Watch an episode from the last three or four seasons of Beverly Hills, 90210 and it's absolutely laughable to think that this show once claimed to be "realistic!" But it did. I have strong memories of 90210 in its prime ... back in the days when you couldn't open one magazine without seeing Shannen Doherty's smirk, or Luke Perry's wrinkled forehead. Every article in those magazines yammered about how the series truthfully depicted all the trials and tribulations of young adults -- except that these "kids" just happened to live in ritzy old Beverly Hills! Well, take away the "Bevery Hills" part, and what have we got? Something VERY familiar sounding, eh?
That's right. Beverly Hills, 90210 is rumored to have been inspired by none other than Degrassi (Junior) High! In fact, Aaron Spelling supposedly tried to BUY Degrassi or something -- only he couldn't, so he created his own knockoff show. I'm not sure how true this is. But I've seen virtually every 90210 episode of at least the first six seasons (I admit, it's a big Guilty Pleasure ... though I pretty much only tuned in to the post-college episodes to read Daniel Drennan's Mediarama wrap-ups afterward) -- plus a large majority of the Degrassi episodes -- and while it's difficult to really compare the two shows, they DID seem to explore many of the same issues. So let's take a look at some of these issues ... and see which show did them more justice!
Abuse: Both Degrassi and 90210 covered at least two forms of abuse -- child, and boyfriend-girlfriend. Let's start with child abuse. In 90210, the victim was Felix, a 10-year-old boy encountered by Brandon Walsh while the latter was working at this summer beach place. For awhile, Felix acted like a rude little brat; then, he began to look up to Brandon, following him around and even pretending to be his brother! Except for yelping once when somebody touched him on the shoulder, Felix displayed almost no signs of being an abused child. But one day, Brandon saw a bruise on Felix's eye and asked about it; Felix then lifted his shirt to show his new hero Brandon all the bruises on his back, and admitted how his mother beat him. Brandon confronted and threatened the mother, who initially denied her wrongdoings before finally confessing all the stresses of single mom-hood, and how that caused her to "hit Felix sometimes." Felix was sent to a children's home ... and, voila! Super-Brandon has saved the day! Now with Degrassi, the victim was sullen Rick Munro. Like Felix, Rick lived with just one parent (his dad) -- only he was brooding, tough, and much more what you'd expect an abused child to come across as. I'm not a child abuse expert by any means, so I'm sure abused kids behave in many different matters ... and that the abuse stems from too much stress on the parents as well as alcohol (the deciding factor in Rick's beatings, I believe.) However, I DEFINITELY buy Degrassi's method of having the abuse detected much more than 90210's. In Degrassi, Joey Jeremiah hears Rick's dad hitting him, and awkwardly tries to tell school secretary Doris Bell about it. Summarily, she thinks Joey is confessing a personal trauma, and sics CPS on him! I've heard stories about how when my oldest sister was around 6 or 7, she was very quiet and had like one bruise on her knee, so the school tried to call CPS on my parents!! Those school people are incredibly nosy -- though I'm sure good comes out of much of their interference, like with Rick being sent to live with his brother Frank. At any rate, I find that sitation ten times more believable than some "boy-scout" like Brandon coming to the rescue.
As for boyfriend-girlfriend abuse -- I laugh at the very thought of 90210's prime example! It was soooo exaggerated! Ray Pruit, musician boyfriend of the sainted Donna Martin, was a nice guy at first. Eventually, however, he began to display signs of jealousy and showcase his bad temper. He grew cross with Donna and ... gasp ... called her "spoiled" and "selfish." Then, when she went to visit him in Portland, they had a little fight in their bedroom. She started to get up from the bed, and Ray pushed her back down. Donna regarded that as all natural -- but then, when she was standing not even an inch away from the door, he ... knocked her head against it. And this practically looked like an accident -- nevertheless, Donna later continuously interpreted this as: "Ray threw me againt the wall!" What wall? She wasn't even BY a wall! During another trip, this time to Palm Springs, they got into another argument. Ray grabbed Donna's arm and began to pull her up this flight of stairs. Consequently, Donna tripped and fell down said stairs. What did she say? "Ray pushed me down the stairs!" I truly don't understand how he could have pushed her down the stairs when he was trying to pull her UP them! The rest of Ray's abuse consisted of him telling Donna to dress differently -- and if you're familiar with Donna's wardrobe, Ray had EVERY RIGHT to say this -- and his accusations of, "If you loved me, you'd spend more time with me, and not your friends!" Oh yeah, he grabbed her arm once. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone Ray's behavior ... it might even indeed be construed as "abusive." Still, 90210 could at least get their facts straight, and not exaggerate! They made Ray out to be this raving psycho, practically, who blackened Donna's eyes every day and shattered her self-image with continuous insults. He did NOT throw her against any wall, he did NOT break her arm (she sprained it falling down those stairs, but in a much later episode he was reported as "breaking" it) ... and, truthfully, Donna was spoiled and selfish! Also, the way the show handled Donna's taking charge of the abuse was just ... wrong. She kept quiet about it until she broke up with Ray. But did she break up with him because he abused her? No, no, no! She broke up with him after finding out he slept with trashy Valerie Malone once (this is 90210, remember.) It wasn't until AFTER the breakup that she suddenly remembered, "Oh, yeah! Ray abused me!" ... and, of course, from that point on the show acted like his abuse was the reason for their split!
Now, Degrassi ... we know the victim is Kathleen, and her abuser was her older boyfriend, Scott. Degrassi wins MAJOR points for actually depicting real abuse!! Scott beat Kathleen more than twice, and he didn't just knock her head against the door. He kicked her, grabbed her, pushed her down, etc. He called her names that weren't necessarily true -- "worthless" and "garbage." He hurt Kathleen emotionally by criticizing something she was proud of (her acting), and he actually left bruises on her! About the only traits Scott shared with Ray is that both guys were jealous, and both could be held responsible for spraining their girlfriends' wrists (Scott, definitely -- Ray is arguable.) And Kathleen broke up with Scott BECAUSE he mistreated her! She didn't just bring that up as an afterthought, like Donna. Yes, Degrassi's abuse scenes actually were such ... so it wins in the boyfriend-girlfriend category, as well. Two things I have to give 90210 the edge for, though -- first, Ray's two or three abuse scenes were done in private, whereas Scott seemed to be ... er, quite open about his. Scott hit Kathleen wherever they happened to be! Usually it was in private, but it was right there in the Degrassi halls where anybody could have strolled on past. Secondly, Ray Pruit was a much more entertaining character. He was one of 90210's ONLY real likable characters! (He was cool, and moody, and misunderstood.) I didn't care for Scott. He was an abuser, so I'm probably not supposed to care for him, but he just didn't seem to have much of a detailed personality. Plus, when he wasn't hitting Kathleen, he always seemed to be walking past in the hallways, smiling and chatting with everybody. I guess he was "popular", but it didn't really fit. I never knew much about Scott, whereas we actually got some insight into Ray's violent family history. Still, once again, I pick Degrassi's depiction overall ... if only for the lack of exaggeration -- and the fact that they weren't afraid to actually show Kathleen being beaten!
Alright, I know that's only one "issue", but this is kinda hard. Hopefully, I'll have the rest of this subpage up by when I start school (the end of September) at the latest! Here's a flavor of what's to come:
Drugs and alcohol -- Almost every single main character on 90210 had an addiction to the drug du jour, at some point. Then they went to rehab and got over it. Dylan McKay was an on-again, off-again alcoholic ... he depicted this by acting like a villain from a C-movie. On Degrassi, Shane McKay's experience with acid led him to jump off a bridge and become brain-damaged. Some other kids used drugs casually; luckily, they never had to go to rehab! A few parents drank, which affected their kids negatively. The only student I can think of is Wheels; the alcohol made him crash his "wheels", and kill a kid. (I don't know if he acted like a C-movie villain, for I haven't seen School's Out.)
Sex -- BOTH shows were somewhat obsessed with it. However, on 90210, most of the "kids" lost their virginity by around sophomore year. And they made a big ta-doo over Donna, the one who chose to remain a virgin (for awhile, anyway.) The Degrassi kids were more or less just obsessed with sex, and the ones who lost their virginity "at least" did so in later high school -- with a few exceptions (those exceptions always seemed to be girls who coincidentally became pregnant.) Speaking of which, 90210's Brenda had a pregnancy scare ... but of course it was just a mistake (same with her breast cancer scare.)
Homosexuality -- Degrassi didn't touch on homosexuality much. Glen Simpson, Snake's brother, revealed he was gay and his famly had trouble dealing with it. (I believe Rumor Has It was more about the spread of gossip than Ms. Avery's sexual orientation.) 90210 didn't really touch on it much either, at least not in their earlier years. The gay characters they had in the later years were treated like ostracized saints.
There's so much more I can talk about! Parental affairs (both shows featured them), health issues (i.e., Kathleen's anorexia vs. Kelly Taylor's; Kathleen had more symptoms, but both characters' eating disorders sort of vanished), etc. etc. Let me know if you have any ideas!
I also must dwell on the overall believability of both shows when it comes to appearance alone ... how Degrassi's kids look like KIDS. Not movie stars -- people I might have gone to school with! 90210's "kids" not only look like actors, most of them looked like twentysomethings from the very beginning (especially Gabrielle Carteris's Andrea, who looked like a freakin' teacher! Doug Emerson and I guess Brian Austin Green -- the freshman dorks -- looked younger initially, but that's it, and naturally they killed the first one off.) And that reminds me ... how did both shows handle the school social scene? (The 90210 gang were this friends-only-with-eachother outright clique, though they were supposedly popular. The Degrassi gang all kind of seemed to get along with everybody else. There weren't any detectable cliques. Both shows could have done with a few more "freaks" and outcasts, methinks.)
It'll take awhile, but all of the above will be discussed in more detail eventually. Stay tuned! =)