I was in the single digits throughout most of the '90s (I'm 21 now), and with a strict upbringing, I was never allowed to watch too much television, which meant that I missed out on some classics that a lot of people grew up with. So, during my college internship this summer at TWoP, the editors enlightened me with a list of some must-see shows that I had no prior knowledge of. All the shows take place in high school, and we get to follow a main character who has to deal with the misfortune that comes with been a teenager, regardless of popularity, in the face of those wonderful-yet-overused stereotypical high school cliques. And just let me tell you, after watching the pilots, I've concluded that the fashion in the '90s was not good to young folks, and I'm glad I was too young to have been a victim of shoulder pads, big hair, platforms and the misuse of jean jackets. But I digress. Here is my take on five pilots -- the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Disclaimer: After seeing this list of TV shows, I'm aware that you might think that I've been living under a rock.
1. 90210 (original)
Sure, I had heard of 90210 when I was younger. And when I was older, I never bothered to watch the re-runs because they looked so old school. And yeah, I know there is a remake out now, but I figured there wasn't a point in watching it without having seen the original. So, it's really not a surprise that the pilot for the original 90210 is on this list of '90s must-sees. Brenda and her twin brother Brandon (who is really, really good-looking) just moved to Beverly Hills and it's their first day at West Beverly High, and it's completely different compared with Minnesota because everyone "looks as if they stepped out of a music video."
The pilot was definitely entertaining, and the only downer was that it was in two parts, and combined, it was 93 minutes long. That's an hour and a half. So many things happened in this one episode that it's hard to think what other issues are left to tackle. But anyway, we saw lots of high-end luxury cars, high school valet parking (!), Tori Spelling pre-fame, how to get a fake ID with just a pencil, underage drinking, some jailbait action, an awkward dinner date, some foreplay in a Jacuzzi, and lots of rebellious teenager angst. The character with the most over-the-top ridiculous storyline was Brenda. How is it possible to get into a club with a penciled-in fake and hook up with a 25-year-old as a junior in high school? It's wrong on so many levels. Oh, and her attempt to define a black hole was both hilarious and incredibly cringe-worthy. I think I dislike Brenda the most. Her wanting to fit in so badly, so desperately, just made me want to shake some sense into her. Regardless, it's crazy to think I've never watched an episode of 90210 before this, and now I can't wait to watch more of the original.
2. My So-Called Life
I was in kindergarten when this show first aired, so unfortunately, 1) I didn't know this show even existed and 2) even if I had known, I was too young to understand what was going on. Good thing the editors brought to my attention the underage drinking, rule-breaking, angry dyed hair job, parental issues, awkward pubescent moments, the young love for dumb boys who lean well, and all the rebellious teenager angst that is this show. As far as pilots go, I thought it was engaging and there were relevant teen issues that I could definitely relate to... from five-ish years ago. There's just something about terrible high school clichés that I'm drawn to, and it was interesting to witness the rebel act from a former good girl (seeing as I was so not a rebel when I was in high school).
But anyway, I had to take some marks off for the emo-like, profound, "school is a battlefield for your heart" moments that Angela too often had in this one episode. And combined with the slow-mo walking and equally slow '80s music, it was almost unbearable, even painful to sit through.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Aside from True Blood, I'm not a huge fan of watching vampires on TV shows or movies (ugh Twilight). So, after almost three months of listening to the editors at TWoP obsess about the greatness that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I thought I might give it a shot. For one, Buffy is incredibly different from all the you're-a-hot-vampire-I-love-you storylines circulating the shows these days. The vampires on Buffy are not hot. Their faces are all contorted and scary and not pretty, and their only interest in humans is for blood, which will ultimately help the devil rise again... at the mouth of Hell. Umm so, after seeing this pilot, I've gained a newfound appreciation for Bill Compton and all the nice, human-loving vampires out there.
Basically, Buffy is new to a school after setting fire to her last one, and well, she slays vampires, but she doesn't want to--she wants to be normal. But, we all know that she can't deny her one-of-a-kind vampire ass-kicking super-human strength powers, which is why I can understand how some people get sucked into watching this. I was disappointed with the pilot, but maybe that's because I built it up in my head. It was really slow in the beginning. There was a whole lot of fighting and very little of anything else (but maybe that's the point?) Plus, there's that awful cliffhanger in the end where we don't know whether Buffy will die, but we all know she won't because she is the name of the show. Buffy is awesome and Willow is adorable, but I don't think I'm hooked. Maybe it's because there's only so much of the vampire fighting and Buffy-saves-the-day-yet-again sequences that I can take before it just gets really old.
4. Dawson's Creek
I have always equated Dawson's Creek with 7th Heaven, and man, was I wrong. The pilot touched on atheism, adultery, (lots of) sex talk, cougars, and student-teacher hookups. Also, I had always associated Katie Holmes in her early years with anything G-rated, so to see her play the rebellious "troubled" teenager who says "penis" so carelessly was definitely a shocker.
Anyway, the first episode jumped right into the main issues really quickly. I can already distinguish the main plot points in the season, like Dawson's mom and her love affair with her co-anchor, that illegal student-teacher romance that will probably lead to statutory rape, and there's going to be a whole lot of drama with the new girl who comes between Joey and Dawson's friendship. I mean, it's fairly obvious that Dawson's "perfect, fairytale" life is about to fall apart. He sure got the conflict he's been searching for. All in all, a good first episode. But since this is an emotional tumultuous time for the teens in this coming-of-age drama, there are some awkward moments worth mentioning: Pacey's adorable one-liner, "Are you looking for romance tonight?" when he hits on his English teacher, Dawson's attempt to hold hands with Jen at the movies and subsequently, the awkward end-of-the-night failure of a kiss, and then there were all the moments when Katie Holmes added her two-cents that were so unfitting that I swear I even blushed. Let's hope it gets better.
5. Freaks and Geeks
It's another good girl turns rebel plotline, or in this case, good girl turns "freak." It's 1980, and I'm just glad I wasn't alive then if that was what high school was all about. The cliques and stereotypes are painfully made obvious. There are the bullies, geeks, freaks, and jocks. Some variety would have been nice, but then again, this is the '80s.
Although the pilot was very slow and nothing really happened except for Lindsay saving Eli and her younger brother from recurring bullies (I did not realize how scarily intense dodge ball was), I still thought it was awesome. If hanging out with James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segal means being a freak, then I'm so there. I don't really know what the show is about aside from being a freak or a geek in high school, but we'll see if it gets more interesting later. I loved the ending when everyone is having fun at the Homecoming dance, and Sam dances with his crush Cindy (by the way, Sam and his geeky friends are so adorable). It's really hard to think of anything bad about the pilot, but then again, I'm a little biased because James Franco is such a hottie, and I hope he gets a lot more screen time.
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