I Watched Every ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ Thanksgiving Episode, and All I Got Was This Unexpected Appreciation for Steve Sanders

Beverly Hills, 90210 was on for ten cast-shifting seasons from 1990 to 2000. It bore a seven-season spin-off in the original Melrose Place and a five-season reboot on The CW. When you talk about teen dramas — as often as I do — you have to be a little thankful for 90210’s contributions to the genre. I decided to show my appreciation by watching all six of the original series’ Thanksgiving episodes. Thanks to FX, I’d seen the entire show over a decade ago, but other than knowing the characters and their relationships, I was watching these episodes with fresh eyes.

The first Thanksgiving episode — in Season 3 — was the schmaltziest of the bunch, with the Walsh parents battling for some type of relevance on this show and their son Brandon bringing a typical TV-style homeless man (cleans up well, is considered to be in the “right” when he was an ass to everyone) to the house for Thanksgiving. The realest moment of the episode occurred when Andrea, the most enlightened white feminist liberal ever, attempted to become best friends with him, simply because she understood his plight, unlike the rest of these 9021-snobs. The year is now 2014, and that type of person still exists.

I moved on to Season 4, a post-“DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES!” world, and felt ripped off over the shortage of Shannen Doherty. The only win she had in this two-episode run was a flannel top, because someone had to represent 1993 with pride.

This episode found Brandon reconnecting with his formerly mentally unstable ex-girlfriend, Emily Valentine, but I really didn’t much care for that, because I never really much cared for Brandon. Kelly, Donna, and Steve, on the other hand, spent their Thanksgiving volunteering and battling a frat boy who tried to seduce a 15-year-old homeless girl. By this point in my viewing, I had realized two fundamental things about this show: 1. Donna and Kelly were two of the most inactive characters on 90210. At no point do they really attempt to stop any of this, even though the episode makes it clear that the guy had tried to force himself on Kelly in a previous episode and she didn’t report it. 2. Steve Sanders — who intervened — was probably the most decent character on this entire show. That second revelation tripped me up a bit, because there was no way the ultimate example of white male privilege could be the best person on this show.

It took me three episodes to realize I didn’t care for any of these characters (except for Steve now, his girlfriend Clare, and Tiffani Thiessen’s Valerie). Donna was an idiot (“Are condoms really safe?”) who couldn’t dress appropriately for Thanksgiving. David existed. I now actively hated Brandon and Kelly. Dylan probably would have been on that hate list too, but at this point in the series he and Brenda were gone and forgotten. It was the first of the Thanksgiving episodes in which the original series regulars are dating new cast members, the true beginning of the show’s romantic flip-flopping. I couldn’t see how any of these people could trust their significant others — everyone is the worst, especially Brandon and Kelly.

Except, Steve Sanders was the best? The most insane part of this episode wasn’t the dumb Steve Young cameo but my new realization that — at this point in his career — Ian Ziering may have been an underrated comedic force. You might not understand this — I barely understand this — but it took two episodes to make me rethink my stance on Steve Sanders as a character and three episodes to make me rethink my stance on Ian Ziering as an actor. I’ve never seen a Sharknado, and I don’t think I ever want to ruin this perception.

Now that I’d become a stranger to myself and those around me, it was time for another episode. The Season 7 episode came and went, and all I really remembered about the episode’s plot was that Thanksgiving was barely a factor, because the episode needed to teach us all about Habitat for Humanity and manic depression. It felt like everyone involved with the show had just given up, and there were still three seasons left. The episode focused on David, which only made it apparent that Brian Austin Green was a terrible actor on this show. None of the relationships mattered. Nothing mattered.

The description for the next episode was what inspired this entire project in the first place. I’d remembered that teenage me had a crush on the character Noah, who spends 80 percent of the episode drunkenly slurring. My crush happened before I knew Steve Sanders held the key to enlightenment. But honestly, I was sure the only reason this was a Thanksgiving episode was so Kelly could take away something from Valerie (the actual holiday of Thanksgiving) before Valerie left the show. David slept with an underage girl, and that was, like, the C- or D-plot, because the most “important” part was the return of Dylan. It was here that I paused the episode, because I was too busy laughing at the very fact that while Dylan was greeting everyone, at least half of the cast members in the scene were total, ethnically ambiguous strangers to him. I was probably also reacting to watching five episodes of this show in a row. I didn’t take any breaks during that time, so maybe that’s why I loved this episode.

The final episode of 90210’s Thanksgiving saga was almost as bad as Season 7’s, but I found the saving grace to, again, be the hero of this entire story: Steve Sanders. Ten years of bullshit, and Steve was married with a child, and the only person on this show who had his life together. That was the shining star, as I spent most of the episode wishing I had just watched the previous episode again. Well, I also spent much of the episode wishing I’d watched all 293 episodes of the series again, in hopes of piecing together how any of this could really make any sense. I don’t actually think it would have created a better picture, but the show is addictive.

If you get the chance, try spending this Thanksgiving with the simply tolerable: the gang of Beverly Hills, 90210. It’s amazing to see how all these characters grow and devolve over a condensed version of those ten seasons. If nothing else, it should make you feel better about your own life.