The limited demographic aim of the Fox network is apparent in tomorrow night's premiere of "Beverly Hills, 90210," which takes what could be a multi-generational drama and turns it into a teen morality play.
"Beverly Hills, 90210" -- the title itself shows Fox's demographic obsession as ZIP codes are used in marketing for targeting audiences and 90210 is the richest in the country -- is about a family that moves from Minneapolis to this famed community. It has a 90-minute premiere tomorrow night at 8:30 on Channel 45 (WBFF) before assuming its hour format at 9 o'clock next Thursday.
Except that it's not about the family. The parents are ciphers who occasionally pop up in the background to give out a time for curfew. How they're coping with new jobs and freeways and rich neighbors and such is never even mentioned, presumably because that would be of interest only to people in the audience who are old enough to be already hooked on "Cheers."
No, this show is about the kids, two 16-year-old twins, Brenda and Brandon Walsh, and how they are adjusting to life in the fast lane of the fictitious West Beverly High.
The actors who handle the parts, Jason Preistley and Shannon Doherty, are likable enough even if they do look as if they were chosen for their parts because of the way they'll look on teen magazine covers.
And the situations the kids find themselves in ring true at the core even if the details are a little ridiculous.
Brandon has a date with the richest of the rich girls -- her parents are a rock promoter and an ex-groupie who think she's a little square -- and when she sends him flowers in school, word of his sexual prowess sweeps the hallways. But nothing happened! They just talked! That's what made him so different from the other guys.
Brenda is talked into using a fake ID to get into a club where she falls for a 25-year-old lawyer, telling him she's a UCLA student. Heartbreak inevitably results. Both Brandon and Brenda are tempted by the excesses available, but their good Midwestern values come through as undoubtedly they will week after week.
It's in the storytelling that "Beverly Hills, 90210" falls apart. One example: Brandon was a top cross country runner at his previous school and he is shown running at the new place so you assume he's out for the team. Then, in another scene, he follows the token smart girl home (learning that she really lives in a far away poor neighborhood). But what about practice for the team? Well, we needed him out for the team in another scene, not this one.
Such lack of consistency plagues the script. The amount of time that passes is confusing, storylines appear and are dropped, the sequence of other events is never clear. It's as if the producers of this have so totally written off the entire audience above the age of 18 that they assume all their viewers will be raised-on-video types who won't be hung up on those linear thought processes.
Early on in the script, there's a reference to "The Great Gatsby," and F. Scott Fitzgerald's statement, "The rich are different from you and me" seems to be the foundational subtext of "Beverly Hills, 90210."
Ultimately, though, the message is the opposite, that these rich kids might drive Corvettes and Porsches -- and the camera lingers voyeuristically on such consumer goods, -- but they are really just regular high school students trying to muddle through like everyone else. Which is probably what the rich people producing this show want to think.
"Beverly Hills, 90210"
* * The adolescent trials of a pair of 16-year-old fraternal twins who move with their family from Minneapolis and enter a rich kids high school in this posh Los Angeles community.
CAST: Jason Priestley, Shannon Doherty
TIME: Tomorrow at 8:30, then Thursdays at 9 p.m.
CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)