Monday, October 5, 2015

The Unauthorized “Beverly Hills, 90210” Story (Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last Saturday night, on my own, I watched a considerably less exalted show, a movie on Lifetime called The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story. I hadn’t planned on watching this because I never watched Beverly Hills, 90210 when it was new and my previous excursion in watching this sort of fare on Lifetime, The Unauthorized Full House Story, hadn’t been especially stimulating. This one proved to be a bit more interesting, less because of anything to do with the plot — though Shannen Doherty’s (Samantha Munro) meltdown (she was fired at the end of season four for diva-ish behavior, including coming in chronically late or not at all) was effective and well dramatized — than seeing a bunch of cute guys engaging in games of catch and other horse play while not wearing shirts (they were smooth-chested and you could really see their nipples — ah, the benefits of a big-screen TV!). The director was a woman, Vanessa Parise (this on the day the Los Angeles Times published an article on the American Civil Liberties Union filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division about the scandalous under-representation of women as film and TV directors; reportedly just 1.6 percent of feature films made in the U.S. last year were directed by women, and the percentage of TV films and series episodes directed by women was marginally higher but still in the low teens), and she did a good job with Jeffrey Roda’s script (one of the things I like about Lifetime is they’re giving opportunities to women directors, and while not all of them have risen to them, Christine Conradt’s work on The Bride He Bought Online shows her as someone who deserves assignments for theatrical features). Beverly Hills, 90210 was produced by Aaron Spelling, who at the beginning of the show is lamenting that for the first time in 30 years he doesn’t have a TV series on a major network. Two representatives for the newly organized Fox network come to him and ask him to produce a show about teenagers in Beverly Hills. “What do I know about teenagers in Beverly Hills?” he asks — to which the anonymous “suits” reply, “You have two teenage daughters and you live in Beverly Hills.”

The movie cycles through the show’s rough first year, in which Spelling jokes that only “divine intervention” can save it from being canceled — and “divine intervention” of a sort actually happens via the first U.S.-Iraq war, in which the established networks tear up their normal entertainment schedules to cover the war and Fox decides to counter-program by keeping their regular shows on the air and even commissioning more episodes in case the war runs into summer — whereupon Spelling and his show runner/director are told that the kids who watch Beverly Hills, 90210 won’t want to spend their summer watching high school kids in class; instead they’ll want to watch them on summer vacation. They also chart the scandal surrounding the sexual experience written into the script for two of the characters, including Doherty’s, and the way it provokes “moral” reactions because she hasn’t seemed to suffer from the experience. And the show attributes Doherty’s meltdown to her angst at how people who don’t even know her hate her and have her confused with the unsympathetic character she plays on the show — though there’s a brief bit showing her sniffling that suggests within the rules of basic-cable TV that she’s really doing coke. The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story is at least a bit more interesting than The Unauthorized Full House Story — the people on Beverly Hills, 90210 got to do more (including get into more trouble), and at one point the show’s set is depicted as a sort of straight people’s bathhouse in which everyone is “doing” everyone else. Indeed, Lifetime followed the movie with a show whose concept was of such appalling tastelessness it deserves to rank along with their shows about plastic surgeons and little people: a show on which Tori Spelling (played in the movie by Abby Ross), Beverly Hills, 90210 star as well as daughter of the show’s overall producer, was hooked up to a lie detector and asked salacious questions like whether she got her role on the show just because her dad was producing it and whether she lost her virginity for real to one of her co-stars (I was hoping she’d say, “Yes, and you know who it was? Shannen Doherty!”).