''Beverly Hills, 90210'' became a certified sensation, and he a standout hearttrob

They’re just like the kids you liked in high school — except richer, cuter, smarter, cooler, and so glamorous that even their zip code is better than yours. In other words, they’re just like the kids you hated in high school, but this time, you like them. They’re the kids of Fox’s Beverly Hills, 90210, which in 1991 rose from Nielsen’s bottom 10 to become a weekly sacrament for over half of America’s teenagers.

Every Thursday at 9, they watch Brandon grin and Brenda pout and Dylan display his matchless psychic scars, not to mention the one that can turn his right eyebrow into an erogenous zone. They watch Kelly, David, Andrea, Donna, and Steve fill out the coziest clique on TV. They watch pregnancy scares, romantic woes, accidental deaths, fatal attractions, teen suicides, and interracial dates. They watch characters talk about AIDS, paraplegia, breast cancer, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Most of all, they watch.

And they worship. 90210 hasn’t taken the high road or the low road to success — it has taken all roads. Some viewers can appreciate the perfectly impatient pitch of the show’s teen conversation, the smart plotting, and the unforced performances. Others can experience hormonal rush from 90210‘s sexual entanglements, hoard pictures of the stars, and scream. 90210 is now to teens what Elizabeth Taylor once was to tabloids: a gift from above. And it isn’t letting up. Luke Perry, who plays Dylan, caused a riot in August when thousands of girls stormed his appearance at a Florida mall. ”It’s nice to get out and meet the people,” he said, ”but seeing me is not worth getting injured for.” Ian Ziering, who plays Steve, says, ”It’s a little strange to be screamed at when you walk down the street. It’s scary. It happens on the grocery line, at a stoplight, at the gym. It’s like everyone seems to be watching this show.”

The cast — led by breakout star Perry and by Jason Priestly and Shannen Doherty — is in hot demand, and knows it. 90210‘s kids (most of whom are in their 20s) spent 1991 trading up — hiring powerful agents, signing movie deals, and starring in a custom-built fanzine. Thousands of fan letters arrive weekly, and Fox has added a phone line to handle the teens who call. 90210 clothes are due next year. And, in a surefire sign of success, scam artists have already leeched onto the show’s popularity. Several gullible real students from Los Angeles were recently duped by a phony casting agent who promised work on the show.

Lest you think the writers will run dry after this season, Tori Spelling, who plays ditzy Donna, says otherwise: ”We’re already talking about next year. They have a lot of ideas. We all want to run forever.” Present plans call for Brandon, Brenda, and friends to stay at West Beverly Hills High at least two more seasons — even though they’ve been juniors since 1990. (Hmm maybe it’s time for a special episode on the virtues of studying.) The time line may lack credibility, but who cares? If school were this much fun, we never would have left either.