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In 2000, Darren Star created the WB comedy Grosse Pointe, a satire about a popular teen soap opera, based loosely on his time as executive producer of Beverly Hills, 90210.
That short-lived series had more insight into the creation of one of TV’s longest-running and most successful teen dramas than Lifetime’s latest entry into its Unauthorized oeuvre.
But still, my life’s work has led me to this moment. A devoted fan of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, I watched every single episode when the show originally aired. A magnet of Dylan McKay is still on my refrigerator (you never forget your first TV love).
So The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story is made for me. The first thing viewers will have to get over is Homer Simpson as Aaron Spelling. Dan Castellaneta, the voice behind Springfield’s most famous resident, plays the iconic TV mogul. Castellaneta might have been trying to capture Spelling’s distinct voice, but he ends up sounding more like a distant cousin of the Kennedy clan. Except for Abbie Cobb, who practically channels Jennie Garth, the rest of the cast looks and sounds very little like the original actors made famous by the zip code. Many of them are reduced to one or two note characterizations: Brian Austin Green (Ross Linton) was young and loved to rap; Gabrielle Carteris (Michele Goyns) was old and liked to go to bed early; Luke Perry (Jesy McKinney) was hard-working and had sideburns.
The movie covers the first four seasons of the show, which took people like Perry from laying pavement to international stardom and centers around the increasingly difficult Shannen Doherty (Samantha Munro). Doherty consistently arrived late to set, bitterly fought with Garth and definitely had attitude to spare. But except for vague references to family issues, the movie never offers any insight into what made Doherty behave as she did. Unlike the other characters, we never see what her life was like before she was cast. It’s also worth noting that Doherty’s bad behavior probably would barely even register in the current TMZ celeb paparazzi culture.
In general, there are no scandals unearthed in this movie. Except for Doherty, the cast generally got along (and they even liked Doherty much of the time). Apparently there were many dressing room make out sessions among the cast members which, again, seems very quaint in 2015. Even the fact that some of the actors became much more famous than others is glossed over. When Ian Ziering (David Lennon), Carteris and Green learn that they are not getting their own dolls like the rest of the cast, Ziering laments, “I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: having a doll made of me or not having a doll made of me.” (And yes I own the dolls, obviously).
But Unauthorized does a deft job of showing how different TV was back in 1990. Censors were in an uproar when Brenda and Dylan had sex at the end of the first season and Brenda (gasp!) liked it. “A teenage girl in America can lose her virginity on TV; she just can’t enjoy it,” Spelling tells Darren Star (Adam Korson). And 90210 came along at a time when teen dramas weren’t a TV staple. Without the soap, would we have had a Dawson’s Creek or The O.C.?
Lifetime clearly adores Tori Spelling (Abby Ross), who has starred in countless movies for the network. Tori comes off as a savvy actress who told her dad whom to cast, came up with the idea to make Donna funny and is really nice to boot. “I like Shannen. She’s my friend,” she says when the cast is trying to unite on getting Doherty fired. Tori Spelling: Celebrity Lie Detector, where the actress promises to reveal show secrets with the help of a polygraph test, airs immediately after the movie.
There are fun facts dropped along the way (Jason Priestley and Brad Pitt were roommates?!) and groan-inducing inside jokes: When Ziering tells Doherty she’s out of control, he says, “You’re like a shark. You’re like a tornado. You’re like a mixture between a shark and a tornado.” But so much is never referenced. If a 90210 movie happens without the iconic “Donna Martin graduates!” moment, did it ever exist at all?
With this third entry into the Unauthorized movies, Lifetime is creating its own little repertory theater troupe. Both Castellaneta and Korson will reprise their respective roles in next week’s Unauthorized look at Melrose Place, and Alyssa Lynch, who starred in the Unauthorized Saved by the Bell movie, is back as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.
Like the later season episodes of the show itself, The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story is mildly entertaining and a fun trip down memory lane. Not as great as the summer Brenda went to Paris and Dylan and Kelly fell in love, of course. But not as bad as when Dylan recalled his past life as a gun slinger. Now bring on The Unauthorized Dawson’s Creek Story.
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