I’m not one to heed reflection for celebrity deaths, but Luke Perry sort of got to me. I didn’t get carried away with mailing roses to his house or dropping a “R.I.P Dylan McKay” on People magazine’s Facebook page, but I did craft this blog post which took way more time than any of the aforementioned acts of eulogy.
If you went through adolescence in a middle to upper class family in the 1990’s, you wanted to be Dylan McKay. The guy was a stud.
Luke Perry was Synonymous with Dylan McKay
Playing the rich vagabond, who drove a 356 Porsche Speedster, Luke Perry made the show and took cool to height unseen in almost two generations. Girls wanted to bed him and guys wanted to be like him to pick up his rejects and sloppy seconds. His icy defiance on screen led to comparisons of James Dean, but you could also see glimpses of other loaners in fiction such as Jay Gastby, Dean Moriarity, and most Hunter S. Thompson characters. He didn’t have any memorable lines but his presence, and sideburns, dominated the show.
Until this week, I have not thought much of Dylan McKay since my wife had me binge watch the final season in 2010 (show ran from 1990-2000). She missed the original airing while studying aboard. I wish I could say the show withstood the test of time. Even though 90210 will live on in syndication, box sets, reboots, you can’t replace the impact the show had on teenagers of our era in its first run. We will remember tuning into the new Fox station Thursdays, and later on Wednesdays, to watch eight kids navigate high school in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America. The show captured youth in the 1990’s before social media, instant communication and hypersensitivity overtook society.
The Show Should Have Been Named: Dylan McKay and Some Other Kids Living in 90210
It was like Saved By The Bell (1987-1994 including Miss Bliss and College Years) but with more night scenes, audacious subject matter, and no laugh track. The writers started to stretch for story lines by season two or three after covering topics of the new kid in school, suicide, drinking, virginity, wealth disparity, and drug abuse. Shortly thereafter it lost its mass appeal and the ratings slipped, but the show had already cemented its place in pop culture.
When you dig into it, Dylan McKay made the show. Steve was a whiny, failed child actor, the Walsh kids didn’t belong in the same state, let alone the same zip code, as the rest of the characters, the news girl annoyed everyone, the nerd turned DJ should have been written out after season one, Kelly and Donna had more issues than they needed, but Dylan was why you watched.
The man emitted cool with his pompadour hairstyle and cold stares. He also had a vulnerable, yet relatable, side. He had a tumultuous relationship with a parent, a fear of not being accepted by his friends, a lack of self-esteem masked with grandiose actions, and he had a need to fit in while carving his own slice in the world.
You watched because there was a little bit of Dylan McKay in all of us.