Donna Martin Goes To Summer School
A milestone is approaching: the twentieth anniversary of the airing of "Something in the Air," a.k.a. "the Donna Martin Graduates episode of Beverly Hills 90210." The episode also aired on SOAPnet yesterday as part of its daily block of Bev Niner reruns, and I found myself irritated all over again, because Donna Martin should not have graduated. She should have gone to summer school, as required by the terms of her original punishment, and picked up her diploma on some anonymous mid-morning in mid-August.
First of all, as putative episode villain Superintendent Ephardt (Arthur Rosenberg) rightly points out during Donna's hearing, "The no-drinking rule was passed unanimously by this [school] board. What kind of message do you think it sends when the first student who breaks it gets off?" That's exactly right, Georgie. The board also required teachers to read the rule to all senior classes, in class; we saw Gil Meyers (Mark Kiely) doing it in the episode previous, which of course ended with a champagne-addled Donna (Tori Spelling) collapsing in the hotel lobby in her skanky mermaid dress and getting herself busted. And while the consequences for boozing at prom may have changed, no doubt the rule already existed, as it has everywhere else on earth since the beginning of recorded high-school-formal time. You get wasted afterward, at post-prom. Everyone knows this.
She knew the rule; she broke the rule. But no, it turns into A Movement, with future disgraced senator Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley) at its obnoxious and self-congratulatory helm, and it has the following unacceptable outcomes: 1) even though he changes his mind later thanks to "peer pressure," Dylan (Luke Perry) initially points out that nobody is going to (read: "should") care about a poor little rich girl ralphing at prom, and he's going to focus on taking his exams and getting into Berkeley, and the fact that I completely agree with him is extremely disorienting and fills me with resentment; 2) the "Donna Martin Graduates" episode is ground zero for the Donna-fluffing (she's so pretty! her fashion designs kick ass! what plastic surgery?) that came to dominate the post-college era on the show, kicked off here with a clonky line by Brenda (Shannen Doherty) about how she never knew how much everyone at West Beverly loved Donna; 3) it inflates Brandon's already metastatic sense of self-importance -- the junior editors on the paper, Mrs. Teasley (Denise Dowse), everyone defers to him and assumes he's the point man, an impression he's happy to further by, no shit, holding up his hand to silence 500 people in the board meeting.
I always forget that Ephardt threatens to call parents and police and to get college recommendations revoked, and to this day I don't understand why he didn't do it.
I hated most of the characters on the original 90210 at some point, or came to after prolonged exposure, but I never really minded Donna. Tori Spelling's life isn't her fault, and the writers should have stopped giving her the comedic B-plots once it became clear (you know, in…the pilot) that she couldn't handle them. I don't actually give a shit if Donna graduates and I didn't back then, either. But she (and the rest of them!) drank when she shouldn't have, and she should have just taken the punishment like that old battle-axe Felice (Katherine Cannon) initially wanted -- instead of punishing the rest of us with Brandon's typical conflation of "political action" and "personal aggrandizement."