A couple of years ago, I began blogging and have continued to do so, on and off, as the mood or inspiration strikes. The blog went through several incarnations over time, but the subject matter was generally of the philosophical, political and/or quantum physics-variety with occasional forays into fiction and humor. Regarding the aforementioned weighty topics, I have plum run oot of things to say. My points were made, sometimes many times over, and I’m far from being an influential or popular online voice. Not to mention, I have completely lost faith in the human race as anything other than an aggressive species of dumb animal, so attempting to influence their views is pointless. Therefore, today I will be changing things up. Drastically.
I am currently unemployed and not exactly in a hurry to remedy that situation. Like most idle Americans in the year 2019, I have spent many an hour online delving into trivial minutiae until I reach the level of self-made expert in, say, famous Scientologists or what a colossal douchebag the character of Zack Morris was on Saved By The Bell. If anyone oot there needs a paper written on either of these topics, hit me up. Guaranteed A. But it was the latter time waster that led me (back) down an eerily familiar rabbit hole aboot which I hadn’t spared a thought since the early 90s. YouTube is digital fentanyl.
Cutting to the chase: I rediscovered, to my sheer joy and consternation, the Nickelodeon teen soap opera entitled Fifteen. Never heard of it, you say? Well, you must be one of my friends from the Great White North, the birthplace of this most amazing television program, where it was known instead as Hillside.
Fifteen ran for four seasons, from 1991 to 1993. It inhabited the same cultural space as Beverly Hills 90210 and Saved By The Bell and had no qualms about shamelessly ripping off the cheesiest aspects of both of those programs (Fifteen’s stereotypical leather jacket-wearing rebel was even named Dylan). And by the time – wait, what did I just hear someone say? In the back there, did you just say “Degrassi High”? Kindly gather up your things and exit the seminar, you Philistine. There’s room enough for more than one Canadian teen soap opera from the nineties and yet, you insist on mentioning the clearly inferior of the two and fucking up my dissertation. That’s it…don’t let the door hit you…
Okay. Back in 1991, a Canadian guy named John Binkley performed television alchemy. He gathered up dozens of the worst child actors he could find, put them on a mind-bogglingly nonsensical set that vaguely resembled a high school designed by M. C. Escher, stuck scripts filled with the worst dialogue ever written into their little Canuck hands and somehow came oot with pure TV gold.
This page, at least for the next 65 posts, will be dedicated to analyzing, critiquing, exploring and dissecting each and every episode of the mighty and incomparable FIFTEEN – the most incredible TV show ever aired. Believe it or not, this is not an original idea. It seems the show has developed somewhat of an online cult following and though mocking its production values and ham-fisted dialogue is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s the most fun you can possibly have with a gun and a barrel and a fish. Before embarking on my own exhaustive tribute to Fifteen, I should give some inspirational props to the following two (hysterically brilliant) strangers who beat me to the punch:
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that season 1 is available in its entirety on YouTube (and one or two online streaming services). For the final 3 seasons, you’ll just have to take the word of your humble narrator who recently scored an 11-disc set of poorly made DVRs of the entire series. This was an experience akin to finding a million dollars in unmarked bills in my mailbox. No joke.
Following this introductory post, I will be writing an individual post for each of the 65 episodes aired. Trust me, there is much to explore and the devil is in the details. So I’ll wind up this post with some vital information that will be indispensable as we progress. In other words, I’m not planning to describe each character anew every time they’re mentioned, nor will I give multiple detailed descriptions of the handful of environments they inhabit, so take notes. First, the settings:
Season 1 had precisely four sets: the hallway/student lounge of Hillside High; the Avalon; the boys’ locker room (which also doubled as the girls’ locker room when the need arose); and Dylan’s garage.
In Seasons 3 and 4, we sometimes saw the world’s most depressing teenagers hanging oot at the mall (?), the mall café, and a few of the main characters’ basements.
Hillside High hallway/student lounge: The design of this school makes aboot as much sense as a hydrophobic fish. It seems that the door from which the students enter leads directly into a vestibule with a row of lockers on each side. There is no visible foyer and we are never afforded a view of the actual entrance, other than in stock footage of the ootside of what is clearly a different school between scenes. Emerging from this small locker-lined hallway, we come to a large open space containing a couch, two tables and a smattering of chairs. Oh, and there’s a soda machine. A few feet from the soda machine stand two lockers. They stand alone. This makes absolutely no sense, until you realize that these lockers belong to MATT and JAKE, and their privileged location allows for private locker conversation between these two main characters. Characters frequently enter the scene from a stairwell to the right of the soda machine. So the school has more than one floor, yet we never get a glimpse of what lies beyond the top of those stairs. I suspect the stairs were an afterthought when Mr. Binkley realized that there wasn’t a good place for characters to lurk and eavesdrop on what was going on below. This school is a fucking nightmare.
The Avalon: Every teen show needs a hangoot, and this one’s a doozy. I imagine that hanging oot with these self-pitying sad-sacks at this, the most depressing diner/coffee shop of all time, would be an experience akin to attending a wake at an all-night laundromat. Unlike Hillside High and its hastily constructed stairwell, The Avalon is a lurker’s paradise. And if these kids are expert at anything, it’s lurking and eavesdropping. There are counter stools facing the mute, zombified staff and a smattering of booths. Next to one of the two entrances (that are curiously situated just feet from each other) is a payphone. In the rear is an antechamber with a pinball machine (Attila The Hun in season 1) and one additional booth. From season 2 onward, there was a Rampage machine installed behind one of the booths. A perpetually growing collection of 45 rpm records adorns the walls, along with a neon parrot. If I had to guess what was on those records, I’d say that each and every one of them is “Go For A Soda” by Kim Mitchell. There is much more to say aboot The Avalon, but I’ll let that happen organically as we progress through the episodes.
Locker Room(s): A few blue lockers and a bench. When it’s the boys’ locker room, there are fake football plays and an announcement for rugby tryoots on the blackboard in the rear. When it’s the girls’ locker room, the blackboard disappears. This place makes aboot as much sense as the main hallway, but it’s a good spot for Matt to unload on Jake withoot anyone else around to judge or interject.
Dylan’s Garage: Dylan is a rocker. He rocks and he doesn’t care what you think aboot it. I suspect he has a very disturbingly unnatural relationship with his guitar, which he carries around like Linus with his blanket. As a rocker, it wouldn’t do for Dylan to live under the same roof as his parents, oh hell, no. The exterior shot of Dylan’s “place” is like Fred Sanford meets Mad Max. It’s a collection of ramshackle buildings, all of which look to be garages, sitting in the midst of a literal junkyard. One of these garages is where Dylan…lives? People like to stop by unannounced to Dylan’s junkyard, a situation that Dylan always seems to meet with annoyed confusion. The garage is “decorated” with road signs, license plates, power tools and sundry garage-type items. A lot of shit will go down in this garage, my friends, so brace yourselves.
Since the other locations don’t appear until later seasons, I’ll leave it at that with the sets and settings for now. The mall/café prominently featured in seasons 3 and 4 might need a post of its own. On to the cast!
Some of the characters’ last names are known, others are not. If I know them, I will indicate them here, otherwise, I’ll just use the first names. The beauty of writing a blog that has nothing to do with philosophy or politics or science is that no one will care if I’m meticulously accurate, so any research I do for this series of posts will be minimal. So many characters came and went in this show – and the 26-episode mess that was season 4 was so busy with unnecessary and flat-oot infuriating cast additions that I think for now, I will just go through the main characters from Season 1. I’ll introduce the others later on, as they appear.
Matt Walker: Played by Todd Talbot, currently a real estate agent and co-host of “Love It Or List It: Vancouver”. Matt is the school basketball star, boyfriend of Ashley, and a drunk. Prior to a season 3 rehab stint, Matt’s general demeanor towards everyone (including his girlfriend and his best friend) shows that he has the shortest fuse imaginable and he REALLY doesn’t like being hassled. In other words, he’s a prick. Until season 4, that is, at which time he inexplicably transforms into The Saint of Hillside High.
Ashley Frasier: Played by Laura Harris, who later went on to star in The Faculty, 24, and Dead Like Me. Matt’s eternally put-upon girlfriend, dedicated student and all around “good girl”. Ashley never speaks above a whisper but the melodrama communicated by her perpetual susurrus will make you want to rip your face off. Or hers. I fucking hate this girl so much that I think I might be in love with her. I’m pretty sure that’s what Matt thinks of her, too.
Courtney Simpson: This frumpy asshole might be the worst-dressed character in the history of television. She schmutzes around the school in floor-length floral-patterned Colonial-era outfits complaining about how unappealing she is to guys – even (especially) when she’s in the company of a guy who clearly has a major crush on her. Ostensibly, she is Ashley’s best friend, though you’d never know it from their interactions. Courtney is awkward and self-absorbed – a terrible combination, for sure. Yet everyone seems to inexplicably love this anachronistic twat.
Deadpool Billy Simpson: Courtney’s younger brother and Dylan fan-boy. Later, he becomes a bully and later still, a player. Now let’s go even a little later…2 Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place? People Magazine’s three-time Sexiest Man Alive? DEADPOOL?!? If you hadn’t already guessed from the title of this post, THIS IS MOTHERFUCKING RYAN REYNOLDS, Y’ALL. That’s right. You can run, Ryan, but you can’t hide from your past. I’m just doing my part to ensure that you never forget.
Brooke Morgan: Played by Robyn Ross, who seems to be the only former cast member willing to admit publicly that she was a major part of this show. Brooke is the school bitch, and what a wondrous bitch she is. She and her partner-in-crime Kelly (season 1) positively live to destroy other peoples’ lives, particularly Ashely’s. Brooke is a rich, style-conscious, vain purveyor of malicious gossip and devious schemes, and she effortlessly accomplishes all of this without the aid of future technology like cell phones or social media. She likes to make guys fall for her so that she can reject them. She used to go oot with Matt, apparently, and this might have something to do with her oot-sized hatred for Ashley, although I never dated Matt and I, too, have an oot-sized hatred for Ashley, so who knows.
Kelly: Played by Enuka Okuma, currently the star of Rookie Blue, apparently. Kelly was the best character in the entire run of this show and her one-season involvement with it was far too short. Kelly initially seems like nothing more than a Brooke tagalong until you get to know her and start to recognize her true seething hatred for her “best friend” simmering just below the surface. Kelly rocks. Not literally, like Dylan, but figuratively, like Bill Nye The Science Guy.
Theresa Morgan: Brooke’s little sister who dresses like the little douche from the Dutch Boy Paint cans if Dutch Boy had been really into Garanimals. After season 1, she mysteriously disappears (but don’t fret – another sister appears in her place!)
Dylan Blackwell: Played by Chris “Corky” Martin. The Rebel. The Rocker. The leather jacket-clad, too-cool-for-school dreamboat with rock star aspirations and a subtle-but-sexy facial scar that looks like it was intentionally added to his face through plastic surgery. Dylan gives no shits. Until season 4, that is…when he dons a pink shirt, gets a job at a café, and starts giving so many shits about everything he trashed for the previous 3 seasons that I’m actually embarrassed for a fictional character.
Jake Deosdade: Played by some kid named Ken Angel. Jake is supposed to be Matt’s best friend, but he is clearly petrified of him – after all, you never know when Matt’s gonna start to feel hassled. Jake is everyone’s friend, but no one’s crush. He pines for Courtney – Courtney!! – but although she sometimes refers to him as her best friend (when Ashley’s oot of earshot), she treats him more like a pet hamster than a potential love interest. Jake is the third most awkward character in TV history (the other two are also from this show, of course). Incidentally, Jake is the only character on this show who “season hopped” – he was prominently featured in seasons 1 and 3, but not 2 and 4.
Cindy: The school hippie and unhinged environmental Nazi. She pretty much exists to chastise people for eating tuna, litter the walls of the school with trite environmental slogans on 8 ½ x 11 sheets of construction paper, and occasionally give a wrath of shit to people she barely knows for things that have nothing to do with her. But at least she was nice to…
Olaf: The exchange student. Eventually, we learn he is from Finland, even though the episode through which he was introduced was titled “The Dislocated Swede”. This obvious Canadian actor doesn’t have the slightest trace of an accent and the writers’ attempts to make him mangle the language are actually more eloquently spoken than any of the rest of the dialogue on this show. Olaf exists so that Brooke and Matt can mock him, and so that Billy can befriend him until he eventually decides that he should un-befriend him. Olaf disappears after season 1 and mercifully, so does Cindy.
So that’s the basics to get us started. If you decide to stick around for the next 65 posts, I guarantee that you will become just as obsessed with this glorious shit-show as I am. Either that, or you will swear off ever reading another Desertcurmudgeon post for the rest of your life. It’s your call. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should also let you know that if you decide to stick around, you will in short order find yourself utilizing the following words and phrases with alarming frequency:
“Did I just miss something here?”
Either those, or:
“Fuck you, Desertcurmudgeon! Just FUCK YOU!!”
Either way, I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded in my mission. Enjoy.
12/26/19 Editor’s Note: After revisiting this post for the first time since NFTA’s inception, I noticed a glaring omission: I neglected to list Brooke’s bedroom among the Season 1 sets. What do you want, it was my first post. Even Wade Wilson needed a little time to master his super powers.