Hi, Internet, remember me from when there was still hope enough for laughter? Jump into the pop culture DeLorean, and let’s revisit an era when the exceptional assholes of yesteryear would have been aghast at the normal people of today.
Welcome to 1987. It was the tealest of times, it was the hottest pink of times, and Beverly Hills Teens had just gold-plated both. This cartoon was a blistering display of opulence masquerading as a wholesome alternative to the mire-poix of robots and soldiers firing lasers at each other, even though those armies had the same hit rate as Shaquille O’Neal shooting free throws during a Shaq-Fu battle.
Thus BHT featured ’80s America’s two favorite non-karate pastimes: making fun of surfer speech, and drooling at exorbitant wealth as part of our broken national character. Its cast of doll-faced kids enjoyed the spoils of America’s flashiest zip code while scheming against each other: good practice for the games they would end up playing with our lives in just a few years.
Reader, I apologize. You come here for artifacts from Outside: cultural touchstones that could not have originated in our world. And yet here is a normal cartoon paradise wherein all teenagers own at least one savings & loan association. Let me explain that I’m not here to slag Beverly Hills Teens, which has a fun theme song by the Kirkwood version of The Bengals. This series holds up better than most of your fondly remembered shows like She-Ra, every episode of TMNT after season one, and Dr. Hypno-Spiral’s Shush You Will Not Nostalgically Recall This Show Except Mistakenly as Episodes of Beverly Hills Teens.
No, today we examine the break in reality that took us from worshipping Mammon to googling whether we can eat money. Recent research says the greatest measure of success is being born wealthy, which is why Hannibal, Alexander, and Caesar all conquered the globe at ages when you would still pay a hefty surcharge to rent a KIA Soul.
It stands to follow that the teens from yesterday’s Beverly Hills are the predatory politicians and corporate ghouls defining our existences in today’s America. We’ll follow up on where these no-good teenagers are now, how they let us down, and why they won’t invoke the 25th Amendment on President Fredo Corleone before we’re ashes on the nuclear winds.
Let’s meet our overlords!
The pilot starts at…a mansion? An academy? It’s uncertain, but we quickly dissolve to an art deco stage, where our first Beverly Hills Teen leads the others in aerobics: the yoga of Spandex’s brightest decade. Even the hallways here are ostentatious, because the literal hallmark of wealth is a building that requires full-time staff just to dust.
Playing piano synthesizer on electric guitars, it’s Jett and Gig, two masses of hair who are so glam rock they make Jem & the Holograms look like the opening act for Woody Guthrie’s death rattle. Jett hails from The Valley, a realm of porn stars and humidity. Gig is so non-denominationally BRITISH™ his accent has a working holiday visa in Australia. He owns a sentient guitar that can transform into anything except a sentient guitar that doesn’t have depression. Its fretboard may have 45 notes but it only plays the flats.
Come, let us leave them. Pour deeply from that decanter of tawny port, my friend; you shall need it to meet the wicked queen of Beverly Hills Academy.
Bianca is a Veronica Lodge in a world where all the Archies Andrews already exploited to death. With the dating etiquette of a monitor lizard, she hungers for love’s validation but cannot conceive its vulnerability.
And yet! She is the roaring fire in the show’s engine. Our ostensible protagonist is Larke, a non-Newtonian blonde so baseline I can’t make a joke about her ’80s featurelessness stick. If Christie Brinkley and Kim Basinger had a head-on Corvette collision, Larke’s silhouette would form in the negative space between them just before impact.
She’s a model, proving our thesis. All of these characters moonlight as rock stars and actresses. They have time and money to conquer lucrative, competitive fields. How I pity them. Not one will ever know the true character-building experience of accidentally inhaling while you clean a urinal with muriatic acid.
Larke is nice, but her biggest concern is getting skin as soft and smooth as her brain. Say what you will about Bianca, but at least she has ambitions. The need for attention boiling out of her neglected childhood distills the show’s best one-liners in her, whereas Larke floats through life, dreaming of Troy’s romantic presence the way unsalted white rice dreams of room-temperature water. (Just kidding—every one of these kids considers rice “too ethnic.”)
Who’s Troy? Only the prize that Larke pines and Bianca schemes for, even though he has the head of a Ken doll and the personality of a Ken doll’s groin. The most substantial thing about him is his accidental blow for gender equality by proving male characters can also be blank slates without agency. He’s never visited the dentist, because developing a thin layer of plaque on his teeth would be way too close to a personality.
All of which is to say he’s the perfect trophy for two hollow rich kids to battle over. And that’s a shame, because Bianca could have true love if she wanted it—and from an absolute freak, offering a healthy, consensual outlet for her deranged need to dominate.
Her shadow—besides the haunting fear Daddykins will forget her birthday again—is Wilshire. Named for the street where he was found abandoned, he’s Bianca’s chauffeur, butler, guy Friday, henchman, devoted suitor, and tragic reminder that she can only process affection transactionally.
And let me tell you for free, this is where things get weird. Wilshire is what the shitty kids call a simp. He thrives on her scorn like some kind of masochist jelly, telling her with a delicious quiver, “I love it when you’re masterful.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with a respectful power dynamic, but we’re looking at two bad explanations for Wilshire’s inappropriate behavior. In option A, he’s a regular employee with no respect for professional boundaries. He hits on his boss every hour of the day, even though she’s in high school.
But let’s assume all Les Teens Beverleux are 18 for propriety’s sake. It’s hard to tell, because there are no teachers, no parents in their world. Are all the adults who don’t work in couture shoppes dead? Or do they merely travel the world, seeking double-breasted suits with ever-broader shoulders? Regardless, you’re still left with Wilshire’s gross disregard of a contractual relationship.
That puts us at option B: Wilshire is a fellow student who’s doing all this for free because he enjoys the humiliation. He’s pulling Bianca, against her wishes, into his public shame fetish. Making everyone else your unwilling audience is probably just gravy on your shame sundae, isn’t it Wilshire, you leaky udder?
Leaving aside West Coast Anthony Wiener there, we meet Chester and Pierce. Chester is an underclassman whose primary function is “science genie,” dispensing marvels without judgment or its sister, prudence. A less wholesome teenage boy would use his technological knowhow to exploit everyone, probably without their realizing, but Chester has no obvious cause to wield his algorithms against already-broken psyches starved for spiritual peace by material glut.
The only thing he can’t invent is a means to touch the human breast. Here he is hacking the blueprint for the robot from Metropolis so he can have sex with it:
Chester is a plot device with glasses who makes story happen for the rest of the characters. He’s old enough to drive, but because puberty eludes him, he’s treated like an adorable kid brother, a non-entity on the girls’ romantic radar. To give you an idea of Chester’s innate sexual charisma, there is a 0% chance he’s not rich because his dad developed UNIX, just like there’s a 100% chance his mom owns more than one ankle-length corduroy dress. Like his friends, he displays a frighteningly idealistic trust in Bianca and the other naked wolf among this flock:
Playing the role of Riverdale Luxe’s Reggie, it’s Pierce, whose transatlantic accent hints at legacy wealth from New England’s bloody past. His family likely came up in stature from munitions, whaling, and deforestation, with side projects in Native American genocide. As befits a scion of exploitation, Pierce demands unyielding physical perfection in women. Other humans exist merely to elevate his status; inevitably he spurns us meat-shapes for exhibiting flaws. Watch as he rejects a talented surfing partner because she has a pimple:
Pierce owns the world’s first smartphone, a back-talking computer called C.A.D. (Cranky-Ass Diodeface), who sounds exactly like Jarvis, if actor Paul Bettany weren’t married to Jennifer Connelly—and thus, could grow world-weary. Pierce offers up C.A.D.’s database of women who fit Chester’s list of “vital statistics” in exchange for mad science. I’d say it horribly commercializes dating, except it’s how 90% of relationships form these days.
Okay, that’s the main crew. There’s also Blaze, Tara, Character X, Character Like Y Whatever, and Nikki (because LA mandates you spell it that way), each of whom I would describe—not respectively—as Horse Girl, Muckraking Fink Journalist, Southernmost Belle, Aerobics Instructor I Guess, and The Good Kind of Drama Queen. Good luck figuring out who is which! None will be mentioned again.
So back in our plot, the big news down at the Gold-Flaked Malt Shoppe is that there’s going to be a couples surfing contest, which—yeah, sure, is a thing. The screenwriter for this episode worked for MAD, and you won’t catch me questioning my betters. Bianca wants Troy as her surfing partner for the status of it all, while Pierce just wants to win it to prove he’s better than everyone.
Ugh, it’s going to turn out at the end that every one of these characters is just a facet of a single mind in a mental care facility, isn’t it? This is the Robin Leech cut of Identity.
Many hijinks ensue, including a scene where Bianca tries to buy a seductive swimsuit to impress Troy, except Larke is doing a photoshoot right there on the show floor, even though real-life beaches are just a short drive (9 miles/3.5 hours) down Santa Monica Blvd.
That’s when Larke’s shitty longhair cat and Bianca’s shitty poodle get into a fight that destroys Bianca’s dream swimsuit, because even the animals are unlovable in Beverly Hills. With these monsters in mind, I said “ostensible protagonist” earlier because Larke is merely the POV character in a tragedy about the vanity of human wishes. In Beverly Hills, good does not triumph, evil merely falters. There are no heroes here, only degrees of terrible person.
The teens head to the beach, where—oh shit, it’s Radley! Forget everything I said; Radley’s so cool. He surfs, wishes harm to none, and that’s about it. When the teens tell him he’s going to win, he says with guileless humility that anyone can surf to win if they’re gnarly in the pipeline of their hearts. But don’t take my word for it:
Even though Pierce is cheating to win with a self-surfing board, too much is never enough for him, and he has Chester build a robot shark that he can defeat to make himself look like a hero. Midway through his showboating, it’s revealed that the robot doesn’t work, and we’ve got ourselves a real-life shark rodeo! Unfortunately, Bianca taps on the shark’s nose with all the force of Troy’s charisma, and the day is saved.
While the more ambitious Pierce is doomed by his own overreach, Bianca’s conniving comes to naught. Or it would, except Bianca commands Wilshire to set the seawall’s wave generator to “tidal wave” in a sabotage bid that will surely kill Troy so that none may have him if she can’t.
Wait one testicle-kicking minute! W-w-wave generator? Seawall? And are those snowy peaks behind Wilshire? Dear God, is this the dystopian Beverly Hills of 2087, where the tide comes up to Beverly’s actual Hills? You maniacs! What kind of world have you created, with your relentless worship of consumption? I…I don’t want to ponder this anymore. Ahhhhh God damnyoualltoHELL!
*sob* Let’s see where they all are today, in ascending order of influence, as measured by the world’s only all-gold thermometer, kept liquid at 231.6 GPa by the power of Daddy’s influence in this town:
Poverty limited Wilshire’s budget to expand his popular, embittered Geocities blog to high-quality YouTube video; he retired in 2005 after losing most of his Men’s Rights audience to Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro’s eyebrows, and a GIF of a woman falling into a cactus patch.
Briefly resurfaced on the cultural radar with his Tiger King appearance alongside his wife, Carol Baskin.
Kicked off of Real Housewives’ most forgettable season, Bianca is trying to rebrand herself as an influencer on social platforms where the users are half her age. She posts selfies of herself without a COVID mask using hashtag #icantbreathe, and fights commenters who call her on it. Writes Botox off her taxes as a business expense.
Bianca’s chasing a tightening spiral. There are ice cream scoops that make more lasting impressions, and yet fonder memories.
Larke retires from modeling every few years to be a full-time home provider to her kids Traeylür, J’Brayden, and Kaayelyeiegh (pronounced “Mackenzie”). Isn’t anti-vaccine, but has a lot of friends who are. Severely misinterprets quantum physics to “prove” The Law of Attraction. Founded a body-positive, fair-labor clothing line, but spends six weeks a year on vacation.
Could have led a sustainable revolution, but squandered her head-start. Still makes a half million a year without really trying.
The youngest lawyer to make partner at Diggum, Diggum, Troyboy & Goldencrisp, Troy was re-elected to Congress (D, CA-33) this November, despite wondering aloud at parties “whether Black Lives Matter protests are doing their cause more harm than good.” Owns a boat, but only takes it out twice a year. Named his kids Hunter, Trapper, and Fisher without ever realizing the connection.
Never uses the firm’s box seats at Chargers games, even though he successfully pushed for $100 million in tax breaks to “bring our boys back to LA,” costing the city much-needed upgrades to infrastructure and education. Blanches whenever you bring up the hack on Democratic email servers, which is weird for a guy so publicly milquetoast.
Jett became JVP of A&R at BMG after luring P.O.D. from INO’s SRE. She stopped hiring Gig to produce albums after the rumors about his behavior with female artists, but still occasionally sleeps with him. Gig’s behavior is better now that he’s clean, but the guilt over pawning his guitar haunts him.
Jett can fairly say she helped create two musical genres. Gig mostly wanders his hillside mansion trying to get inspired, but Malibu’s perfect shores only make him restless, knowing he’ll never again see Gran’s cottage in Seasalter. The guitar resides in a Redondo Beach bungalow, and is currently plotting 2028’s robot uprising.
Definitely died in a Point Break-type situation. Fuckin’ Radley, yeaaaahhh!
Legends never die so long as they have a Facebook memoriam page for everyone you no longer talk to from high school to like. Radley’s post-mortem sponsorship from Rip It energy drink inspired the tattoo on my left heinie: “RIP Radley, I will mourn U till I join U. [poop emoji | skull & crossbones | lightning bolt | Radley uppercutting God while the Devil watches in awe]”
Chester rides his bike to work despite founding a company worth $280 billion; doesn’t seem to care that Pierce’s equity is three times his own. Has been steadily improving his sexbot designs for 30+ years. The pain they feel now is real to them when he spurns their advances.
His inventions touch every aspect of our lives, and yet Chester is diverted from many of his world-saving ideas by a corporate itinerary prioritizing video games, data farming, and private space exploration. Whatever happened to the brilliant young mind who patented the “hypno-marble,” the self-improving AI that drives C.A.D. and Gig’s guitar, and a bot that can falsify SQL authentication in seconds? Why are so many of these teens so under-accomplished, given their head start in life?
Despite his reputation as a clown and a conman, Pierce lured Chester away from a promising career at Boston Dynamics to co-found Spiral, an all-in-one, future-tech competitor to Alphabet (motto: “Chase the singularity,” though Pierce can’t explain what that means). Owns a storage locker with two locks under a fake name, and will never tell anyone about his “dark periods” when he can’t remember where he was.
Plays golf with Troy fairly frequently, though they’re not very friendly. Creeps out fellow tech investor Peter Thiel for reasons he can never quite name. Cheats on his wife with women under 25 like his life depends on it, but would be morally outraged if he knew what she does on her “spiritual retreats” to Big Sur. Pays extra to have his dental records deleted after each check-up.
With his 25-year head start on the smartphone and his insistence on physical beauty at a glance, Pierce chaired most of the dating apps of the past decade; transforming us all, through algorithms, into reflections of his repugnant soul.
Please note this extrapolation is only 70% likely. There’s a sizable chance that these same inputs instead lead Pierce down the path to…to…dear God, no:
…we are in the hands of madmen.