I approached Beverly Hills Teens under the impression that the show was a prime example of a cartoon that I (and several others) watched a lot in the 80’s, but had completely forgotten about when the new millennium rolled in. As I began my initial research (by browsing the surprisingly detailed Wikipedia entry), I feared I may have been mistaken. The “Reception” section includes the following bold claim:
In the 21st century, Beverly Hills Teens garnered a resurgence of attention from entertainment websites and newspaper columnists reminiscing about their childhoods in the 1980s. BuzzFeed writer, Brian Galindo playfully touted the camp appeal of the cartoon as “embodying ’80s decadence”, describing the series as “the original Beverly Hills, 90210, but way, way more ridiculous.” TV Tropes countered that the premise more closely resembled a cross between Dynasty and Richie Rich, describing the series as a “guilty pleasure” that’s “more enjoyable than it has any right to be.” “
The article goes on to elaborate about the “age cohort” in Bulgaria and a Sri Lankan columnists take on how the show exported American “epicurian” ideals.
So, like, wait. Was I wrong? Had Beverly Hills Teens mania swept the nation when I wasn’t looking? Am I some sort of Johnny-Come-Lately to revisiting the adventures of Tara, Blaze, Troy, and Chester? I had to take the next step to verify my suspicions. I had to go check out… Fanfiction.net. For as you see, the truest display of affection for these characters (and the most appropriate response) is to dream who would pine hopelessly over whom. BiancaxPierce, TroyxLarke, BiancaxLarke, BlazexTroy, JettxOC, PiercexNikki, ChesterxRobot, what have you.
Fortunately, it seems that only seven whole works of fiction have been written about Beverly Hills Teens. This raised my confidence that the Wikipedia may have been edited by one BHT superfan who perhaps puts too much weight on BuzzFeed articles. However… there does exist a (somewhat incomplete) Wiki. I realize now that I may be running the risk of rabid BHT diehards, conspiring to destroy this article like Bianca would often do to Larke at the Teen Club.
According to the poorly sourced Wikipedia entry, BHT was championed Guy Guy by Access Syndication President Ritchie Colbert, who said, “Children’s programming these days is dominated by neo-miiltaristic [sic], boy-toy animation…. Where are the Tom and Jerrys, the Flintstones, the rich characters for children to nurture and develop and identify with?” And hence, the idea of really rich teens who live in Beverly Hills was born.
Here’s something to consider when regarding the novelty of the concept. Saved By The Bell, the ultimate 80’s high school comedy show set in a perhaps too perfect (and too rich) school district, wouldn’t debut for another two years. The ne plus ultra 90’s high school show set in the exact same neighborhood, Beverly Hills 90210, wouldn’t debut for three years. So while I do take the Wikipedia entry with a grain of salt, I think there is something about how BHT was filling a weekly television void for audiences who wanted to see teens lead a pretty decadent lifestyle. (John Hughes and Amy Heckerling 80’s teen films, not-withstanding.)
Of course, when I was a kid, it never occurred to me that these kids were particularly right. They always struck me as standard suburban kids. Sure, they might have nifty things that normal people don’t have access to… but they’re also following cartoon logic. Sometimes, there’s gonna be some crazy stuff lying around. Like, having an aerobics class with music provided by a live two-person glam band — one of whom is a valley girl and the other playing a sentient guitar —- isn’t necessarily rich people behavior. It’s eccentric people behavior.
The show also features no parental figures. In a way the Beverly Hills Teens makes more sense as the Beverly Hills Young Adults, whose adventures makes a little more sense of you think of them as college-aged students just looking to have a good time.
Beyond that… it’s basically Archie. Looking back, we sorta did need an Archies for the 80’s. Archie Andrews and friends have always been sorta stuck in the 50’s and 60’s, after which they spent a few decades in cryofreeze before coming back in full force this new millenium. There was a cartoon in the 80’s: The New Archies, debuting the same year as Beverly Hills Teens. I would argue that people have even less fond memories of that show, though. It’s wiki entry is but a tenth of that devoted to BHT! I see no BuzzFeed article for The New Archies anytime soon.
Duh, stay out of Beverly Hills, New Archies!
Forming our core live triangle are Layne, Troy, and Bianca. Layne is competent, friendly, and a little bit bland. She is, to coin a phrase, practically perfect in every way. She also looks more Barbie-ish than her Archie’s counterpart, Betty. In a way, that makes her most deserving of the show’s Archie: Troy. He is an equally bland but also very friendly jock type.
The third part of the group is Bianca, who is haughty, snooty, and dismissive of every other character in the show. As a fan of Veronica Lodge, Bianca is of course my favorite. Here is a woman who knows how to use her wealth and power! As weird as it sounds, I have a feeling everyone who watched the show fell in love with Bianca. Her entry on the BHT wiki is the longest. “ Selfish, false, vain, manipulative, cynical, immature, envious… Bianca has all the features we would hate in a person … but we love in villainesses,” says the Wiki. Hey, you can’t editorialize, BHTWiki!
Oftentimes the show seems to think that Bianca needs to be with Pierce, a selfish brat who is a little bit like Reggie Mantle. A sort of mean person alliance, if you will. As a Bianca stan, this would be a huge mistake. Even more so than Bianca, he is the outsider. While the rest of the Teen Club always seems to willingly bring Bianca into their fun activities —- fashion shows, auto races, what have you —- Pierce is usually left out. As it turns out: probably for good reason. Pierce is an early tech adopter. He’s seen with a slim cellphone, which is very tech forward… Yet he’s programmed it exclusively for finding attractive girls. Any new technology that gets into his hands is put into the service of his horndog ways. At one point, he gets a hold of a hypnosis device, which he uses to enslave his friends and make his dates fall in love with him.
What the heck is this… Zapped? It should be noted that Bianca was not involved in this storyline, because if she was she would have rightfully murdered Pierce. Then again, Bianca does go all in on a love potion at one point so it’s not like she holds the moral high ground.
If it’s not apparent by now, Beverly Hills Teens is incredibly horny for a syndicated cartoon aimed at children.
At this point, you’re thinking: “Cellphones? Hypnosis devices? What is this, science fiction?” The answer is yes. The other crucial component of this show is that it has a Richie Rich. Ten-year-old Chester is just out of the age range of “teen”. He’s part of the club, though, because he is the show’s “nerd.” He invents tennis playing robots, automated blowdriers, you name it. And on the show’s opening credits —- a banger written by The Lions of Judah band members Shuki Levi and Haim Saban —- we see him falling in love with what I think is supposed to recall a Hajime Soriyama robot woman but instead looks to be a T-800 endoskeleton.
If you’re curious at all to how this scenario plays out… you’re going to have to check out Episode 5, “Robotic Romance”, where Chester engineers his date for the Spring Fling.
The rest of the cast is patterned along about fairly one-dimensional lines. There’s the surfer girl. The surfer boy. The Southern belle. The nosy reporter who wears outrageous glasses and a poodle skirt. The one who is … not White. They’re all boldly cartoonish, and yet each reflect a different aspect of the 80’s. Even Tara, who was probably named after the homestead in Gone With The Wind and dresses like she’s ready to go to the cotillion, reminds me of Designing Women and The Golden Girls, oddly enough.
To my surprise, the show didn’t seem to have a toy line associated with each either. There’s got to be a story behind this. All of the characters look like fashion dolls, and each episode is devoted to different environments that need different outfits. Hey, it’s the camping episode! Time for the cast to put on the latest hiking gear from this cartoon universe’s version of Patagonia! Is it the tennis episode? Time to dress up in the preppiest of whites! Or, it’s the ski episode! What couture cold-weather gear is Bianca wearing like a boss?
Cheap 80’s cartoons were a world where the cast always wore the same clothes day in and day out. To not have dolls with which to see those clothes modeled with real-world fabrics looks like a huge missed opportunity to me. My guess is that the show was trying to appeal to both girls and boys, and a doll line would lose roughly half the audience.
The stories appear boilerplate, yet take some absolutely bonkers twists that had me snorting. I pulled up a random episode called “That Winning Smile.” Pierce discovers that the aerobics class is in need of an instructor. This is a very 80’s story so far. He’s a horndog, remember, and there’s nothing he’d love more than to be running around with women in spandex leotards. As it turns out, it’s the advanced class! Ho hum. A twist worthy of an episode of Charles in Charge.
But see, Beverly Hills Teens goes the extra mile. Not only is it the advanced class… Pierce gets schooled by a trio of FEMALE POWERLIFTERS.
Now that’s a twist truly deserving of a chef’s kiss. The A-story is that Bianca sabotages Layne’s spot in a big ad campaign so she could be the star… only to find out that the role involves a series of extreme stunts. (The high concept ad pitch is that the model can maintain a winning smile despite getting, say, thrown out of a helicopter.) It ends with her sorta earning the respect of the director, though. While I haven’t watched every single episode —— because HOLY CRAP 65 EPISODES —— I’m confident in saying that “That Winning Smile” is the best one.
Here’s a eerie tangent. The episode was co-written by Jack Hanrahan. He had been born in Cleveland but moved to Beverly Hills to get a job writing for comedy shows (like Get Smart and CHiPs) and cartoons (like Inspector Gadget and Super Mario World). One wonders if his first-hand experiences were spoofed on the show. In one of life’s cruel twists, Hanrahan would die homeless and penniless. He had been seen wandering the streets, in Eureka, CA. His Emmy, which he won in 1968 for Laugh-In, was seized by his landlord when he was evicted from his home in 2006, two years prior to his death.
It’s an odd contrast: the fantasy of youth and freedom that was exported through the world through shows like Beverly Hills Teens and the grim reality of real Beverly Hills life. That odd duality would be something that directors would tap into during the 90’s … but for now, living in the moment, the superficiality was reality.
Despite the heroic efforts of those ride-or-die Beverly Hills Teens fans, most seem to have forgotten of its existence. It’s a shame. It’s not a must-watch. It’s got cringey stories, terrible animation, massive errors (e.g. the voices of two different actors being spoken by the same animated character), and some of the world’s most bored voice acting. Still, it’s a perfectly fine time capsule of 80’s kitsch. The Archies or The Patridge Family could depict a hyper-realized campy reality of their respective eras, then why not afford the same honor to the Beverly Hills Teens?
If anything, I think the chances of The Avocado getting added to the Beverly Hills Teens Wikipedia entry are pretty, pretty good!
(H/t to SadClown for the recommendation!)