Plot: When California governor Zack Morris gets into hot water for closing too many underfunded high schools, he proposes they send the affected students to the most well-funded schools in the state – including Bayside High. The influx of new students gives the privileged Bayside kids (who never have a problem that can’t be solved in twenty-two minutes) a much-needed dose of reality.
Review: If you were a teenager in the mid-1990s, odds are you have a history with Saved By The Bell. Broadcast on Saturday mornings, Saved By The Bell is a relic of a different era and maintained a wholesome if formulaic charm thanks to the roles played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond, Lark Voorhies, Dennis Haskins, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, and Mario Lopez. And because everything old must be resurrected in this era of streaming TV, Peacock has brought the series back with many of the original cast reprising their roles. While my expectations were low, I could not have expected just how bad this revival was going to be. The new Saved By The Bell is a series that has no idea who its target audience is nor does it offer any shred of nostalgia. This is one of the worst shows of 2020.
From the very first scene, Saved By The Bell presents itself as a surreal comedy that is not grounded in reality. Zach Morris is now governor of California after running for office after trying to lie his way out of a parking ticket. His entire platform is a joke and presents Zach as far more of a ditzy idiot than he ever was on the original series. On a fluke, he decides to allow students from underfunded schools to attend highly-funded schools. This is how former Douglas High students Daisy, Aisha, and Devante end up at Bayside. Almost immediately, we learn that Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) is the fourth-wall-breaking equivalent of Zach but instead of a troublemaker she is an overachieving candidate for class president. Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) is an athlete and Devante (Dexter Darden) has a bad boy cred that hides some interesting talents. All three of them are far more interesting characters than they deserve to be and the polar opposite of what is waiting at Bayside.
Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog), son of Zach and Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), is exactly like his dad while Jesse Spano’s (Elizabeth Berkeley) son Jamie (Belmont Cameli) is a dumb jock reminiscent of Slater (Mario Lopez). There is also Lexi (Josie Totah), a transgender cheerleader and Mac’s best frenemy. Gone is Mr. Belding who is replaced by John Michael Higgins as Principal Toddman while Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkeley reprise their roles and work as teachers at the school. Familiar settings like Bayside and The Max look odd as fully realized buildings rather than standard sitcom sets. Everything is oddly familiar and yet very different. Where the original series fit the standard 1990s sitcom format, the new Saved By The Bell is reminiscent of THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE where the titular clan existed as a bizarre anomaly within the real world. Here, Bayside and it’s denizens follow the 1990s sitcom rules while the Douglas students come from the “real” world and notice the oddness that their new school holds.
In essence, this new Saved By The Bell seems to want to be a satire of itself. There is a recurring joke about the age of the senior students that pokes fun at the age of the actors on the original series. There is also a running gag about the wealth that populates Bayside which is in stark contrast to the Douglas students who embody the “urban” stereotype. There are even repeated references to storylines from the original Saved By The Bell such as prank wars, competition for dates, school dances and stunts pulled off by students on their unsuspecting principal. But, while the series could have kept things in gear to mock these elements, many of the episodes spend more time with Daisy, Aisha, and Devante as they experience actual high school issues. These plots play out like a traditional high school series and give this show the feel of a generic take on Glee.
The biggest problem with Saved By The Bell is that it has no idea if it wants to be for fans of the original series, now in their late 30s and 40s. The scenes with Mario Lopez are some highlights as he has gone from one of the coolest kids at school to a shell of his former self. Now the Bayside football coach and gym teacher, the episodes made available for review repeatedly show him as a lonely bachelor who yearns for the glory days of high school. Lopez appears more frequently than any other cast followed by Elizabeth Berkeley. Gosselaar and Thiessen amount to cameos as does Lark Voorhees. Because this show spends so much time with the younger cast, it feels odd being an adult watching a show for teens. But even trying to appreciate the series from that vantage point, gone are the wholesome Saturday morning jokes which are replaced with dick jokes and constant references to students as bitches.
I know I should have gone into Saved By The Bell with low expectations but I couldn’t help it. The nostalgia is mined here purely to try and garner ratings from fans of the show tuning in for a revisit with these characters but you are better off watching Jimmy Fallon’s reunion sketch from a few years ago on YouTube. This new Saved By The Bell is poorly written and wastes a decent cast on a weak premise that just doesn’t know what it wants to do. Every actor feels like they auditioned for different series, some as spoofs and others as sincere characters. This is a waste of time that somehow makes a thirty-minute running time feel far too long. I was so excited for this show and now I am so scared.
Saved By The Bell premieres on November 25th on Peacock.