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."

  • TaraAriano

    It really is horseshit that she got away with this. Nobody even really makes a counter-argument about Donna's suspension BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ONE TO BE MADE.

  • Cate Stuart-Hodges

    Oh Sarah I have missed your TV ire. Please take it as the compliment it is meant when I tell you that whenever someone rants about a hated TV thing we call it being Hateful Buntsy. <3

  • Jeremy Bonomo

    It was unfair and Donna shouldn't have graduated; however, that's the only thing you're right about in that rant. Brandon is the man and he does what he wants..."we're walking out".

  • Sarah D. Bunting

    Hateful Buntsy hates Donna Martin's graduate...dness.


  • Jenn Brasler

    The punishment would have allowed Donna to graduate in August, so it's not like she would have had to postpone college or fall behind her friends. And considering Donna's learning disability, she might have benefited from some extra classes.

    The only thing the school gets out of the ultimate result is that everyone shuts up. Donna only has to participate in a substance-abuse program. The school board has to renege on a rule, and they have to drop the dress code (which a lot of the students were protesting instead of Donna's punishment). There's really no reason for them to give in. I guess Brandon was just so persuasive that they couldn't help themselves.

    Also, shouldn't Mel face some consequences here? He provided the champagne.

  • Ashley Williamson

    School is supposed to be about education, and I don't think students should be denied graduation for non-academic reasons. It only increases the chance they will end up not graduating at all. If they have the credits, that should graduate.

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  • Governor Squid

    I hope that teaching kids that they can ignore the rules isn't the sort of "education" you're talking about.

  • Fozzie36

    *annoying high school teacher nitpick on* and it's not even that she wouldn't actually graduate in June! She's met her requirements! The most the school can do is not let her walk at graduation! She'd have to come by the day after to pick up her diploma. In shame. LIKE SHE SHOULD

  • JocelynCavanaugh

    I agree with this so much! I've been watching the series religiously on SOAPNet (I mean, um, have it on while I work from home?), and the ridiculousness of the Donna character is really unavoidable. They did work in a little jab when the gang went back to West Beverly for Ooohnndrea's totally random send-off, and a current WBHS student remembered Donna as the girl who barfed at prom.

    Tori Spelling is no great actress, but I feel like Donna could have been less gawky and more sympathetic if they'd just worked with what she really was, not what they wanted to pretend she could be.