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1994-95 tv week

Let’s Discuss the Totally Bananas Fifth Season of Beverly Hills, 90210

All this week on Vulture, we’re talking about the hugely influential 1994–95 network television season, which found new shows Friends, ER, and My So-Called Life hobnobbing with returning future classics such as Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The X-Files. Earlier today, we looked at the season’s ratings and counted down the season’s 100 best episodes. Up now: Vulture columnist Dave Holmes looks back at the hugely popular and impressively bonkers fifth season of the Fox primetime soap Beverly Hills, 90210, which saw the departure of Shannen Doherty’s Brenda Walsh and the arrival of Saved by the Bell’s Tiffani Amber Thiessen as manipulative family friend Valerie Malone. Dave will discuss the show while simultaneously giving a track-by-track assessment of Beverly Hills, 90210: The College Years, a tie-in soundtrack released September 20, 1994.

Season five of Beverly Hills, 90210 was a difficult one for the series, but sometimes music can be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Such was the case in September 1994 when Warner Bros. Records and Spelling Entertainment offered up the Beverly Hills, 90210: The College Years soundtrack. The only way to talk about the show and the album correctly is by taking this 12-song collection track by track, so hold on tight as we reminisce about that turbulent year at California University.

1. “Make It Right,” Lisa Stansfield
If there’s one thing I remember from my own college years in the early 1990s, it’s that the 18-to-22 demographic just could not get enough smooth jazz. And so we begin our journey with Lisa Stansfield, grabbing in vain at that post-“Affection” brass ring with “Make It Right.” Nine-Oh had some serious making it right to do in season five; a crucial part of the show was cut right out with no warning and no explanation, and we fans were expected to simply accept it: a credits sequence without Jason Priestley playfully punching Luke Perry’s chin once and then twice? Unthinkable.

2. “Not One More Time,” Stacey Piersa
Oh, but seriously folks, September 1994 was a difficult time to be a 90210 fan, as Shannen Doherty was sent packing, leaving behind an ache not even a Peach Pit Megaburger could soothe. I was three months into my first post-college job when I heard about this from an item in USA Today — because that’s how you got your news in 1994 — and I was both frightened and slightly titillated by the prospect of telling my 90210 superfan co-worker Janet about it. Janet lived for 90210. Janet wrote detailed 90210 fan fiction. Janet took the news about the cast changeover very badly; tears were shed, sick days were used, the words “Tiffani” and “Amber” were not to be spoken in her presence. I imagine she felt as betrayed as one-time Star Search hopeful Stacey Piersa on this track, which uses the Enigma beat that was required of all mid-tempo pop songs in 1994.

3. “Every Day of the Week,” Jade
We didn’t see Doherty again until the first episode of the CW’s 90210 reboot, and from the looks of things, Brenda moved to London to smoke cigarettes at the professional level. And so Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s Valerie Malone moved into the Walsh’s vacant bedroom for a fresh start after her father’s suicide. Though she seemed to be a bright and enthusiastic young gal, we quickly learned she was trouble: The last shot of the season premiere shows her opening Brenda’s bedroom window and lighting up a doobie. Clearly, we were not in Minnesota anymore. Val cut a swath through the male side of the cast in season five, wearing a wide array of Y-necklaces and a hairdo that beat Rachel Green at her own game before she’d even started playing it.

4. “Not Enough Hours in the Night,” After 7
For real, you guys: This soundtrack feels like one long Delilah radio show. Did Gabrielle Carteris choose the track listing herself? Mark Damon Espinoza joined the regular cast in season five as Andrea’s baby-daddy Jesse Vasquez, but his stay wouldn’t last long: After some steamy extramarital action, Andrea and Jesse packed up baby Hannah and moved to Connecticut, and Carteris launched her own daytime talk show Gabrielle. The mid-’90s was a bull market for the daytime talk show. Carnie! Tempestt! Leeza! Richard Bey!

5. “S.O.S.,” Cathy Dennis
And you know who could have stood some no-nonsense advice from a Whoopi Goldberg or a Jane Pratt? Donna Martin, that’s who. After breaking up with David Silver, poor Donna nearly moved away to concentrate on her upcoming cotillion, but instead met a brooding young carpenter and budding musician named Ray Pruit. Ray was played by a young Jamie Walters, who was coming off the success experience of Fox’s The Heights, and whose self-titled debut album was released the same day as this soundtrack. Ray started promisingly enough, but nothing gold can stay; by season’s end, he would push Donna up against a wall and then down a flight of stairs. Nobody throws Tori into a corner; Ray would be gone by season seven.

6. “No Intermission,” 5th Power
Man, for a soundtrack to a show about college kids, this album is very Jim and Cindy. Speaking of Mr. and Mrs. Walsh, they’d be off the show by the end of season five themselves, pursuing a career opportunity in Hong Kong and leaving a man named Joe E. Tata as the show’s sole voice of reason. 90210 kind of went off the rails in season five, is what I’m saying.

7. “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” US3
At last! A song that a group of college kids might plausibly listen to, even if they would do so while pretending to be five years older than they are in some kind of shitty strip-mall martini bar. Or a slipshod nightclub like the Peach Pit After Dark, which opened this season and hosted such ’90s luminaries as the Corrs, Donna Lewis, and Wild Orchid, none of whom are featured on this soundtrack.

8. “Moving on Up,” M People
The funding for the Peach Pit After Dark came from Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay, who was rich but also broke because of some financial scam that I remember not paying attention to at the time. Dylan was also all kinds of messed up in this, his darkest of seasons: He drank, he slept with Valerie, he got into blow, he drove his car off a cliff and lingered in a dream-filled coma, he visited a hypnotherapist and had visions of a former life as a Wild West gunslinger. The Emmy nominating committee was unmoved.

9. “Touch My Light,” Big Mountain
Big Mountain: the Magic! of the early 1990s. Anyway, perhaps nobody had a more turbulent season five than Jennie Garth’s Kelly, who by now had become the show’s focal female character. Kelly spent the whole season trying to decide between Brandon and Dylan, ultimately icing them both with a harsh “I choose me.” She got a Seventeen magazine cover, burned her face at Steve’s house party, had a near-Sapphic moment with admirer Allison, and then split for a modeling gig in New York where she would meet handsome coke-head Colin. She also lived with Donna and Clare in a massive beach house, whose rent would easily be in the mid-five figures and which would be a good 90-minute drive from any of Los Angeles’ major universities.

10. “I’ll Love You Anyway,” Aaron Neville 
Really, 90210 went bananas in its fifth season, but we kept watching. Behold some of these plot synopses: “Dylan takes out a gun and shoots up his living room.” “Steve and Griffin organize a holiday rave at an abandoned Hollywood house; David and Clare accidentally post a notice about the event on a computer bulletin board for lesbians.” “Dylan regresses to a past life as a hobo.” And least plausibly: “The gang attends a Rolling Stones concert.”

11. “What Your Love Means to Me,” Hi-Five
For me, the relationship between Brandon and Steve was the fulcrum of the entire series, and both college boys were busy with campus activities: Brandon was swept into office as California University’s first 35-year-old sophomore student-body president, facing difficult issues like a speaking engagement from an anti-Semitic author and a visit from the president of Selanesia (which to my knowledge is not a place), and Steve was social chair of the deliciously named fraternity KEG and seemed to shop exclusively at Tommy Bahama.

12. “Forever Yours,” Wendy Moten
Season five of BH9 was the year the show became less of a teen drama and more of a bat-shit nighttime soap in the tradition of Melrose Place, whose wig-flipping, apartment-complex-exploding insanity we’ll have to dive into another time (maybe even tomorrow!). Indeed, most of this season’s plots are as implausible as a college student listening to Aaron Neville. But at least one episode found the cool, the crazy, the fabulous the Flaming Lips (not featured on the soundtrack!) dropping by.

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson