Netflix Instant currently has the entire Saved by the Bell series (with the exception of the College Years, which should really just be called “the College Year” since that’s how long the ill-advised show lasted), and so I’ve been watching them in order. I’ve seen every episode of Saved by the Bell at least once. The show has been in syndication for as long as I can remember. My sister and I used to watch reruns after school (along with California Dreams–WHERE IS THAT SHOW?!), and more recently, I’ve caught an episode here and there on TBS in the early morning when I’m at the gym. The show holds immense nostalgia for me, because it was such a part of my childhood and because it’s so bad it’s almost good. Watching it now, in earnest (well, mostly), and in order, has been an interesting experience.
For the uninitiated (that’s a sad thought): Saved by the Bell was a sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1993. The show centered on the fictional Bayside High School in Los Angeles, California. Troublemaker (but squeaky-clean) Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) was the star, and he and his friends A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkeley), and Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond) got themselves into all sorts of shenanigans. The show originally aired on Saturday mornings on NBC, and although it was universally panned by critics, it found a large viewing audience.
The critics weren’t wrong. The show is terrible–truly awful–with horrible writing, terrible low-budget costumes, sets, and music, and mediocre (at best) acting. The show is completely didactic, with the characters learning lessons at the end of every episode. There are continuity issues, horrifically corny jokes, and plot lines that strain credulity to a ridiculous degree.
That being said, I’ve noticed things I never saw before. Like, despite the fact that the cast features quite a bit of diversity (especially given the time), the subject of race is never brought up. There’s never any mention of alternative lifestyles. The entire cast is heterosexual (although I still question some moments between Zack and Slater, and an argument could be made for the existence of Tori in the last season, too), without question. Despite having a female champion for feminism (Jessie), the show is completely sexist. While the show tackles things like drugs, cheating, and family problems, there’s never any sexual content. In short, it’s a hot mess.
And yet, I love it. I really do. I love the crazy neon colors of the 90s clothes, I love Kelly’s huge bangs (and Zack’s, too, I guess). I love it when they make Slater do ballet (oh, god, do I love it). There are episodes that are so engrained in my pop culture lexicon that they’ll be with me forever (see: Jessie’s caffeine pill addiction; the episode where they strike oil on the football field [I am not kidding]; and the murder-mystery episode with the horrifically sexist French maid). The show is like comfort food, and revisiting it in my mid-twenties is a unique experience.
Trivia and fun facts (you know this was coming, right?):
- The show’s first incarnation was called Good Morning, Miss Bliss and starred Hayley Mills. It lasted a season before being cancelled and retooled, retaining only Gosselaar, Diamon, Voorhies, and Dennis Haskins (Mr. Belding)
- There were two made-for-TV movies: Hawaiian Style and Wedding in Las Vegas. Both were awful, and by “awful,” I mean “awesome.”
- There’s a soundtrack. I own it. Of course I do.
- Dustin Diamond, who played Screech, was three years younger than the rest of the cast. He’s also not on speaking terms with any of the others since publishing a “tell all” book a few years ago.
- Mark-Paul Gosselaar had to die his hair blond every two weeks while filming the show.
- Lark Voorhies (Lisa) and Gosselaar dated for several years during the filming of the show.
So, did you ever watch the show? What do you think?
(Expect a “Where are they now?” post soon.)