Since discovering he'd drunkenly hooked up with a male classmate in the season premiere, the frustration of 90210's Teddy has combusted in angry and violent ways, from firing off an antigay slur to throwing punches.
Trevor Donovan, who plays Teddy, says the show won't rush his character into a happier, more accepting time — even while it has introduced an apparent love interest for him in Ian. He'll continue to stumble, sometimes aggressively, as he slowly comes to terms with his sexuality. (Coming up: A misguided attempt to figure things out at a gay bar in West Hollywood.)
"Teddy's story has been about how painful and confusing this situation can be, and it won't be OK for him any time soon," Donovan says. "Acceptance doesn't happen overnight, like, 'Oh! This is who I am!' This isn't an afterschool special. Teddy's fighting it."
He'll begin to inch forward, though. During Monday's episode, Teddy will take his first honest look at Ian, the openly gay classmate who has withstood Teddy's flare-ups, not because they hooked up but because he's been there.
Until now, Ian's job on 90210 has been to highlight Teddy's problems, but viewers on Monday will get to know Ian apart from his interactions with Teddy. As host of West Bev's Undies, a sort of anti-awards ceremony for the non-academically inclined, "you'll see a new side to Ian," Kyle Riabko says of his character. "Ian's an aspiring entertainer, completely comfortable, both in front of an audience and in himself."
Riabko says he's grateful that Ian's drawn in a more nuanced way than he might be on other shows. "He isn't "so dramatic or flamboyant, which would have been an easy thing to write, I'm sure."
In Ian, Teddy sees perhaps a hopeful outcome for himself, Donovan says. "He starts to admire Ian a little bit," but the feelings are complicated. "He respects the fact that Ian can be out and as happy as he is ... but you'll see that it also kind of angers Teddy."
In an upcoming episode, Teddy will be bold enough to visit a gay bar, but it will prove to be too much, too soon.
"He's trying to understand where his feelings are coming from, if they're real or if it's just a phase," Donovan says. "He figures being in that environment could be a litmus test." When things get uncomfortable for Teddy, he'll call Ian for help.
No one's saying whether or not a long-term romance between the two will develop. "I can tell you that Ian and Teddy are definitely drawing closer to each other, that's for sure," Riabko says, but then suggests that their relationship might be more meaningful to Teddy than a romantic one. "Teddy needs to have some kind of role model in his life, to see someone who has already gone through what he's going through ... I think Ian is just a few steps ahead of Teddy," Riabko says. "They counter each other in a lot of ways, which may be helpful for both of them."
For Donovan, seeing Teddy's turmoil — and the uncomfortable ways it's manifested — is part of what makes his story more legit than it might be on other shows. "No one would have guessed Teddy was gay — myself included. He was a womanizer, a hardcore athlete ... there was nothing stereotypically gay about him.
"He is tip-toeing into self realization, and to me, that feels a lot more authentic."