TEENAGE ANGST ON TV – FROM ”BEVERLY HILLS 90210“ TO “EUPHORIA“

SPOILER WARNING:

I can’t take any blame for spoiling ”Beverly Hills, 90210”, because it premiered over thirty years ago. But I won’t spoil anything ”Euphoria”-related. Maybe just a little.


”I’ll stick to my needle
And my favorite waste of time
Both spineless and sublime
Since I was born I started to decay
Now nothing ever ever goes my way”

Placebo – Teenage Angst (1996)

Teenagers have always been fantastic protagonists and a good coming-of-age story is something everyone is fond of, because the time growing up is such an important time that you will never forget. The stress and struggles of turning into an adult can also turn that time into your personal hell. That’s what the 1996 Placebo song I quoted is about.

“The song is about the intense emotions you feel as a teenager the way you have a tendency to close yourself a bit, create your own little world. You’re an adult trapped in a kid’s body – you want to break out but everyone still treats you as a kid” says Placebo’s Brian Molko. 

I always find German words in the English language fascinating. I mean… isn’t there already the word ”fear”? Why go for ”angst” then? Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freund first used the word in his works on the psyche to describe the overwhelming feeling of apprehension, anxiety and inner turmoil. 

In this edition of ”Home Invasion” we will deal with two quite different TV shows that both in their time gained massive cult following by the the same demography they are portraying- teenagers. 

In the 1990s ”Beverly Hills, 90210” ruled the air waves. The US teen drama that started in 1990 and ran for ten seasons was every teenagers guilty pleasure and the actors portraying the cast of young Beverly Hills beaus Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), Donna Martin (Tori Spelling), David Silver (Brian Austin Green) and the newly-arrived Minnesota-bred  Walsh twins, Brendan and Brenda (Jason Priestly and Shannon Doherty) became teen idols. 

Quick side note: some of the actors portraying the 17-year old teens were already scratching the surface of their thirties when filming started. So much for authentic characters. 

Alright, so I never watched an episode when I was younger and due to unfortunate taste-choices by my older sister only German soap operas where playing in our living room. So I never had the joy of dreaming myself into Beverly High, we had to watch ”Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten“ (a terrible, terrible soap opera of which I have a frightening knowledge when it comes to all the season that were broadcast before I moved out of my parent‘s house).

But of course I knew what cultural heavy weight ”90210” was. I even remember an older friend religiously rewatching the series a couple of years ago, but I was never interested.

…Until I tried watching ”Euphoria” for the first time. Pew… that fucked me up.

Never have I been more fascinated by actors, settings and storylines portraying teenagers and teenage drama before. And never before had watching only one episode of a show left me feeling so down.

It’s not that I shy away from teenage drama, but the despair and stories of each character let me completely unsettling. Maybe it’s because I’m past my teenage years and after some time on this earth you will recognize the actions of former friends and even yourself in the show.

But before we come back to ”Euphoria”… 

I needed some light entertainment and after my girlfriend jokingly suggested trying out ”Beverly Hills, 90210”, I was down to get in a better mood by watching teenagers enjoying their best life at the beach.

I did not expect to land face first in a PG-version of a Bret Easton Ellis story (If you want to read an awesome book, go for ”Less than Zero”. Thank me later.) featuring themes of alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and every problem a teenager might encounter.  The main cast (until season 4 and 5, when a Latin principal character is introduced) is entirely white, with David and Andrea being of Jewish faith. Antisemitism therefore is a topic you will encounter on several occasions during the seasons as well. Racism and homophobia are also touched in several episodes, but as I already mentioned you have to keep in mind that the main cast is white, and racism can not easily be solved by a big school dance choreography led by Tory Spelling. 

…Except maybe if you are rich, white and live in Beverly Hills.

Don’t let the wackest and whitest anti-racism raps performed by Brian Austin Green fool you. He actually released several albums, performed at Soul Train and his character David Silver is by far my favorite role. His ongoing storyline about his addiction to several drugs, his mental health and his constant hustle to make it in the entertainment industry is by far the best. And I mean… it’s certainly always a win when we see him perform (Yeah, even the anti-racism song is so tacky, you can’t be mad at him).

Luke Perry and Jason Priestly became the shows biggest stars, but while I love Dylan’s ”rebel without a cause” attitude and his break up with his heart throb Brenda with R.E.M.‘s ”Losing my Religion” playing in the background is one of the show‘s most iconic scenes, I just can’t stand main protagonist  Brendan Walsh. He is the smuckest, most conceited and toxic guy around. It seems that the 90‘s had a thing for those kind of people, but everything he does is so full of himself that I literally get physical ill from the thought that there are people like him. 

Throughout the show you see him constantly making advances towards poor, nerdy girl Andrea (he just needs the acknowledgment), cheating on his girlfriend, while she almost dies in a fire, constantly chasing after his friends former lovers,… and the list goes on. His hair is awesome though, but nowadays somebody with that kind of personality would not be the star of a show.

A crazy fact about Beverly Hills, 90210 and the biggest hurdle you have to clear to watch the show is how unbelievably the streaming offers suck. 

What made made the show always stand out was taking on problems, that were labeled ”too hot for TV“ in the 90‘s, but due to legal problems with the shows soundtrack and certains explicit  topics, a huge amount of episodes is missing. It’s almost as the streaming devices are trying to ”censor” the most important storylines.

The story about David’s estranged best friend shooting himself – Gone.

Kelly’s cocaine-addicted boyfriend fleeing the police – Gone.

Donna almost getting sexually assaulted by a stalker – Gone.

And do you know who’s also missing?

Color me Badd, The Cardigans, Babyface, Powerman5000 and The Cramps are just a few of the 90‘s heavy weight bands, whose entire episodes were excluded from streaming.

I am currently watching season 8 and recently the urge to try ”Euphoria” came up again. I think it’s of bad taste to label ”Beverly Hills, 90210” my gateway drug into ”Euphoria” due to the shows topics. But that totally hits the spot.

 I’ll be honest… I knew that one day I would watch the show and I certainly knew, that I could not navigate through the internet over the next years without catching spoilers. AND… I saw so many articles about fashion in ”Euphoria” that I just had to give it another try. While ”Beverly Hills, 90210” brought along some good 90’s fashion looks (I’m sure that some garments Luke Perry is wearing in earlier seasons are Stüssy and seeing Nike Agassi sneakers is always nice), ”Euphoria” was hailed as having constant sick outfits spiced by brands like  Stüssy, Aries or Supreme.

But it’s not about fashion, it’s about the horrors of being a teenager and not even clothing can solve this problem.

Not trying to spoil anything but the first minutes of episode 1, wherein main protagonist Rue Bennet (portrayed by Zendays) tells her story and pictures of her birth go directly into shots of the World Trade Center collapsing on 9/11 are just breathtaking. A perfect allegory for a world gone mad, we all are unfortunate enough to be born in.

Since it’s debut in 2019 ”Euphoria” (which is actually based on an Israeli miniseries of the same name) hits hard.

…Recovery from drug addiciton, family trauma, abuse, more drugs, selfharm, more drugs, family and sex. No glossy make up as in ”Beverly Hills” though.

After coming home from rehab Rue finds herself back in her hometown, living with her mother and younger sister. Her father died of cancer – a trauma she tries to numb by consuming.

Upon returning she meets Jules (Portrayed by Hunter Schafer), a transgender girl, she starts a relationship with. Jules instantly runs into trouble with High School athlete Nate Jacobs, the most dispicable portrait of a teenage jock since ever.

His on and off girlfriend Maddy (Alexa Demie) and him are the perfect example for a toxic relationship with outcomes and consequences not only for them, you can’t imagine.

Time has changed since ”90210” and now in this day of time, where everybody has a smart phone, the prerequisites for drama seem to be more given. That’s what Kat (Barbie Ferreira) experiences, when a cell phone video of her losing her virginity makes the rounds at her school.

Everybody just tries to navigate through his own personal hell.

Showrunner Sam Levinson was met with critical acclaim for this raw, realistic depiction, but he also faced criticism due to the explicit content. Levinson, who based parts of the show on his own experiences, agreed that ”Euphoria” is a show for parents to ”totally flip out over”.

His intention is to start a dialogue between parents and kids to cope with problem tackled in the series. It has never been harder to be a teenager than today with the pressure of social media, beauty standards and all those other demons slowly destroying your young psyche. 

I was not ready when I tried watching it the first time and Rue’s breakdown scene in the second season is one of the most hard to watch scenes ever on TV.

But I am thankful for every minute of the show and urge you to instantly watch it.

But what I wish even more is for you to talk to a friend when you feel alone. Or for you to start a dialogue with somebody you know who seems like they need help.  The problems all of us encounter are universal and there’s no shame in asking for help sometimes or just a shoulder to cry on. I should have done so, when I was young

It’s the right thing to do.