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Why I Love Watching 90210 With My Daughter

“Archie’s father died,” I say, when I join my daughter in the kitchen.

“You mean Luke Perry?” she asks, and I nod. “That’s sad.”

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Luke Perry played a character on Riverdale, one of my daughter’s favorite shows, just as he once starred on a favorite show of mine, Beverly Hills 90210.

And this is how we come to start watching 90210 after Luke Perry dies. I am watching to remember, and I think my daughter watches out of curiosity. The first episode premiered on October 4, 1990, when I was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. As we sit watching the premiere 29 years later, I am surrounded by my husband, my 12-year-old daughter, and my 14-year-old son.

“I like Kelly the best,” my daughter tells me as we delve further into season one. “I don’t like Steve. He’s a jerk.”

“He gets better,” I counter. “I like Brenda and you have to pick Brandon or Dylan; you can’t like both,” I say.

I notice that on her sick day home she has skipped ahead and I feel like I’ve missed out, though I’ve seen every episode at least once. I ask her not to watch without me, realizing I’m invested not only in the show but the nightly ritual of sitting down with my daughter on the couch. I’m both her mother and her friend, the me I once was and the woman I have become, the high school sophomore and middle-aged mom.

It hits me harder than I’d like to admit that I am closer in age to parents Cindy and Jim Walsh than I am to teenage Brenda and Brandon.

I’m on the other side of things now, having segued from child to parent. I understand why Jim and Cindy get upset when Brenda and Brandon have a party when they are off in Palm Springs. I know the worry they feel because Brenda is having sex or Brandon has driven drunk. Being a parent changes the way I watch the show.

But I still remember the girl who fell in love with these characters. I remember the one who entered a contest for a walk-on role on the show and felt devastated when she lost. I recall going through all the major milestones with Brandon, Brenda, Kelly, and Dylan and the rest of the kids from the show because we experienced them at the same time. The proms, the breakups, the heartache of high school, the transition to college, and entry into the adult world—for 10 years, I lived alongside them.

My daughter is younger than the characters, but she still gets it. She sees them dealing with things she’s going through, or will go through soon enough. Each episode brings us something new to talk about because 90210 dealt with taboo topics like date rape, addiction, suicide, and the feelings of alienation that come with going through the difficult teen years. That was the appeal of the show—it got what it meant to be a teenager.

Watching the show now with my daughter, I realize that not much has changed in the almost three decades since 90210 debuted.

This is why I can watch it all over again and remember who I was. I can hear the same music, see the same clothes, and feel the same loss and confusion that I did back in the 90s. But this time, it is so much better because I get to do it with my girl.

In doing this together—revisiting my past and the person I was as a teenager—it shows my daughter that I haven’t always been just her mother, the middle-aged woman who nags her to do her homework and walk the dog. I was young once and I was a lot like her. This journey into the past helps me to remember that girl, the one I have forgotten with the birth of children and the weight of adulthood. And in remembering my younger self, I can better understand my daughter and what she is going through. She’s not just a kid; she is a girl so similar to the one I once was.

“Are we going to watch right through to the end?” I ask, as I settle next to her on the couch. “That’s a big commitment.”

“Sure,” she says, and pushes the play button.

We are on season two, with eight more to go. I can’t wait. I’m going to enjoy every episode just like I did the first time around. Only this time, I have my daughter with me to share the memories.

Nicole Johnson is a freelance writer who maintains the page Suburban Shit Show: Tales From the Tree-Lined Trenches, a community built to foster the real and raw truth about motherhood, marriage, and midlife. Her work has been featured on The Washington PostRedbookMs. MagazineScary Mommy and The Huffington Post.

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