Some thoughts on Lifetime’s Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story

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One of the perks of being on crutches – and believe me, there aren’t many – is that I have a lot of downtime to watch television. I was out of work for two and a half days adjusting to life with crutches, which gave me plenty of time to clear out the old DVR and catch up on some shows that I’ve really been wanting to watch (I finished Mr. Robot in a day). I’m back to work now, but as do anything on my crutches is exhausting, especially since I have to conquer stairs to leave my apartment building, I’ve been mostly homebound. That meant I had plenty of time this weekend to watch Lifetime’s latest terrible unauthorized movie on the 90s series Beverly Hills, 90210 as well as the specials that followed: Tori Spelling: Celebrity Lie Detector and Beyond the Headlines: Beverly Hills, 90210. I’m not saying that I’m particularly proud of any of this, but as a kid that grew up watching the show, I figured it was my duty to my generation to tune in. Besides, I didn’t have a heck of a lot else going on.

Now, having watched many of these Lifetime movies, I had no delusions of grandeur. These movies are always pretty terrible, but that is half the fun of them. Having watched the unauthorized Saved by the Bell and Full House movies, I had a pretty good idea what I was in for: a bunch of actors that aren’t very good and that look only vaguely like the people that they are depicting, rehashing info that any fan of the show already knows, “scandalous” revelations that aren’t at all scandalous and a very limited music budget. The movies also tend to either dwell on one particular era of the show for most of the movie or do a very cursory examination of the show’s run. If you are looking for in-depth stories and nuance, these Lifetime originals are not for you.

The Unauthorized 90210 Story focused primarily on the first season of the show with the main emphasis on this disruptive influence that was one Shannen Doherty. This is not a shocking revelation; even in the early era of the Internet, I think everyone who watched 90210 knew that Doherty was a problem behind the scenes. That wasn’t a very well-kept secret. So it was disappointing that the 90210 movie decided to spend so much time focusing on this without giving any real interesting insight. Mostly she just seemed to be late a lot and was difficult to work with; there were no bombshell revelations about some truly awful stuff that she did. The fact that the entire cast voted to have her fired was the closest that the movie came to any interesting new information, and that might not even be that new. By the time they wrote the character of Brenda off 90210, I was already beginning to lose interest. So it’s quite possible that was widely reported at the time and I just missed it. The movie actually ended once Shannen Doherty left the cast, which means that six seasons of the show were completely ignored. I’m sure something interesting happened during that time, but since Lifetime choose to spend so much time on the origins of the show, there just wasn’t any additional time for it. The biggest revelation from the Lifetime movie was that apparently Jason Priestley and Brad Pitt were roommates at one point.

As usual, the movie doesn’t get a lot of things exactly right. I am by no means a huge 90210 fan – I think I quit watching regularly once they went to college – but even I know that they didn’t get the dresses right for the episode where Brenda and Dylan sleep together for the first time at a dance. That should have been something pretty easy to fact check, but just didn’t happen. More egregious in my mind are some of the things that they skipped over that occurred during the first four seasons of the show; how you can do a movie about 90210 and not give any attention to the “Donna Martin Graduates!” episode is beyond me. That’s just simply irresponsible. There was also no mention of the episode where David’s friend accidentally shoots and kills himself, which I remember being something of a big deal at the time.

The big surprise of The Unauthorized 90210 Story was that they actually managed to hire an actress that looked strikingly like Jennie Garth. The rest of the cast bared only a minimal resemblance to the actors that they were portraying, but the woman playing Jennie Garth looked so much like her that at certain angles I had to remind myself that it wasn’t actually her. I think that’s the closest that any of these Lifetime Unauthorized movies have come to finding actor doppelgangers. The actress who play Shannen Doherty was close and certainly had the attitude down; the rest were kind of forgettable. Much like the early years of 90210, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris, Tori Spelling and Ian Ziering were mostly marginalized in the Lifetime movie. I don’t think that they let the actor who played Brian Austin Green do much of anything but dance and the actress playing Carteris had only a handful of lines. There was a scene involving the entire cast where the Tori Spelling character was inexplicably missing. Perhaps the worst casting choice was Dan Castellaneta to play Aaron Spelling; Castellaneta may be great as the voice of Homer Simpson, but that doesn’t translate well into playing a real-life person. In his hands, Aaron Spelling seemed more like a cartoon character than an actual person. Total misfire in my opinion.

I learned far more from the Tori Spelling: Celebrity Lie Detector special than I did from the 90210 movie, which is to say that I learned one kind of big thing: Tori Spelling slept with Jason Priestley. Tori Spelling was hooked up to a lie detector and asked a series of questions and it was then revealed if her answers were truthful or not. She didn’t lie very often – the funniest example is when they asked her if she thought The Unauthorized 90210 Story was a good movie and she said yes, which was revealed to be a lie – and a lot of the questions weren’t all that exciting either if you knew anything about Spelling. The host was super annoying – I don’t think she knows what “groundbreaking” or “shocking” actually mean – but it was at least trying to unearth some interesting stories. Sure, some of the stories that Tori told were not verified by the lie detector so who knows if she was telling the truth, but at least she was actually on the show. And honestly, I don’t know that there is much that I really needed to know about 90210.

That being said, I just can’t quit these ridiculous movies so I’ll be tuning in this Saturday for The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story, which is a show that I didn’t even watch. So while my investment is pretty low, I’ll probably “learn” more from this movie. I sincerely hope that Lifetime continues to pump out these godawful movies; they are just so comically bad that I can’t look away. They are the epitome of a guilty pleasure, especially if watched live with Twitter. At this point I think I’ve become numb to how terrible these films are and I have such lowered expectations that they are just pure mind candy.

If you missed The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story and still want to see it, it will air again on Lifetime on Saturday before the Melrose Place movie (and presumably is on demand).

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