When it comes to a series like Beverly Hills, 90210, you really have to grade on a curve. If you were to compare the level of quality of this once insanely popular Aaron Spelling series to some of the TV shows that are on television today, it would barely rank. That said, on the list of cheesy drama series with melodramatic storylines and unbelievably good-looking characters, 90210 is easily a top-ten series. And what’s more, if there were one season of this series that I’d want to own, it would definitely be Season 3.
If I were to actually devote the time it would take to watch the entire series, which ran for a decade, I’m pretty sure that the third season, which marks the 90210 gang’s final year at West Beverly High, as the high point of the series. Then again, after marathoning through season 3 over the past few days, and feeling as though I lost a little bit of my soul with every episode, its highly doubtful that I would ever bother doing a series marathon with 90210 as I have done with shows like Buffy and Veronica Mars in the past.
When 90210 premiered, the series centered on the Walsh twins, Brandon (Jason Priestly) and Brenda (Shannon Doherty). After their father moved them from Minnesota to Beverly Hills, California, the Walsh’s were constantly dealing with a fair amount of culture shock and the adjustments they needed to make in their lifestyles if they wanted to fit in among in the rich world that is Beverly Hills. The series thrived on that through much of the first season but by the third season, the Walsh’s are pretty much settled in. The show becomes more serialized in season 3 as the story arcs tend to overlap throughout the season, rather than being wrapped up by the end of the episode as they often were in the first two seasons.
The season begins with Brenda and her parents still fighting over her relationship with Dylan (Luke Perry). As Jim Walsh (James Eckhouse) wants to put some distance between his daughter and Dylan, he sends Brenda off to France with her friend Donna. While Brenda is off faking a French accent to impress an American tourist named Rick (Dean Cain) that she meets in Paris, Dylan and Brenda’s best friend Kelly (Jennie Garth) begin a brief summer fling on the sly. The affair, which largely consists of the two making out and quoting Casablanca is cut short when Brenda returns and the gang goes back to school for their senior year.
Amidst all of this, the season also includes some smaller arcs, like Kelly and David’s parents splitting up, Dylan’s father being released from jail and attempting to get Dylan to fork over his trust fund, David trying to become the next big hip-hop star and Brandon getting in too deep with sports betting. There is also the ridiculous Christmas episode, which involves two angels trying to perform a Christmas miracle by saving the gang from a bus accident. The season also uses stand-alone episodes to deal with issues like gang wars, homeless vets and child abuse.
As always, romance plays a big role in this season of the series. Brandon dates a girl named Nikki (Dana Barron) for a good portion of the season. Their relationship eventually goes south when Nikki dumps him and returns home to San Francisco after some drama involving her keyboard-guitar-playing ex-boyfriend Diesel (David Arquette). Then, of course, there is the love triangle between Brenda, Kelly and Dylan. After Brenda breaks up with Dylan to date Rick (whom she bumps into at a video store), Dylan and Kelly decide to give their romance a go in public this time. Naturally this infuriates Brenda, but between the death of Dylan’s father and Kelly’s near-death experience due to an overdose of diet pills, Brenda’s anger doesn’t last very long.
Meanwhile, in terms of school, the gang spends a good portion of the year worrying about where they’re going to go to college. Steve (Ian Ziering) nearly gets expelled when he breaks into the school and tries to adjust his grades. Dylan is accused of cheating on his SATs. Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) stresses about getting into Yale. Brenda contemplates going to school in Minnesota. David doubles-up on courses so that he can graduate with his friends and Donna is nearly expelled after she gets caught for being drunk at the prom.
It’s kind of amazing the amount of drama that the writers of this series are able to cram into a season. What makes Season 3 stand out among the other seasons of the series is that, as I’ve said before, this is the gang’s last year in high school. As is often the case with teen drama series, the structure of the show and the dynamic of the characters in 90210 changes (and not for the better) as they enter into their adult years, starting with the fourth season. So while the later seasons are still watchable for anyone who loves this series, I definitely believe that the series peaked in its third season.
When a series is truly great, one should be able to rewatch it again years later and still think it’s great. Unfortunately for 90210, I don’t think this is the case. My original opinion of 90210, which was formed when I was 14 years of age, has since changed quite a bit over time. As a kid, this series was an absolute must-watch, and I probably considered it one of the best shows on television. As it stands now though, the series is really just another prime-time soap opera and season 3 is really no exception there. For most of us, 90210 is a guilty-pleasure series at best and the value in the show relies almost entirely on nostalgia for me now. Season 3, like every other season of the series isn’t exactly an honest reflection of my own years in adolescence, nor can I relate all that much to the characters. In the end though, it’s worth owning if only to relax and get lost in the drama of rich kids with too many problems and remember the days when I thought the fate of Brenda and Dylan’s relationship was one of the most important things in the world.
The DVD set comes with all 29 episodes of the third season spread out over eight discs. There are more episodes than a normal season of a series due to the extra summer episodes that aired prior to the kids going back to high school. The packaging for the DVD set isn’t all that spectacular. The box for the set contains four separate cases, each holding two discs. I’m not a big fan of this kind of packaging, as I prefer the kind of set that folds out rather than dealing with multiple cases. It also doesn't help that a number of the little prongs that are meant to hold the disc in place in each case were broken, which resulted in at least one disc falling out the moment I opened each of the cases.
The Season 3 set doesn’t offer much in the way of special features. There’s a “7 Minutes in Heaven” feature that uses clips from the entire season to basically sum up everything that happens throughout the 29 episodes. There’s really no point to this feature because if you really care about what happens in the season, you can just watch the episodes. Then again, if you were to purchase the fourth season on DVD when it comes out, a Season 3 sum-up might be helpful. So perhaps with this set they should’ve done a “7 Minutes in Heaven” summing up the previous season for people who don’t already own that set and can’t remember what happened during the 90210 gang’s second junior year in high school.
Another feature found on the last disc is “The World According to Nat,” which features Joe E. Tata talking about his experiences on the show. There’s also a commentary that you can listen to while watching the final episode of the season. It features two of the producers as they talk about what went into making the episode. Since the episode includes a number of flashbacks from previous episodes in the first three seasons of the series, the producers offer some insight into the making of those episodes as well.
The last and best feature on the set is the “Everything You Need To Know About Season 3” video, which features Michael Colton and John Aboud. These two, who commentate on Best Week Ever, did a similar feature for the second season of the series’ DVD set. Basically they talk about different moments of the season and make fun of it relentlessly. For example, they joke a bit about Brenda’s fake French accent and also throw in a few Superman jokes in reference to Dean Cain’s role in Lois and Clark. Watching this featurette made me laugh out loud because most of the stuff they joked about was hilariously true. There are many of us who consider 90210 to be a guilty pleasure show now which makes part of the fun of rewatching the series to make fun of the ridiculousness of some of it. That’s the way Colton and Aboud seem to approach their commentary. They’re making fun of it but at the same time, it’s still pretty clear that they’ve watched their fair share of the series otherwise they wouldn’t be so spot on with their jokes.
Colton and Aboud’s featurette definitely makes up for the lack of other special features (like no “making of” feature or any real behind-the-scenes goodies). My final complaint about the DVD set is that there’s no “Play All” option on any of the discs. This should be standard for TV shows on DVD by now. It also would’ve been nice to have one or two commentaries featuring some of the cast.