.
Since I’m by no means a “90210” aficionado, I can only surmise that Season Three was probably a landmark year for the series. It showcases the core characters the summer before and during their senior year of high school. Allow me to reiterate: The senior year of high school. That’s fucking dramatic gold. The writers must’ve had hard-ons while they typed this engaging pabulum. And pabulum it is; I’m no wiser for having viewed this material, but I’m wildly amused. The most entertaining aspect? The folks. Despite expectations, there’s no way to dislike these people, even if they’re played by Shannen Doherty, Tori Spelling or Jason Priestley. Of course, Priestley won me over years ago in “Love and Death on Long Island” (if you haven’t seen it, you should), and after watching this fare, his performance in that flick is all the more meaningful.
But back to “90210.” Season Three is crammed with watchable melodrama, and if – like me – you’ve never partaken, it’s perhaps not only an ideal intro, but maybe also all you ever need to check out. It’s 29 episodes of mild teenage conflict that always seems to work itself out in the end. The first half a dozen episodes or so take place the summer before senior year and most of the kids spend their time at the beach, with the exception of Brenda (Doherty) and Donna (Spelling), who take a trip to Paris. While they’re gone, their beaus (Luke Perry and Brian Austin Green) flirt with other babes (Perry’s tryst with Jennie Garth is carried over into the school year). One could go on detailing the numerous plot points throughout the season, but that would sort of defeat the purpose of watching it all unfold. Probably the biggest letdown of the season is the 90-minute finale, “Commencement,” which mostly amounts to a massive collection of clips from all three seasons before the kids graduate.
Also amusing is the ever-revolving guest cast: A very young Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Dean Cain (“Lois and Clark”), Dana Barron (Audrey from the first “Vacation”), Nicholle Tom (“Jackie Woodman”), Alice Krige (“Star Trek: First Contact”) and even Seth Green each make multi-episodic appearances. Dyan Cannon, Burt Reynolds and Rosie O’Donnell all play themselves at various points. (Don’t worry about Rosie, though – she’s onscreen for less than five minutes.) Oh, and David Arquette turns up for an episode as an abusive, wanna-be rock star, which proves something of a granted wish for those of us who don’t like him, as it includes a hugely gratifying scene where Priestley kicks the living shit out of him.
Special Features: Three featurettes round out the season on disc eight. “7 Minutes in Heaven” is a best of Season Three clip selection that seems rather redundant given the box set you’re holding. “The World According to Nat” is an interview with the actor who plays Nat, Joe E. Tata. (Nat’s the guy who runs The Peach Pit, the local diner hangout of the kids.) Last but not least, “Everything You Need To Know About Beverly Hills 90210 Season Three” is a pretty funny skewering/summation by two of “those” guys from VH-1, Michael Colton and John Aboud.