If you object to the use of the words genius and Aaron Spelling in the same sentence, then turn the page and do your reading elsewhere, pal. The poor guy had to die before the Television Academy finally gave him the Emmy tribute he deserved, and now another long-overdue homage has arrived: the DVD release of two of the producer’s most beloved contributions to prime-time soapdom, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place.
When 90210 premiered on Fox in 1990, the young network wasn’t sure viewers would watch a show about teenagers, and its concerns are evident in the plodding pilot. The Walsh family — naive, wholesome, pale — transfers from Minnesota to glittery Beverly Hills; soon 16-year-old Brandon (Jason Priestley) is being groped in a Jacuzzi by a lonely rich girl, and his twin sister, Brenda (Shannen Doherty), is dating an older man. Their parents (James Eckhouse and Carol Potter) fret nervously: Will Beverly Hills destroy the family’s Midwestern morals?
The answer: Who cares? As creator Darren Star explains in one of two commentaries, his real goal was to make a TV version of a John Hughes movie, and Spelling knew from Dynasty that viewers loved to watch rich folks suffer. The duo smartly followed their instincts, steering 90210 into teensomething territory and tightening its focus on Brandon and Brenda’s circle of friends: Kelly (Jennie Garth), a beautiful blonde with an alcoholic mom; Steve (Ian Ziering), a Corvette-driving, temperamental meathead; Dylan (Luke Perry), whose moodily lowered eyebrows mask hidden pain; David (Brian Austin Green), a music-loving pip-squeak; and Donna (Tori Spelling), who doesn’t have much to do until episode 19, when we find out she has a learning disability.
The potentially corny ”issue” story lines (Brenda has a breast-cancer scare; Kelly admits to being date-raped) played perfectly, because Spelling and Star balanced them out with an engrossingly overwrought central romance. Brenda and Dylan’s affair not only brought Doherty’s delicious inner bitch to the surface, it also resulted in one of the frankest depictions of teen sexuality ever seen on television. The boldest, most thrilling shock? Dylan deflowering Brenda at the Spring Dance. With that, the 90210 phenomenon was born.