Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Saved by the Bell

If we've learned anything from being raised by TV, it should be that continuity errors are a basic part of life. Whenever a location, plot point, or character gets tiresome, simply replace them without explanation or any nod to their past existence. Whether or not these things actually happened is unimportant. The important thing is to never mention them. Ever.

Saved by the Bell was famous for its arrant disregard for continuity, changing settings and weaving in new characters whenever convenient. They simply made them disappear, never to be mentioned again. Bored with your show's bland suburban Indianapolis backdrop? Move to Palisades! Tired of your show's major characters? Replace them with newer, more attractive actors! Two cast members want to leave the show before it runs its course? Replace them and later reintegrate them, never mentioning either their absence or the new best friend you briefly had during their leave. It's pretty much a perfect system.

While other shows may have prided themselves on meticulous attention to detail, Saved by the Bell got away with changing the rules over and over again. It didn't seem to matter much to its frenetic young fan base. For one, the show was marketed toward children, allowing producers to operate under the assumption that kids don't notice when their beloved favorite character is mysteriously sliced out of the picture. More importantly, though, the show was a fantasy. It wasn't meant to be reality. It was meant to entertain and allegedly educate on the importance of partaking in good clean fun, and those aims took precedence over any semblance of sense.

The original incarnation Good Morning Miss Bliss premiered in 1988. Watching this horribly cheesy introduction, it's amazing this even got picked up for one season. The opening is seemingly more focused on the adult characters than our lovable middle school miscreants, and that music is truly terrible in a late 80s slow melodic jams sort of way. It had potential, sure, but it didn't exactly seem poised for great success.

It's also entirely possible there were just too many quirky curly-haired players in the original; we wanted to see some beautiful people, dammit.

So what's a network to do? If your response is to completely change the premise, back stories, location, and characters, then congratulations. You're on your way up on the ruthless cheap-ploy television executive track. Kudos to you. You'll receive your certificate of achievement in 3-5 business days.

NBC repackaged the original show into a new Saturday morning series they called Saved by the Bell. They brought in Tiffani Amber Theissen, Elizabeth Berkley, and Mario Lopez to round out their all-American crew, switched the setting to Palisades, California, and pretended that most of them had been friends since birth.

The show became wildly popular, quickly developing a substantial young following. It didn't seem to matter that critics tore the show apart. Entertainment Weekly described it as "featur[ing] stiff acting, cheap sets, and plots that seem lifted from Happy Days reruns." It didn't seem to help that the show was both morally conscious and outstandingly superficial at the same time. Despite the poor critical receptions, kids ate this up. They adored it. They couldn't get enough.

The show also frequently broke the Fourth Wall, with Zach talking directly into the camera and occasionally and inexplicably relying on the power to freeze the surrounding action. It was cheesy, sure, but Zach was admittedly charming. It's tough to find a girl who grew up in the 90s that never had a flicker of a Zach Morris crush. It was pretty much inevitable.

Our show featured an assortment of two-dimensional characters:

Zach Morris (Mark Paul Gosselaar) is an endearing slacker, a twinkling-eyed schemer always seeking to cheat the system. He's a good kid overall, following the TV trope of lovable mischief maker. He gets himself into his fair share of jams, sure, but he never stretches his rule-breaking so far so as to constitute actual trouble-making. Plus, he had that hair. Have you seen that hair? Sigh.

Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) is a gossip queen and shopping addict extraordinaire. She comes from a wealthy family (both her parents are doctors) and is constantly getting herself into shopping related jams in between dodging unwanted advances from Screech.

Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) is a feminist overachiever who is borderline obsessive about her grades. She's somewhat of a do-gooder, but more often she's a prima donna perfectionist with a penchant for caffeine pills. Okay, so that only happened in one episode, but I still see it as major character development. I mean, she was so excited. She was so excited. She was so scared.

Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Theissen) Kelly was the All-American good girl, a cheerleader whose good looks win her an outpouring of male attention. She wasn't the smartest girl in the bunch, but she was sweet and we were supposed to feel sorry for her because she was sort of poor.

Albert Clifford "AC" Slater (Mario Lopez) is a tough-talking jock who disparagingly refers to Zach as "Preppy". The two are often rivals but eventually form a solid friendship. Slater is a wrestler and a pretty impressive dancer, though I wouldn't comment on it while he's looking all bad-ass in that bomber jacket. Though Mario Lopez is obviously Mexican, his family is mysteriously not and it's left pretty much unexplained until we get to the college years and they give us some halfhearted explanation for it. Thanks, guys.

Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond) is our well-meaning nerd, a geek who somehow managed to kick it with the cool kids. He has an intense unrequited love for Lisa, feelings that are for obvious reasons not reciprocated. He's generally smart but quirky. It's tough to watch him now and separate Diamond from the tool he's become, but back in the day he used to be pretty endearing.

Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins) was an oddly meddling principal who played a major role in the daily lives of our main characters. He never seemed to interact with any other students because they were all pretty much part of the scenery, so I'll assume he took a special interest in our heroes and focused his entire career on dealing with their antics and encouraging their potential.

The show played stereotypes way over the top, with dumb rocks-for-brains jocks and pocket-protector sporting nerds at every turn. They also threw in a "message" or two for good measure, reminding us that it's not good to drink and drive or that setting up a secret video-dating service using the school's virtual yearbook equipment is wrong. I know I learned a valuable lesson from that last one. I started all my video dating services out in the open, thank you very much.

Chuck Klosterman describes the last season's odd character swap best when he examines what he calls the "Tori Paradox". All of a sudden Kelly and Jessie have disappeared and no one says a word about their absence. Instead, we get the tomboy, leather jacket-wearing Tori character who mysteriously swoops in and immediately becomes a part of the gang. Just as quickly as she'd appeared, she was gone without a trace and Jessie and Kelly were back as if nothing had happened. No one said anything about it, so we were just supposed to assume everything was fine and we shouldn't question it.

There were later more continuity errors to be had when we rejoined part of the gang for Saved by the Bell: The College Years, but that's a post for another time. NBC further milked the franchise by creating a spin-off Saved by the Bell: The New Class. There was no integrity to it, just pure money making. I mean, honestly, I owned Saved by the Bell Zackberry scented shampoo. Zackberry! You try to tell me that's not squeezing the franchise for all it's worth.

Of course, the big news today is of the purported SBtB reunion, reported in People magazine.

Over the summer, Zach--er, excuse me, Mark Paul, appeared in full Zach Morris garb and gave an in-character interview with Jimmy Fallon, complete with giant cell phone and fourth wall breakage:

Of course, don't expect to see Dustin Diamond in any reunion hype. He recently released a tell-all book alleging the gang was not quite as squeaky-clean as their on-air image. I resent that, of course. I'm almost certain they scrubbed diligently with Zackberry-scented toiletry products.


Sunshinemeg said...

Haha, great post! Gosh this show was amazing. Every episode sucked me right in. I still love the theme song... = )

CTB said...

Awesome post! I think everything our generation knows was learned from Saved By The Bell.

Brandi said...

This is still my favorite show. I have all the season on DVD.

Cee said...

The morning show I listen to on my way to work interviewed Dustin Diamond the other day. They ended up hanging up on him. It was pretty hilarious.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

I still watch the re-runs. It really is horrible but i love it so!

Amy said...

Favorite Show EVER!! I even get excited when I turn on the channel and they are rerunning an episode or showin the Saved By the Bell movies. So great!!!


Melissa said...

I love the cheesy fabulousness that is Saved By the Bell. My brother and I used to watch it every morning before school!

Lauren Kelly said...

These reruns will never get old for me!!!!!!! :) :)

Andy said...

As you know, I consider myself a SBTB buff. I think you did a thorough job, so congrats.

Funny how Kelly was supposed to be poor, but she could constantly spend money buying food at the Max.

Freck said...

Reunion?! Hooray!!!!

TBF is a massive Saved By The Bell fan.

Love this post!!

Scientific Housewife said...

Had to be my favorite show of my youth, I have seen every episode numerous times thanks to syndication.

Being Pramoda... said...


the very first thing that i loved abt this post is the way u have taken interest in this and explored the characters ,,

simply loved ur dedication on top of everything..:) Keep it up ..

Ali said...

Love this show, hate Screech. Well, not him...the guy who plays him, Dustin Diamond. What a tool, with his tell-all book. Um, sir? Afraid you can't write a tell-all book after having a sex tape...a bit hypocritical! Hahaha.

Carol said...

I loved it when they went to Hawaii, and of course the Saved By The Bell wedding!

Queen Mama said...

First, thanks for stopping by my blog. Secondly, I LOVED Saved By The Bell. I would LOOOOOOVE for a reunion show.

I watched it ALL the time. And even re-runs in the morning before school, ha!

I agree with your post and I will be "hanging" around here for a while.

Thanks :)

Melanie said...

Two things:

1. In high school, some of our classmates borrowed the academic bowl buzzers and held their own version using only SBTB trivia. I was the moderator. It was awesome.

2. A different girl from my high school is out in CA and always has Facebook pics of her hanging out with Mr. Belding. They're apparently pretty good friends now. So random!

Andhari said...

This was, hands down , one of my favorite shows ;)

Melanie's Randomness said...

I'll admit I watched an episode this morning. hehe. I sleep with the TV on sometimes so when I wake up it's on TBS. =). It was the Zit Cream one this morning where everyone's face turned brown. haha. This show was one of my all-time favs. Slater is actually on Nip Tuck now & it's sooo weird!!

Kris said...

great post! I just loved Mark as Zach on Jimmy Fallon a few months ago. Genius!

Hanako66 said...

man I loved this show

Lauri said...

I can't believe in the original intro Dustin is listed ahead of Mark. I know its alphabetical, but seriously, look at the guys! I'm a child of the '80s/teen of the '90s. Every day after high school, my best friend and I would talk on the phone about our days and watch it.

Opanga-Tay said...

I loved SBTB - still do! It's a classic, that's for sure.

I highly recommend this site for anyone who enjoys SBTB snark:

It doesn't get updated, but the archives are more than enough to hold you over. It's sooo funny!

Also, that is one freaky picture of Dustin Diamond. I was never really a Screech fan, and I especially don't like him since Dustin Diamond is such a loser on so many levels.

Did you seriously have Zackberry shampoo? *is jealolus*

Emily Cato said...

Darn you Dustin, it's not the same without you there, but wow, this brought back so many memories! I love this post, and I loved saved by the bell! :)

Katie said...

Still one of my all time favorite shows, I watch it EVERY time it's on television!

Melissa Blake said...

Best. Post. Ever. I loooooved SBTB and still watch the re-runs!

Lil' Woman said...

I still watch the re-runs, good show! :)

Moonjava said...

I loved this show...or maybe the more accurate this is that I thought zack was cute!

Tina said...

For those of you who love Saved by the Bell, have no fear, new quality episodes are out there on
Here is an example: Enjoy
Lisa Turtle, a beautiful African-American teen, loved good looking boys and expensive clothing, but she herself was not sure as to which one she preferred most. She was easily the wealthiest of all of her friends in Bayside High, but sometimes she did not feel as though she was reaping the rewards of her good fortune. It was Sunday afternoon, and all of her friends, although poorer than she, were at the beach soaking up some rays and drinking colas, while she was stuck in the hospital emptying foul smelling bedpans and handing out magazines.

Lisa did not do this volunteer work out of any great sense of compassion, nor out of any need to feel that she was giving back to the community. Her parents’ enthusiasm for that deftly made up for any lacking of hers in that department. How often they would grind in her ear about how fortunate they were, and how they should look for ways to help out the community that had been so good to them. It seemed to Lisa that they were feeling a little bit guilty about being relatively well-off. It is true that both of her parents had dreamed of becoming doctors when they grew up so that they could do some good in this world. It wasn’t their fault that the price of that dream was to be plagued with a pretty nifty income; every job has its pluses and minuses, after all. Lisa was all too familiar with their win-win lecture about how assisting in the hospital would not only be of benefit to others, but how valuable it would also be in mitigating her thoroughly selfish tendencies. In any case, from where she was standing, they were the surgeons getting all the praise and the glory, while she was merely Ms. Anonymous doing all the giving back for the family. One thing was for sure, Lisa felt that she was far too young to have benefitted so much from the world that it was already her time to have to pay back.

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