Today's episode comes from season four, and you know why? Because it's one of the many episodes to come that are based on my personal favourite SVH book miniseries, the Betrayal collection with the Sweet Valley/Palisades brouhaha. Or as I like to call it, the Let's Call Each Other Absurd Names, Beat The Crap Out Of Everyone And Then Die From A Pool-Push miniseries. Unfortunately, the TV writers didn't bring back Bruce for it, which is disappointing, because he was only the best thing about that particular arc.
Embarrassing confession: I loved The High School War so much that I stole it from my high-school library. Not in an 'I conveniently forgot to bring it back' kind of way, either. I went into the library one day, waited for my chance, and then left with it without checking it out. Stole it in the literal sense. I'm so ashamed. (But hey -- it only cost them three dollars, and my parents paid way more than that in school fees, so it's not really stealing.)
Because we're time-warping ahead one season, there are a couple of new characters you should meet. This:
is Renata Vargas. She's an exchange student who looks and acts a lot like that other exchange student we had in season two. She's going out with Todd now. And this:
is Devon Whitelaw. He's Devon Whitelaw. Come on, that should be all you need to know. He's going out with Liz, and you'd better believe Todd hates the shit out of him.
Oh, and Palisades High has been changed to Big Mesa High, probably because they had all those letterman jackets left over from season two. Caught up now? Onwards!
Jessica is leading cheer practice, when Renata comes by and demands a spot on the team so she can be closer to Toddles. Jessica's like, "Um, no," but Renata insists on showing her that she's got all the right moves. She does not. In the process, she smashes some poor girl in the face and breaks her "new nose." This somehow means Renata gets to be on the team. What an irritating introduction to a character.
In the cafeteria, Todd, Winston and two nameless jocks are eating like their lives depend on it. One of them tells Winston that they're carbo-loading so they have all the nutritional requirements to crush Big Mesa during the obligatory big game. (It's a basketball game in this incarnation, not football.) The other nameless jock, who looks a lot like an early-nineties Brad Pitt but probably isn't, leads a fun round of high-fives. Todd screams, "We HAVE to win this game!" Screams it. If I were the two nameless jocks, I'd be scared not to win the game now.
They jocks attempt to appease their terrifying leader by coming up with pranks to play on Big Mesa, but Todd will have none of it. He's a man of honour. (This week.) Instead, he screams, "Let's kick their BUTTS on the COURT!" Again, screams. This is going to be a fun episode.
On the girls' table, Elizabeth moans about how the rivalry against Big Mesa gets worse every year. Jeez, she's been onscreen for two seconds, and already shut up, Liz. She tells the girls that she and the editor of the Big Mesa newspaper are throwing a joint dance after the game, and I'm sort-of glad that little detail got to cross over from the books to the TV show. As I recall it, that particular dance led to a huge rumble where the boys made makeshift swords out of planks of wood, and I've yet to see a more awesome throwaway line in a Sweet Valley book since.
Back to the boys' table now. This whole he-said-she-said scene is fun, kinda like Grease, without the singing and naughty John Travolta. Brad Pitt tells Todd that they may have beaten Big Mesa last time, but Christian Gorman's back this year. Oh, Christian Gorman! One of my favourite Jessica boyfriends! Todd actually looks frightened for a moment, but laughs it off and says he's hated Christian since junior high. And he takes a swig from an orange juice bottle that's way too tiny for his giant basketball hands.
Girls' table. Enid also mentions that Christian Gorman's back, and Jessica sits up and pays attention. Changes from the book: Christian went to junior high with the whole gang, he and Todd used to fight a lot, and I guess Jessica must've gone out with him at some point. I don't quite like this as much as the 'meeting a random stranger on the beach only to have it turn out that he's the head of a rival gang' thing, but it'll do at this point.
Boys' table: Todd threatening, "I'm gonna crush Christian Gorman," whilst crushing a styrofoam cup in his giant basketball hand. I guess he's finished his tiny, tiny juice, then.
Girls' table. Jessica saying dreamily, "Christian Gorman." Okay, they've said his name so many times in a single minute, it's lost all its meaning. Christian Gorman. Christian Gorman. Seriously. It's just sounds now.
In the corridor, Winston mentions that he's rigged the school with all sorts of booby traps so the Big Mesa guys can't pull any pranks. As he's explaining his awesome secret agent ways to the basketball players, they notice that Big Mesa's already struck, taking their sports trophies and replacing them with Barbie dolls. Brad Pitt goes insane, and death-threats ensue. I guess Todd's been giving his teammates lessons on how to be a Todd.
You know who's not being a Todd right now, though? Todd. He's all, "Violence, not the answer. Peace, friends. Big game, we'll get our revenge then," blah blah blah. He's speaking softly, now all he needs is the big stick. The writers try to shove some comedy in there when Winston gets caught in the net he set up. La, don't care, let's go meet Christian already.
Possibly the best scene-setup yet -- Todd is in class, copying his notes onto his hand. Ahahahaha! That's exactly a thing Todd would have to do to pass tests! Nobody comments on it or anything, it's just a clever little detail for those of us who doubt Todd's ability to matriculate correctly. Winston, who's untangled himself from his own net, sits down, touches Todd's shoulder (of course he does) and asks him how things are going with Renata. Todd replies that she's driving him crazy and he's going to break up with her. Good. I dislike her already.
Todd's reading an article in a magazine about how to break up with someone, which gives little pearls of wisdom like, "It's not you, it's me" and "Let's be friends." Winston laments that he's fallen for every single one of those lines. What sucks is that now I realise Todd was writing the lines from the magazine on his hand, not cheating, so I take back what I said at the start of that last paragraph about this show being clever.
Like clockwork, Renata comes by, sits on Todd's lap and attempts to fix his hair with a can of hairspray. Because that's what good girlfriend do in Sweet Valley. If you're not hairspraying your man's perfectly-coiffd mane while everyone else watches on, he's never going to marry you. Todd grabs her and shoves her out the door faster than you can say "assault and battery" and tries to break up with her using his cheesy lines. But the cheesy lines! Zey do nozing! It doesn't help that Todd apparently can't read his own handwriting, and they come out like one of Charlie's dyslexic notes form It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but Renata takes whatever he said as a compliment and walks away a very happy camper. Todd -- downtrodden. Just the way we like him.
Oh, look! It's a guy we don't know! Playing basketball! This must be the elusive Christian Gorman. Jessica comes by and confirms as much. They flirt cute for a while, and unlike when the show usually tries to be cute and comes off creepy, their little exchange actually is cute. And kind-of awkward, which I buy. They haven't seen each other since junior high, after all. Then Christian says, "We, uh, had some good times in this park, remember?" And just like that, we're back to the creepy. They agree to go on a date, but can't decide where to go. Christian can't be seen at the Moon Beach, 'cause that's not Big Mesa territory. He suggests they take a little trip up to Miller's Point, and Jessica's all, "Christian! What kind of girl do you think I am?"
Cut straight to Jessica and Christian, horizontal in the back of his car. They're fully clothed (for now), but clearly they're planning a fun night ahead. Christian's even put a rug down on the seat first and everything. See? Planning ahead. Jessica tells Christian about the dance Liz is putting together, and he makes fun of her for it. Okay, I think this makes me officially like TV! Christian. I wasn't sure there for a while, because he's absolutely nothing like surfer dude Christian from the books, but that's okay. This one makes fun of Liz. Anyway, Jessica and Christian do some more cute flirting. He strokes her hair and tells her that the fools can have their war, 'cause he's staying out of it. Boyfriend is soooo gettin' lucking tonight.
Time for the big game. The Sweet Valley boys all put their hands in the middle of the huddle and yell, "Kill Big Mesa!" Easily the best part of this scene is the split second where Todd comes towards the camera from the huddle, screaming. Just screaming. Not saying anything, simply shaking his head vigorously and going, "Yaaaaaaggghhh!" Totally uneccessary, but totally Todd. It's priceless.
During the game, Todd and Christian have their own little battle. There's some trash talk, but nothing noteworthy. What is noteworthy is that Christian appears to have oiled himself up nice and good. He's so shiny, Todd could use the guy's biceps as a mirror. Jessica, who is a Sweet Valley resident who goes to Sweet Valley High and is currently cheering for the Sweet Valley squad, cheers when Christian scores. Everyone else is like, "The fuck?" In fact, Liz is sitting directly behind her, just staring as her stupid sister jumps up and down. I feel like there should be a "boing boing boing" sound effect here.
Mere seconds to go. Toddles dunks. Sweet Valley wins. Everyone's happy except the head cheerleader.
Cheryl and Liz are walking through the parking lot, congratulating themselves on being such peace-loving little do-gooder hippie bitches by planning the dance. Behind them, Todd is greeted to a rousing reception. Except that when he gets to his car, he finds all the other jocks standing around it, admiring the new 'Sweet Valley sucks' paint job on the side. Brad Pitt's all, "Look what they did," while flipping his awesome flippy hair and just generally being too nineties for words.
I do really love the fact that since Todd's car is white, the Big Mesans had to spray paint the words on the windows in white, but the words on the actual car in black. They actually thought to bring spray paint in two different colours. That's foresight, right there. Todd reacts like someone killed his dog. He honestly looks like he's either going to cry or wet himself. (Maybe both? Hopefully both.) Fade to black.
Fade in from black. Toddles, barely out of the commercial break, yells, "I'm gonna kill those guys!" Because that's what Todd does. He makes death threats. Welcome back, Toddles. He's speaking loudly, and that big stick is now going to be used for pure mayhem. Winston comes up to Todd and fusses over him for a while, touching him as many times as he can. Because that's what Winston does. The well-established character traits are really coming out to play now.
Enid rushes up to them and tells them that when she was leaving the game, she heard tyres squealing and someone shouting, "Sweet Valley bites!" Todd says, "Wow, thank you for your information, Enid; you're such a good friend." Haha. No. What did I just say? Todd's gone full Todd now -- he bellows, "Well what did the car LOOK like?" in a completely needless way.
Enid, who apparently can identify cars by their engine, gives him a ridiculously specific type of car. Todd's all, "Gee, Enid, you're such a wonderful, attentive person. I can't thank you enough." Okay, seriously, you didn't fall for that again, did you? No, instead Todd ignores her and bitches about how he tried to play nice. I guess that shit's officially over with now. Behind him, Brad Pitt starts up a 'kick butt' chant and a totally-not-gay huddle. It's...well, it's fairly lame. Winston gets in on the huddle action, because there's a Todd to be touched, dammit!
Liz and Devon (hi, Devon!) are at the Moon Beach. I originally thought it was Jess and Christian, because Liz is not dressed very Liz-like, and all the guest-star love interests look the same on this damn show. The Sweet Valley boys walk in, congratulating each other on a big day of shenanigans. Apparently they jacked the tyres from all the Big Mesa players' cars, which, wouldn't that take a really long time? Where were these cars that nobody noticed, airport long-term parking?
Todd finishes the story by saying, "I wonder how long it'll take them to realise that the tyres are in the pool!" Everyone finds it pretty funny, but I don't. Because pools are clear, Todd. They're clear. I'd say it won't take them long at all.
(Now, I was going to make a fairly tasteless joke here about how perhaps they'd find book Christian floating around in there too, but then I remembered myself. Thoughtless Hellobrisvegas! Book Christian died in Bruce Patman's pool. And I bet Bruce still threw the best pool parties, even after that.)
Liz preaches about how the Sweet Valley boys are just making the whole situation worse, and Todd's like, "Shut up, Liz." Devon is all sarcastic and asks them if they TP'd the Big Mesa grounds as well. The jocks glare at him as though he said something much, much worse. Or even slightly worse, because seriously. That's bullshit trash talk, Devon. Despite this fact, Brad Pitt is ready to kill.
Which he could. Because he is Death.
Toddles gets all up in Devon's face and laughs at the way he thinks he's above all this, but before the two can really face off, they hear a commotion outside. Big Mesa panty raid! They trash all the outdoor tables, and Devon catches one of them near his bike. Not ten seconds after he made fun of Todd for being Violence McViolence, Devon rushes after the Big Mesa guy, hounding for his blood. Just then Renata happens by for some reason, and Todd quickly yells something that sounds like a break-up speech before rushing off. Because Todd's now gone full Todd all over everybody's asses, including his girlfriend's.
Moments later, Renata comes to the Wakefield house, all sad about Todd's sneak-attack dumping. Jessica can't find it in her heart to kick her off the cheerleading squad, which, you know, kinda harsh? At least she was cheering for the right team.
The next day, the basketball players are helping Winston clean up the Moon Beach. Brad Pitt mentions that Devon beat the holy snot out of the guy who trashed his bike, which is not surprising in the slightest. Boy, Liz really has a type, doesn't she? Winston and Todd have a conversation about how much they hate Big Mesa, and how they want to get even. Brad Pitt, whose only character traits so far are being understudy Todd and initiating uninspiring chants, gets a chance to do both by announcing that the Big Mesa guys are dead meat, and starting up a 'dead meat' chant. Brad Pitt, you are by far my favourite tertiary character of the year.
Meanwhile, Jessica and Christian are having a picnic. And -- ew, they're sitting on the sex rug! I hope he washed it since Miller's Point. The two of them decide to skip the dance and go to a club instead. Oh, and it was Christian's idea to do so. I'm sure that'll be important later.
At home, Jessica is trying to get advice from Liz on how best to tell Renata she's off the cheerleading squad. Liz tells her to think of it as breaking up with a boyfriend. Jess decides she has to do it in a crowded place so Renata doesn't make a scene, so she decides that the dance will be perfect. She'll stop by, crush Renata's already-fragile sense of self-worth, then hurry home to meet Christian.
Liz is all, "Ooh, someone else's business, gimme!" and asks Jess if she's sure it's a good idea to date Christian. Jessica's response: "That's like the pot calling the kettle collect!" I'm not even really sure what that line means, but I love it. She elaborates, saying she's trying to bring the schools together by dating Christian. Together where, Jess, in your pants?
Out the front of the dance, Winston is on security detail again. He's patting dudes down all over the place. Naturally. He tries it with Jessica, but she'll have none of that. Jess quickly finds Renata, and Renata tells her that cheerleading reminds her too much of Toddles, and she must quit. Jess is like, "Aww, too bad. Laterz!"
Cheryl and Enid arrive together, and Cheryl has to convince Enid not to bring the limbo pole in with her. Hey, that's where Todd's hastily-discarded big stick went! I sincerely hope someone devises a makeshift sword out of it later in an homage to the book. Enid puts the limbo pole back in the car, but quickly sneaks out Twister after Cheryl hurries ahead.
Todd's walking towards the dance when he sees Enid and calls out to her. Actually, he doesn't see her. He sees a figure shrouded in shadows with a very visible Twister box behind her back, and just assumes it's Enid. Hehe. Out of nowhere, a bunch of Big Mesa guys jump out and wrestle Todd to the ground. Enid turns around, panics, and runs for help, dramatically dropping the Twister. Not the Twister! Won't someone please think of the Twister!
Enid finds Winston outside the entrance and tells him what's going on. Winston opens the door of the hall and yells inside, "Hey, they're beating up Todd!" A bunch of guys run outside (Brad Pitt to the rescue!) -- some of them to help, but most of them probably just to watch and enjoy.
The Big Mesa guys see the crowd, and sort-of give up the ghost, all except one guy with his back turned to the camera. One guess who that is. Jessica makes her way to the front of the crowd and realises that it's Christian. The police arrive, and while Christian's distracted by the purdy lights of the cop cars, Todd gets a lucky shot in and starts Toddpunching the hell out of him. Yes, Toddles. Because when the police show up, it's definitely time to start doing that.
Of course, Todd gets arrested and Liz broods as though he were her boyfriend, despite the overwhelming evidence that he is not. Jesus Christ. Regrettably, Liz and Todd not being together anymore means we're not going to get any angst between them over her calling the cops like in the book, so I have zero clue what the next episode is going to be about now.
Also, Christian gets arrested. I don't want to doubt Todd's manliness or anything, but it takes two cops to force Christian in the car -- and he's still struggling. Todd pretty much just gave up when one guy came towards him. Your respect for the law will not help you on this inside, Oz!Todd. Just close your eyes and pray you don't get Vern Schillinger as a cellmate. Jessica watches Christian get put in a cop car, a look of disappointment on her face. End credits.
Wow, so that turned out to be a particularly crappy remake. The Jessica/Christian relationship is fairly tame without the "But she's cheating on Ken!" element to it. Plus, this Christian ended up being a lying shitheel, not like beautiful martyred-by-Bruce's-death-pool Christian from the books. How I miss him. And nobody got stabbed with a makeshift sword in an abandoned warehouse while Lila Fowler watched while sitting on a Persian rug on the hood of her car? Lametown.