9 Life Lessons From Beverly Hills, 90210

In two weeks, western civilization will mark an important anniversary.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Of course! It was October 3rd, 1990, that East and West Germany united into a single country once again, ending decades of Cold War conflict!”

You would be right, of course, but that is not the historical milestone to which I am referring.

I am referring, OBVIOUSLY, to the DRAMATIC events of the following day:

It was twenty-five years ago, on October 4th, 1990, that the gang from West Beverly began their sophomore year of high school.

image credit: By the 216 (Sunnydale High School courtyard) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

(Which also means that it has been twenty-five years since I started my sophomore year of high school, which makes me wonder if something is wrong with ALL OF MATH. And actually, since everyone said the end of the Cold War marked the END OF HISTORY, I think we can just agree that no one has aged since October 1990. I mean, those actors were like 27 when they started high school, and there is just NO WAY that Andrea Zuckerman is now 54…. But I digress….)

As you have likely surmised, I am an unabashed fan of Beverly Hills, 90210. I’ve seen EVERY EPISODE. TWICE. {Okay, more like five times.}

I graduated from high school the same year as Donna Martin, though with far less drama. I taught for 17 years in the very community Brenda once claimed the Walshes lived in before leaving the Minnesota prairie for Beverly Hills glitter. Though I’ve never surfed, or operated a nightclub in the backroom of a fifties-style diner, or protested a school board decision, I’ve always felt a special connection to the gang from West Bev.

As my grownup self watches reruns of the show that guided me through my formative high school, college, and early adulthood years, I am often surprised by the deep, Zen-like wisdom hidden beneath the surface of the Peach Pit, California University, and Casa Walsh. Seriously.

In honor of this important anniversary, I’m updating this list I wrote over a year ago. Though Beverly Hills, 90210 at times had all the charm and sophistication of an after-school special, we truly learned a lot from it…

1. We can do hard things.

This is one of my favorite lines from Glennon Doyle Melton’s The Momastery. We all have problems, even, as MADtv referred to them in their parody of the show, the “pretty white kids” of Beverly Hills, 90210. A colleague of mine, and fellow 90210 aficionado, insists that the life of Kelly Taylor alone is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.

Throughout the show, we witness Ms. Taylor struggle with her addicted mother and absent father, deal with depression and an eating disorder, join and get rescued from a cult, get shot in the head, become addicted to cocaine and then be stalked by her rehab roommate, suffer facial burns in a house fire, get sexually harassed at work, and experience an early miscarriage. All while dealing with a world that won’t take her seriously because she’s so pretty. Yet she manages to run her own business, and eventually become, of course, a high school guidance counselor.

Indeed, I believe the Buddha had Kelly Taylor in mind when he said, “Nowhere in the world is there a place where one may escape from the results of evil deeds.”

We can’t avoid suffering, but we can do hard things.

2. Appearances can be deceiving.

51u+jm3wi+LWhen good Midwestern boy Brandon Walsh meets rebel-with-a-cause Dylan McKay, he’s confused. Since the Walshes have moved from Minnesota {which, according to the show, had just entered the Iron Age in 1990} to the civilized world of Beverly Hills, the Neolithic transplants experience a bit of culture shock. These kids surf! They drink! They cut classes! Will we ever run with the in-crowd?

Well, Brandon soon learns that surfer-dude Dylan reads The Collected Works of Lord Byron! Brandon writes an editorial for the school newspaper, opining that the Beverly Hills cool kids have taught him to look behind their façades. Just as the surfers long to get inside the curl of the perfect wave, he longs to find the Middle Way table in the lunchroom where people look for more than meets the eye.

And while I am certain it is completely sacrilegious to compare the teachings of the Buddha to the writings of the West Beverly Blaze, he also told us to break our attachments to false views of the self.

3. Moms always have great wisdom.

Whether they are models of perfect mothering, like Cindy Walsh, or recovering cocaine addicts like Jackie Taylor, our moms always know how to counsel us. The grownups of Beverly Hills, 90210 were not always relegated to the wah-wah-wah-wah-wah gibberish of the adults from The Peanuts.

My favorite piece of parental advice from the show comes from Jackie Taylor, counseling Kelly through the drama of the Brenda-Kelly-Dylan love triangle. She tells her forlorn daughter, “This too shall pass.” It’s the wisdom my mom frequently shares with me. It’s one of my favorite mantras.

4. You can choose YOU.

I am definitely on Team Kelly-Brandon. But I admit that one of my all-time favorite moments from 90210 is when Kelly, having been offered an engagement ring from Brandon and a trip around the world from Dylan, informs the gentlemen that she won’t be choosing either of them. She chooses herself. Twenty years before Frozen taught us that true love didn’t necessarily mean having a man, Kelly Taylor was already blazing the trail.

5. All conditioned things are impermanent.

One need only revisit the fashion trends at West Beverly High to comprehend the constant change and flux of the world in which we live. {Check out this photo montage here.} Leggings, scrunchies, big blazers, faded jeans, biker shorts, high-rise bangs, side burns, babydoll dresses, and girls wearing ties. Sometimes the impermanence of life pains us, and other times, it’s a huge relief.

photo credit: patrick h. lauke via photopin cc
photo credit: patrick h. lauke via photopin cc

6. The west CAN embrace the east.

Attempting to do an at-home yoga video, Kelly tells Donna, “I’m too western to be this eastern.” But the video was from Donna’s mother. Felice Martin – the uptight, moralistic, makes coffee nervous, dress-code demanding, cohabitation opposing icon of rigidity – does yoga. ‘nuff said.

7. Even a marriage to a frat-boy goofball can reveal moments of Zen insight.

In the final season, Donna seeks romantic advice from Janet, who is now married to class clown Steve Sanders. Donna asks, “And you’re 100% happy?” Janet laughs, telling her that “51/49 in favor” constitutes a good day. She concludes, “And I accept that. And that makes me happy.”

No one’s happy all the time. But we can find equanimity.

8. Friends are awesome.

Which is pretty much the message of any TV show about a group of friends. We’ll let David Silver tell us about the ebb and flow of friendship, on the occasion of Brandon Walsh leaving the gang to pursue his journalism career on the east coast:

“Goodbye Brandon. Nine years, it’s a long time for a group to hang out. High school, college, the real world. Death, drugs, depression, raging hormones, puberty… You name it, we’ve suffered through it all. We still are. Some people have moved away, and others have joined. It hasn’t really mattered though, the reason being we know we can depend on each other. We know we always will.”

I’m pretty sure the Buddha once said something similar…

9. You gotta show up to the dance.

Brandon hates dancing, but goes to the dances anyway. Andrea stays home from the Spring Dance, shunning anything conventional, but then decides to join the gang after all, telling them that she doesn’t want to look back and realize she’s missed high school. While we can debate the merits of missing out on high school, we certainly don’t want to miss out on our lives.

We gotta show up and dance.

And also make time for 90210 reruns. Because there’s a lot more there than meets the eye!

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Sarah Rudell Beach
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Sarah Rudell Beach

Sarah is a writer, teacher, and mother. At Left Brain Buddha, she writes about her journey to live and parent mindfully, joyfully, and thought-fully in her left-brain analytical life. When not working, she enjoys dancing, reading, and hanging out with her little Buddhas.
Sarah Rudell Beach
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  1. says

    Clearly, I’m such a well rounded and educated woman due to the many many hours I spent in front of the boob tube watching these guys going through every single thing under the sun. Thanks for pointing out that all of that time was not wasted. And Kelly, she just seems to be a Velcro to trouble. I love everything about this post and not just because I was/am/willalwaysbe a huge 90210 fan. I even (and I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the internet) watched the spin off show with Silver, Naomi, and grown up Kelly. And I DVR’d it. So there’s that.
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    • Sarah Rudell Beach says

      Glad you liked it! I seriously can’t get enough 90210, though I did give up on the new one after a season or two. Once the originals weren’t in it anymore, it just wasn’t the same, you know? I’m so bummed my cable provider dropped soap net – they show 4 episodes of 90210 a day!

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says

      LOL. I laugh at their fashions, and then I remember some of the stuff I wore in high school. Ouch!

  2. says

    I’d forgotten how much I loved that show until you reminded me about Kelly having to choose between Brandon and Dillon and choosing herself. Reading this makes me want to rewatch all of the episode. Oh, and of Melrose Place, too, because I was way into that one as well. I think they were maybe even on back-to-back? If not, they should have been. Anyway really awesome and creative post, Sarah!!
    Pretty sure you’re right about David’s letter to Brandon being very similar to something Buddha wrote!

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says

      Yes, they were back to back, though I wasn’t as in to MP as I was 90210… Like I said in a previous comment, I am so bummed I don’t have SoapNet any more — I miss all the reruns!

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says

      Let me know what you find! Somehow I feel like the shows “just aren’t what they used to be….” :)

  3. says

    love your points and i love that you took me back to a time where i spent many a night dreaming of Dylan McKay! *sigh* Still love the idea of him…
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    • Sarah Rudell Beach says

      Thanks – glad you gave it a read! I think the whole first season is on Amazon prime instant video if you’re interested 😉

  4. says

    I love this post! I too own all 10 Seasons on DVD. When I bought Season 1 (can’t remember – maybe 6-7 years ago) it was purely a frivolous nostalgic purchase. But re-watching it brought back how “good” it really had been – for so many of the reasons you list. They dealt with topics in a pretty balanced, honest way – and I found it STILL resonated and was still relevant 15+ years out (indeed, I think we’ve backtracked on certain issues).

    I feel the need to say that the “I choose me” moment always left me with mixed feelings. I knew I was suppose to cheer her on for not being afraid to venture out on her own, but I always felt it was partly driven by a large fear of commitment + indecision between those two obvious paths in life: stability (Brandon) and excitement (Dylan). Unless you truly wish to choose yourself permanently (which is a valid choice) at some stage you just have to choose and invest in whichever decision you make. I know in the new series there is discussion of subsequent relationship with Dylan (don’t want to spoiler for anyone off to rediscover the wonders of 90210), so perhaps she tried, but they never really fleshed that out (unless I missed it).

    But I’ll stop rambling. I bought all 10 seasons, loaned them out to friends, and it made for hours of fun conversation in (somewhat) recent memory. I think the show kind of flailed a bit in later years – they lost the whole “living extraordinary 90210 lives” piece once they all graduated university and just got jobs and became normal – so I think some of the original focus got a bit muddied there. But overall, I have much love for the entire series.
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  5. says

    Oh how I loved this!!!

    One of my favourite things about attending university (post-Beverly Hills watching) was that I suddenly realized anything can become grounds for a philosophical/theoretical discussion and OMG – 90210 and life lessons, Zen and the Buddha, this is brilliant! I love that Felice Martin did yoga. I didn’t remember that. She probably did not inhale, though.
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  6. says

    Well I think I see why I was meant to read this now, and not when you first posted it. After all my post today was all about TV.
    My sister was all about 90210 and then Melrose Place.
    I think I was just a little too old and a little too “off the beaten path” to enjoy it.
    I love the way you look at it though, and no matter how contrived the lessons, they are lessons none-the-less :-)
    JenKehl recently posted…I Blame TelevisionMy Profile

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