For West Beverly High School senior Donna Martin, the road to graduation was a long and arduous one.
Despite a learning disability and having an ill-tempered zealot for a mother, Donna was approaching the homestretch when she was barred from commencement for arriving at prom visibly drunk. (Note to cool dads: Don't give Champagne to an 85-pound doofus who probably hasn't eaten anything but low-fat Yoplait since middle school.) In the end, friendship would prevail and the tyrannical school administration, with all its bullshit "policies" about teenagers not openly breaking the law, would be brought down by a student protest and a powerful chant: "Donna Martin graduates."
In the 23 years since the episode first aired, "Something in the Air" — season three, episode 28 — has become one of Beverly Hills, 90210's most seminal. For the show's young viewers, it demonstrated the power of friendship in the face of adversity; the poster board was mighty when the cause was just. Rewatching the episode as 20- or 30-somethings, the premise reads a little differently.
"In my mind [back then], the gang was so justified," says Lizzie Leader, co-host of the 90210 podcast The Blaze With Lizzie and Kat."What’s been hilarious [rewatching it] is that actually Donna probably kind of should've been suspended." Co-host Kat Spada adds, "Lizzie and I were watching to remind each other of all the nuances of the episode, and it’s really funny, this serious portrayal of these social warriors. If this were me, my parents would have been like, go to summer school."
On The Blaze, which they launched in early 2015, Leader and Spada offer a thorough (and funny) episode-by-episode look back at the decade-defining teen soap opera with the help of a variety of celebrity guests, including Beverly Hills luminaries Carol Potter (matriarch Cindy Walsh), Matthew Laurance (David's dad Mel Silver, server of the offending Champagne in the aforementioned episode) and Dana Barron (Brandon's short-lived, sexy-dancing love interest Nikki Witt). (They've also recently reached out to stalwart ensemble member Wesley Allen Gullick, aka Peach Pit Willie — fingers crossed.)
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As the end of season three approached, Leader and Spada started kicking around ideas for a special treatment for the big senior prom episode. "We knew we had to do something special," Spada says. Last September, they hosted a live taping with guest Christine Elise to discuss the episode when her character, Emily Valentine, drugged Brandon Walsh's drink with the drug "euphoria" at a rave in South L.A. This time, inspired by Jason Reitman's Live Reads series at LACMA and events like the Sing-Along Sound of Music at the Hollywood Bowl, they decided on a live reading of "Something in the Air." The cast includes Taylor Spreitler (Melissa & Joey) as Donna, Brendan Robinson (Pretty Little Liars) as David Silver, Connor Paolo (Revenge, Gossip Girl) as Steve Sanders and, the biggie, Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea Zuckerman herself) as Donna's horrible mother, Felice. Also, Denise Dowse, the original school vice president Mrs. Teasley, is reprising that role.
The event, which benefits the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, is the culmination of years of ardent 90210 fandom. The two met when they were both attending school at Claremont McKenna College and Spada heard the rocking strains of the 90210 theme song spilling out of Leader's dorm room. "After college and moving abroad," Spada says, "we found ourselves back in Los Angeles and thought this would be a fun way to spend more time together. We had no idea at the time that a scheduled hangout would turn into reaching people all over the world." And after all these years they can still agree on one thing: Brandon Walsh is sort of the worst.
Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Thu., Aug. 4, 8 p.m.; $18. donnamartingraduates.com.