"One on One." Original airing: Nov. 1, 1990. Brandon learns about racism, Brenda take drivers ed. More after the jump. ...
Synopsis: As the previous episode ended with Jim and Brandon playing basketball, "One on One" begins with them playing. Fortunately, Jim has given up the ugly tank top from the last episode in favor a T-shirt. As they play before Brandon goes to school, Brenda complains about having to wait, and tells Cindy she needs a car of her own. But first, she has to take drivers training at school. As Brandon and Brenda go to school, Brandon notes that Brenda will be taking drivers training "again."
At school, Brenda awkwardly says hi to Kelly and Donna, ending the chat with "bye-ee." "Your sister has gone totally Beverly Hills," Andrea observes.
Brandon, partly to please his father, tries out for the basketball team. So does Steve Sanders. Sanders insists the lineup is preordained, but Brandon shows good hustle, embarrassing Steve on several plays; Brandon makes the first cut while Steve doesn't. Steve insists the team is stacked with jocks from outside Beverly Hills sneaked up through a minority opportunity program.
Meanwhile, Brenda fantasizes about race-car driving in her training class. But in Minnesota she failed the test twice -- and was dropped from the course quickly on a third occasion.
At the Peach Pit, Brandon tries to bond with one of the African-American players; as he joins friends, Brandon hears one saying that Brandon has no chance of making the team. But at home, Jim is excited about Brandon's tryout and gives him pep talks. After dinner, Kelly urges Brenda to sneak out with her to double-date at a Janet Jackson concert; Brenda demurs, insisting she is "the world's worst liar."
Kelly sees Brandon in his room, playing sock basketball and imagining he is with the Lakers. The next day, Steve tells Brandon he went to a Celtics-Lakers game and rooted for the Celtics. Suggest that it's because the "Irish guys" have to stick together.
David tries to bond with Steve. David and Scott work together on their tech project. The black player shows up at tech class and hasn't finished his assignment, nor does Brandon remember seeing him in class before. Brandon presses Andrea to investigate the minority opportunity program.
Brenda is learning to drive but has a problem when she is distracted by the sight of Henry Winkler. Jim shows up at basketball tryouts, making Brandon uncomfortable. Brandon also gets bumped by the black players. After practice, Andrea tells Brandon that one of the black players, James Townsend, has no grade point at West Beverly. Brandon questions James, who is angry and defensive.
Night. Jim keeps pushing Brandon about the team. Brenda gets a call from Kelly; Janet Jackson has canceled, her date is drunk and she needs a ride home. Brenda takes Brandon's car to pick her up; she runs out of gas and then the car is stolen. Brandon, after getting a lesson in mayo from Nat, goes the library, where he sees James. Who explains that his father has worked for the Beverly Hills library, which makes James eligible to go to West Beverly, and that he was transferred into West Beverly four weeks into term -- so no grades yet. He accuses Brandon of being a racist.
Getting home, Brandon is told his car has been stolen -- from the Walsh driveway. But he figures out it wasn't there, and Brenda confesses. She also realizes that her fear of driving goes back to a childhood incident.
Brandon talks to James at practice, and admits that he wanted James to be ineligible because they are both going for the same position on the team. They make up, and shoot a few. Later, James makes the team and Brandon is assigned to the B squad. Jim admits that his tales of high school glory are based on a fluke. Brandon's car is found -- it had been towed by police -- with Brenda's keys in the ignition.
Comments: Written by executive producer Charles Rosin, who would be a major force on "90210" for years, "One on One" starts inching toward what the show would become. While the Walsh family is still the centerpiece, we get a little more of Kelly's life, a couple of scenes of David Silver, and some insight into Steve that is not pretty -- his racism is noticeable and unapologetic. (When other black players say hello to Brandon, Steve says West Beverly is "our" school, not theirs.) After weeks of A Girl With A Problem, we get a different kind of issue story. Also, when Jim and Brandon shot hoops in "The First Time," the hoop seemed unusually low to me, for the sake of the actors; "One on One" faces that, with two characters noting that Brandon seems too short for basketball.
That said, the show has some holes; if West Beverly is importing players, why do Brandon and Andrea quit after finding out about just one? Why is the B team not mentioned until the end of the show? Brenda appears to have an accident during drivers training, but nothing comes of it. Similarly, the episode ends with Brenda's keys found in Brandon's car, and so before we see the consequences to her for lying to her family -- and to the police.
Absent Brenda, how did Kelly get home? And nothing we have seen in the show so far, including "One on One," gives us any reason to believe she is the "world's worst liar"; she's a pretty good one. So it's not a great episode, but it's a slight improvement over previous weeks.
Other items of interest:
-- James, the black player Brandon deals with, is played by Tico Wells, who later played Choirboy in "The Five Heartbeats."
-- In the scene where Brandon and James make peace, James is wearing a T-shirt that on the back has a series of words used to describe African-Americans, starting with the n-word at the top.
-- The Lakers, Brandon's team, were in Minneapolis, Brandon's hometown, before moving to Los Angeles. (The Lakers name comes from Minnesota being the Land of 10,000 Lakes.) But Brandon, who up to now has talked a lot about missing Minnesota, could have been a fan of the Timberwolves, who had begun play in the NBA in 1989.
-- This appears to be the first episode where Brandon's car is called "Mondale," after Walter Mondale, the famed Minnesota politician.
-- When Brenda gives herself a driving pep talk -- "You're a good driver. You're a great driver. You're a terrific driver." -- I couldn't help but think of Dustin Hoffman's "very good driver" dialogue in 1988's "Rain Man."