• U.S.

Cute And Peppy in Beverly Hills

3 minute read
Richard Zoglin

A group of high school kids are waiting for the first session of their summer school acting class to start. A 23-year-old hunk races into the room and identifies himself as their teacher. “Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I hit the most incredible traffic on the 405.” He immediately launches into a zippy one-minute rendition of his life story, then coaxes the students to get up in front of the class and do the same. Brenda, a perky junior, goes first, and her autobiography ends with the news that she broke up with her boyfriend last night. Mutters another girl in the audience: “I’m always the last to know.”

Welcome to West Beverly Hills High, where the kids look great, the cars look expensive and the problems never look as bad after a good baking in the sun. It’s the setting for Beverly Hills, 90210, the Fox network series that is catching on with the tensomething crowd like an epidemic of mono. The featherweight drama, which premiered last fall, focuses on Brenda and Brandon Walsh, teenage fraternal twins who have moved with their family from middle- class Minnesota to posh Beverly Hills (zip code: 90210). Ratings, after a slow start, have grown steadily; the show draws more teenage viewers than any of its Thursday-night rivals (including top-rated Cheers) and, in some recent weeks, more teens than any other show on TV. Stars Shannen Doherty and Jason Priestley, along with co-star Luke Perry, have become teen fanzine favorites. Fox is so pleased that it has ordered 30 new episodes for the upcoming season (compared with the usual 22 or 24), and began airing them last week, a full two months before most of the network fall premieres.

It’s not hard to see the show’s attraction. The cast is drop-dead cute, and the low-impact story lines bounce from the trivial to the traumatic with breezy assurance. One week Brenda’s big problem is a stray mutt she has brought home that keeps the family awake with its barking. The next week she has to pay her first visit to a gynecologist when she thinks she is pregnant. Call it “After School Special Lite.”

What redeems the show (produced by that master of ’70s fluff, Aaron Spelling) is its laid-back respect for the characters and a refreshing lack of sanctimony. The Walsh parents are neither saints nor bumblers, and their offspring are among the few TV teens who actually seem capable of reaching ethical decisions on their own. Best of all, viewers can take a vicarious peek at Beverly Hills decadence while keeping their moral distance. When Brandon lands a dream job as cabana boy at a swank beach club, he is forced to quit his low-paying job at a diner without giving advance notice, much to his boss’s dismay. After wrestling with his conscience, Brandon returns to the diner and offers to stay another week. No problem, says the owner; he has already forgiven Brandon and hired a replacement.

Who said California wasn’t the promised land? — R.Z.

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