For 100th show, '90210' dishes dirt, dooms dog

March 02, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Benji the dog is dying, Brandon's in love with Kelly's man-eating anthropology professor, who's hitting on Dylan, and Brenda's in handcuffs, being led off to jail by the FBI.

Oh, for those simple, sunny times back at West Beverly High.

"Beverly Hills, 90210" airs its 100th episode at 8 tonight on WBFF-TV (Channel 45). Sure, it's a phony milestone, picked mainly because it falls on the last night of the important sweeps ratings period. Don't all these anniversaries of TV series happen through some great serendipity during ratings surveys?

But that's OK. The 100th episode is a good excuse to check back in on the California sex-and-angst gang and see how they're faring in their freshman year at California U.

"Beverly Hills, 90210" is a landmark show. When it arrived four years ago, it was the first prime-time soap opera for teen-agers.

While middle-aged critics ridiculed it, teens and tweeners ate it up. They looked to it for tips on grooming (sideburns), kissing (kissing's good), fashion (jeans, jeans, jeans) and attitude (pouty's cool -- just look at Brenda and Dylan).

Some members of its unknown cast became very known almost overnight -- Luke Perry, Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty in particular. When Brenda (Doherty) and Dylan (Perry) had sex on prom night, stories about teen sex and TV became page one news.

In a business sense, "Beverly Hills, 90210" gave the Fox network its first real credibility and made niche programming the buzzword of network programmers.

There was some question this year whether the series could make the transition from high school to college, but it had no choice. Perry, in particular, was looking like the oldest teen-ager since Henry Winkler's Fonzie Fonzarelli.

The good news for fans is that the bridge has been crossed, and ratings are even up a bit. While episodes this season do deal with more serious issues, such as the one tonight on animal rights, the treatment and tone are still soap opera all the way, with lots and lots of sex.

Brenda does get passionately involved in animal rights, but it's mainly because she's attracted to the leader of the movement. "I'll march in his parade any day," she confides to Donna (Tori Spelling) with a predator's smile.

What we mainly see of college life is the sexy anthropolog professor named Lucinda, who's sleeping with Brandon (Priestley) and lecturing Kelly on monogamy. "Kelly, I am not dating Lucinda, I am just sleeping with her," Brandon says, like he's explaining math to a 4-year-old.

As soap-opera bad as "Beverly Hills, 90210" can be, I should probably admit that I cried when Rocky, the dog, died in tonight's episode.

I should also admit that I wanted to kiss executive producer Charles Rosin for having Tori Spelling come on the air after the episode ended, holding the lovable little mutt that played Rocky. "Hi, I'm Tori Spelling, and this is one of my favorite co-stars,

Poundcake," Spelling says. "As you can see, we're both alive and well and happy you watched our hundredth episode tonight."

Some people watch "Beverly Hills, 90210" for the sex or to see how long their sideburns should be. Me, I watch for the happy endings: Brenda's going to jail, and the dog didn't really die.

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