For young boys growing up in the ’90s, this programme was like finding a collection of damp, discarded porn magazines in a wood. At first you were confused, perhaps even a little grossed out by what you saw; you knew that what you were looking at wasn’t really appropriate for children, but still, curiosity got the better of you and you were left scratching your head, weird new feelings raging, staring blankly at images like this:
This image has been taken from the opening credits of Sweet Valley High, a landmark of sorts for many sexually unaware, pre-pubecent boys growing up in the ’90s. While this might be acceptable attire for a trashy night out in Leeds, this is Children’s BBC — this is where I come to watch Family Ness for God’s sake.
As well as featuring more girls in bikinis than a Girls Gone Wild video, these credits also pinpoint the exact moment where I suddenly started to feel physically inadequate and began to develop the crippling social awkwardness that I still carry with me today — the same crippling social awkwardness that would eventually fuel my unreasonable hatred for humanity.
How was I supposed to be look like this, huh? I had no chance. Look at him — that bone structure, that perfectly combed hair, that smile — he looks like he’s been genetically engineered to be that amazing. Where art thou Ryan James Bittle? God, he’s a dreamboat. He’s a boat made from dreams. He’s perfect.
I suppose I could always model myself on one of the other characters. Brock Burnett perhaps? Brock Burnett, who looks like a 45-year-old yuppie’s impression of what he thinks a high school student looks like. Remarkably, nobody seems to have figured out that he should have graduated some time back in the 1960s. But to be fair, he does seem to get a lot of attention from the ladies — when he’s not being pulled over for giving rides to minors.
Unsurprisingly, I’m struggling to remember many of these characters, and like many people, the first thing I think of when I think about the show is its snappy little theme tune, the lyrics to which were: “Look right down any crowded hall; you’ll see there’s a beauty standing. Is she really everywhere or a reflection? Could there be two girls who look the same at…Sweet Valley, Sweet-Sweet Valley High [commence caterwauling].”
As one YouTube user accurately puts it: “I remember this theme song sounding much better than this. This is horrible…I had no idea.”
I suppose things like this do tend to get twisted in our memories. But the actual programme, surely, is just as fresh as it always was.
Well, the first episode of the series opens at the high school prom, where we’re introduced to our two main characters: Jennifer, the bitch, and her twin Elizabeth, the lesser bitch. Both characters are in the running for homecoming queen and Jessica, it’s revealed, has been using some pretty dirty tactics to receive more votes from guys. And when I say “dirty”, I mean “kind of slutty,” as in whoring herself out to generic nerdy characters to receive more votes. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having a few problems and is struggling to focus on the prom. She’s fallen out with her boyfriend, Todd, played by the sensational heartthrob Ryan James Bittle. God, he’s beautiful.
Next we’re introduced to Scott Daniels who, in the words of one of Jessica’s friends is, “get this: a freshman in college!”
“Perfect,” Jessica replies, presumably because she thinks that he must have already performed dozens of unspeakable and regrettable sexual acts on a whole host of disappointed freshman girls with low self-esteem. The hammer, the reverse pummel horse, Galileo’s elbow, the shake ‘n’ vac — Scott Daniels accidently invented them all. Yep, Scott Daniels wrote the book on how to disappoint women. He spends the entire episode droning on in flat, dull voice and hitting on the twins, who aren’t in the least bit bothered by his lack of personality and charisma. They’re also not particularly concerned by the fact that a freshman has turned up to their school prom, full predominantly of 16-year-olds. You’d assume that the teachers would be pretty alarmed by his presence, but in Sweet Valley High there are no teachers, just spoiled, attractive and sexually promiscuous teen morons.
As somebody points out, Scott Daniels can’t vote for Jessica, but as Jessica blunts puts it, “It’s not his vote I’m interested in.”
I mean, this is pretty suggestive stuff, isn’t it? I’m not suggesting that she’s talking about his penis, but…yeah, she pretty much is.
Unsurprisingly, because she’s kind of a bitch and kind of slutty, Jessica isn’t picked as homecoming queen and Elizabeth is chosen instead. But who will be homecoming king, I wonder? Someone truly beautiful I imagine. Someone as dreamy as Ryan James Bittle? Oh, he’s such a dreamboat.
Wait, it’s not Ryan James Bittle!? It’s not Todd?
Oh God, no, you don’t mean, Brock Burnett? That nonce!?
Egbert? Haha! The nerd! The hilarious nerd character that everyone laughs at. Hahaha, how amusing. And yes, his name is Egbert. Winston Egbert. The poor kid. Winston Egbert, who due to his glasses and less than perfect hair, I guess, causes the other characters to scowl uncontrollably whenever he appears on screen.
Ew, what a freak, am I right? Ugh, how did he become homecoming king? Sick, he’s got glasses and personality, ugh!
This is just the kind of reaction that makes me want to propel these avaricious 30-year-olds masquerading as 16-year-olds into the sun. What; just because an attractive, perfectly normal person wears glasses, all of a sudden he warrants a look of disgust? No, Sweet Valley High, I will not be duped into disliking this character just because you’ve called him Winston Egbert. I like him. It’s the others that I hate. I hate them all! I hate them to death!
Anyway, in true ’90s fashion, the party only starts when somebody shouts “kick it!” which somebody does, and thus the party does indeed start. In fact, somebody shouts, “Kick it, Manuel!” which prompts Manuel, the super cool DJ, to drop some hot, generic ’90s background music so that the teeth-grindingly irritating characters can start popping some suspiciously choreographed dance moves.
This is where it gets really uncomfortable. As a 20-something year old male, I should be able to enjoy this on some level, but I don’t. She might be 30-years-old, but she is supposed to be 16 and, well, this is just weird.
Unfortunately for Todd, most of Elizabeth’s dance moves entail thrusting her buttocks into the genitals of the nearest man, and he ends off storming out. Scott Daniels cuts in to show Elizabeth the ol’ Daniels special — a move that Daniels made famous around the halls of Gudger College, the welding college that Daniels attends.
Despite having had lots of fun, the next day, Elizabeth is having regrets. She informs the viewer of this, not by acting, but by typing, in very large letters on her laptop.
Moments later, Scott Daniels calls and with a lot of persuading from Jessica, Elizabeth agrees to go on a date with him on Friday night.
Scott Daniels never misses an opportunity to give the opportunity to a sexy lady to go on a date with Scott Daniels. That’s why he’s Scott Daniels.
When the night of the party arrives, Jessica decides to go, pretending that she’s actually Elizabeth. Scott immediately turns out the ol’ charm, offering the lady a drink, Scott Daniels-style.
“Wanna a drink?” he asks in a deep, gormless Scott Daniels voice. “We’ve got everything. Er, we’ve got wine, beer…”
“Diet Cola?” Jessica enquires.
There’s a long pause as Scott Daniels brain begins to function. “…Uh, I’ll have to check…”
The episode then cuts to moments later and we get to see yet more erotic, in-no-way-child-friendly dancing. If you thought that Elizabeth had some pretty raunchy dance moves, Jessica practically makes love to Scott Daniels right there in a room full of people.
Meanwhile, because Elizabeth presumes that Scott Daniels has stood her up. She comes across Todd who is throwing rocks against a wall — he’s not a bright boy, admittedly, but man is he beautiful.
“I faught we waz a teem?” Todd says, in a dull, monotone voice. “I faught we waz a teem?”
“This is not a game, Todd!” says Elizabeth. She then explains to Todd that he’s taken her for granted, not that the viewer would know, the argument is never truly explained.
“I didunt reelise I wuz doin’ dat. I gess I skruwed up.”
The two embrace and that’s apparently the end of their dilemma. Seriously, that’s it. This is what they were fighting about. Great.
Back at the party, things are starting to get really weird. Jessica, pretending to be her sister, tells Scott Daniels that Jessica would be up for coming to future parties hosted by the D-Man.
“Wooah, double the pleasure,” Scott moans.
You can practically see the mental image he’s conjuring up.
“No, I mean, like, I’m more conservative…You’d like her better.”
But there’s no response from Scott Daniels, he’s too busy picturing the kinky, underage twin sex that this show so badly wants its audience to think about.
Elizabeth finds out that Jessica is pretending to her when her and Todd are approached by Charlie Sheen, who drunkenly slurs, “He shuurr knows ‘ow to throw a party, eh, Elizabeth!?” Elizabeth and Todd click and rush to the party to find Jessica.
We cut back to Scott Daniels, the D-Bagger, The Scottster, Big D, in a scene that’s remarkably similar to the lead in to a porn film.
“Man, I can’t believe you’re only 16.”
Granted, nor can I, but seriously, take your mind out of the gutter, Scott Daniels.
Scott Daniels makes a casual comment about Jessica’s breasts before flicking her dress strap down, surprisingly to Jessica’s disgust.
“Drink up,” Scott Daniels mumbles. Jessica takes a sip of her drink.
“What did you put in here!?” she says, in horror.
“Nothing. Just a shot of D-Bag!” Scott Daniels barks, like a dog. Scott gets up and starts parading around like a chicken, receiving high fives from the other people in the room. “ALL HAIL THE SCOTTMEISTER! WHO’S THE DADDY!? WOOOOOW!”
Okay, I made that last part up.
It turns out Scott Daniels was trying to get Jessica drunk. He starts to show his true colours when Jessica tries to leave and were treated to yet more awkward scenes. Finally, Jessica pours her drink over Scott Daniels and runs outside where she finds Todd and Elizabeth.
Back at the twins’ house Elizabeth forgives Jessica for pretending to be her. Jessica doesn’t actually apologise and that unsettling moments with Scott Daniels is never mentioned ever again.
The credits roll and the viewer is reminded of some of the may important ideas raised by this episode, like how ’bout that Todd and how the hell was this allowed to be broadcast on children’s television?
I thought that perhaps time had exaggerated my thoughts about this show, but with adult retrospection, it’s actually more suggestive than I’d previously thought. The acting really gives it an authentic porno feel, which is amusing until you realise that the 30-year-old actors and actresses are supposed to be playing 16-year-olds. I also didn’t particularly like how mean-spirited the show is to be people who aren’t vacuous eye candy.
Overall, though, I guess I can’t really complain too much. Just like damp, discarded porn magazines in a wood, Sweet Valley High helped educate a generation of prepubescent boys, tactfully informing them that they’ll never be half as attractive as Ryan James Bittle, and that girls will brutally humiliate them if they try and ask them out. So thank you, Sweet Valley High. Thank you for destroying my life. Thank you for reducing me to this neurotic, self-loathing mess of a human being, destined to sit here in my cave watching crap films and old television shows in a vain attempt to correct the emotional damage you’ve done. Thank you.