"The clothes might be about fifteen years out of style, but the stories are still pretty darn good."
The First Season
Beverly Hills, 90210 first aired in 1990 and ran for ten seasons. It was a popular series that had a huge influence on pop culture in the 90s and made actors/actresses Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, David Austin Green, and Ian Ziering famous. The series is credited as a soap opera and it is filled to the brink with melodramatic content. However, in the show's first season, it is not nearly as "soapy" as the later seasons. The season one content focuses on the Walsh family getting accustomed to their new lives and friends in Beverly Hills, which include episodes dealing with (somewhat) common teenage issues: drinking, drugs, sex, racism, minority oppression, rape, cheating, and other serious topics.
Headlining the season one cast is Jason Priestley as Brandon Walsh and Shannen Doherty as Brenda Walsh. Brandon and Brenda are paternal twins, who with their parents Jim (James Eckhouse) and Cindy (Carol Potter), have recently relocated from Minneapolis to Beverly Hills. In Beverly Hills, the Walsh family endures culture shock as they find out what life is like for the rich and beautiful. Brandon is a good-natured kid who works hard in school, on the school paper, and at the Peach Pit (local diner) as a waiter. Brenda is of different sorts. While she is good-natured like her brother, academics and responsibility are far from her list of priorities. She comes to Beverly Hills completely taken in by the glamour and tries hard to fit in with everyone else. Their parents Jim and Cindy are loving parents, who want the best for their kids. Jim is usually busy with work, while Cindy is still adjusting to her new life and on one occasion, she becomes a sultry desperate housewife (see episode "Seventeen Year Itch").
Brandon and Brenda's new friends include Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), the bad boy surfer who befriends Brandon and becomes romantically involved with Brenda against her parent's wishes, Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), the rich son of a popular television sitcom actress who has an ego a mile high, Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), Brenda's beautiful best friend and love interest for Brandon, Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris), the "geeky" girl who runs the school paper and has a thing for Brandon, and David Silver (Brian Austin Green), a dorky freshman who wants to be part of the in crowd. Other common faces include Donna Martin (Tori Spelling), Brenda and Kelly's best friend who has a small role this season, but takes on a bigger part as the show progresses, Scott Scanlon (Douglas Emerson), David's nerdy friend, and Nat (Joe Tata), the owner of the Pit Peach.
The leading performers, for the most part, are very good in their roles. Priestley makes for a great leading character as a likeable, good-natured kid as he gets used to the Beverly Hills life. Doherty comes off as an immature younger sister, which works in most cases because of the direction her character takes. Both Eckhouse and Potter are great as the parents and they have a terrific dynamic with both Priestley and Doherty making a wholesome family. The remaining cast members offer solid contributions to their roles.
As for the season one content, I was honestly surprised how much I enjoyed it. (I was expecting to enjoy it, just not this much!) It has been many years since I have seen Beverly Hills, 90210 and I remember the show being a very soapy drama with lots of over-the-top acting and storylines. And while the season one episodes tend to be soapy and over-the-top, the content felt pretty rich. It does a fine job keeping your attention and developing the characters further.
The initial storylines dealing with the Walsh family, specifically the twins, integrating into their new environments (e.g. high school) and meeting their new friends offer some enjoyable stories. Specifically, the series two-part pilot episode "Pilot" is a great start to the show. It offers a solid introduction to the cast and the format of the season one episodes. Afterwards, the many of the subsequent episodes include bits and pieces of the family's adjustment, which again, includes important plot and character development that I thoroughly enjoyed.
After the series pilot episode, the stories include a "moral of the week" in one form or another. The morals range from sex to drugs to alcohol to cheating to stealing to racism, and include plenty more teenage-oriented topics. A few of these stories get pretty hokey, with overly dramatic acting and moments. For instance, in the episode "Higher Education", Brandon has to choose between ethics and good grades when Steve encourages him to cheat. What makes episodes like these hokey is how serious and melodramatic the characters get about their situations. And the fact of the matter is that it is not as critical and important as they make it out to be.
On the other hand, there are episodes that end with the proper, good-natured message that have hokey aspects, but are still handled pretty well. The episode "B.Y.O.B." is a pristine example. In it, Brandon, who usually stands strong to his convictions about not drinking alcohol, experiments with alcohol and quickly loses control and gets behind the wheel of a car. I will not go as far to say the episode is powerful on any level, but it has a powerful subtext to it. What happens in the episode and the aftermath, in regards to how the various characters respond to it, makes the episode pretty strong and one definitely worth seeing. Bluntly put, the episode is played out pretty well, despite several over-the-top moments.
Overall, the first season of Beverly Hills, 90210 is full of solid content. Perhaps it is the nostalgia talking, but I really enjoyed getting to relive the Walsh's first year in Beverly Hills. The season contained some pretty enjoyable episodes dealing with getting to know the characters and they did a fine job developing them. Sure, there were a few hokey episodes and over-the-top moments, but it works. Part of what I enjoyed so much about it was how un-soapy the season one episodes were in comparison to what I remember about the show, which is mainly the later seasons when Tiffany Amber Thiessen shows up. In the end, Beverly Hills, 90210 is a fun drama and its inaugural season does a fine job with its characters and storylines.
1. Pilot Parts 1 and 2: Twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh experience a very special kind of culture shock when they move from Minnesota to Beverly Hills and begin their new lives at West Beverly High. We meet their new friends the moment they do, including Donna, Kelly and David.
13. Slumber Party: Pillowtalk threatens to destroy Brenda's sleep-over as all the girls share their deepest secrets, with unexpected results.
In addition to the generally less than average looking picture, there are distinct glitches in the image that are from damaged film, e.g. tears, excessive dirt, etc. For an example, refer to the picture below of Jim's head. Occasionally, defects similar to the one shown below show up in the episodes. It does not occur in all of the episodes, but it happens enough that it is an annoying problem. Overall, I was quite displeased with how the video looked. Film defects withstanding, I would compare the quality to broadcast television presentations when it is at its best. Despite the rather poor picture quality, I would not discount this set for the way it looks. The episodes are still viewable; there are just several portions that just look bad.
This release does not come with subtitles, but it is closed caption enabled.
The DVD covers have an explicit warning that "some music has been changed in this home entertainment version".
Meet the Class of West Beverly High is a collection of information about the main characters. The main characters include Brandon Walsh*, Brenda Walsh, Dylan McKay*, Kelly Taylor*, Steve Sanders*, David Silver, Donna Martin, and Andrea Zuckerman*. The information provided includes "stats", facts about the characters, "Voted ...", a brief montage of clips that define the character's key personality, and "Behind the scenes with...", short interviews with the performer. The latter is not supplied for all of the characters. Note the character names with a * represent the characters that have cast interviews available.
90210 Behind the Scenes (5:00) is a featurette that aired on the Fox channel during the series run. The first minute or so is basically an introduction and overview to the series. Afterwards, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry, Gabrielle Carteris, Aaron Spelling, Charles Rosin, Darren Star, and Ian Ziering offer brief comments. Looking Back - Season One - The Recap is not much of an extra. I was under the impression it would be a featurette of sorts, but it is not. This extra is an episode guide with extended storyline descriptions than those that are printed on the DVD covers.
Overall, the extras are a decent addition to the season episodes. The commentaries are enjoyable and worth sitting through for the fans of the series. However, the rest of the supplementary content is not great. The featurette with Darren Star offers some interesting insights about the series, but the remaining extras are not really worth your time. The interviews with the cast members are of interest, but they are just so short.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this season is that the stories were not nearly as soapy and melodramatic as later seasons. Instead, it felt a lot more intelligent and engaging. In the end, I think this season set is definitely worth looking into. Any fan of a good drama should appreciate getting to know the Walsh family and all of their new friends.
However, while I give this set a Highly Recommended rating, the season set is not without faults. The picture quality is decent at best and has more than one major visual defect. Refer to the video section of the review for more information and an example. The picture quality is something to consider before investing in this set. I personally think it is manageable and does not ruin the viewing experience, but if you cannot stand looking at the occasional distortion as shown in the example, you may just want to rent the set.