I’ve never hated a show so fast in my life. And then liked it.
Saved By The Bell has received a reboot because one thing we’ve learned about the world of creatively bankrupt Hollywood is that there is no low to which they will not reach for content. It’s been twenty six years since Saved By The Bell went off the air because despite your nay saying the 90’s were not ten years ago. Since then everyone has grown up, Dustin Diamond became the Big Brother contestant everyone knew his career was destined for, and Zack Morris was shot in a Thruway Cinnabon.
In the present world of Bayside, noted sex offender, scalper, drunk driver, blackmailer, forger, distributor of lewd images of underage girls, and all around guy whose life should have led him to being murdered in a Santa Ana strip club, Zack Morris has inexplicably become Governor of California as part of a plot to avoid paying a parking ticket. Because Zack is still the self-serving yet incompetent scumbag he was in High School, he causes an economic downturn and balances the budget by cutting $10 billion from certain schools. Spoilers; those schools don’t have many rich white kids. The schools shut down as a result, bringing much of the student population to Bayside High.
Saved By The Bell follows Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) and Devante (Dexter Darden) as they navigate Bayside High and its privileged world. Daisy’s job is to look at the camera and with a “can you believe this bitch” expression whenever the white characters say something stupid. Her other job is to sideline the show’s attempts at going back to the old sitcom structure. Aisha is a competition-focused strong young black girl who powers her way onto the football team while Devante who the first episode partially sets up to be a football player joins the drama club.
Also on the docket is Lexi (Josie Totah), transgender cheerleader and most popular girl at school. Lexi has a documentary on E! within the show’s universe about her transition and being accepted by her fellow students and that’s how we learn most of her backstory. Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog) is definitely Zack’s son in today’s world. It’s eerily disturbing how well Hoog plays the part. And then there’s Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli) who is the manchild and borderline special ed captain of the football team.
Mario Lopez, Slater, is back as a slightly more successful Al Bundy who returns to Bayside High to become the football coach and reminisce on the time when he was also good at football. Elizabeth Berkley, Jessie, is now the councilor who has to try to relate to kids living lives she couldn’t possibly imagine relating to. Selenis Leyva plays Daisy’s mom because she is every Hispanic teenager’s mom in television now. I love Selenis, she’s great in everything. If she was my mom and Ken Marino was my dad life would be awesome.
This version of Saved By The Bell feels like someone hired Funny or Die’s Zack Morris is Trash writer to make the new show. The senior students are depicted as men in their fifties and sixties as a joke on using older actors, and characters directly reference dated television tropes. Lexi and Mac run the sitcom trope to an 11 by collaborating on the kind of schemes that the old show used to pull off like the first episode where both are competing for class president because they want a closer parking space.
Lexi is adorable and a little reminiscent of Jennette Mccurdy’s Sam Puckett on iCarly. Mac is less of a piece of shit than his father. Daisy constantly reminds him that the effort he puts into avoiding work far exceeds that needed to do the actual work, a commentary on Zack Morris from the original show. Lexi is actually more evil than Mac is with their schemes although she still has a conscious.
Most importantly Mark-Paul Gosselaar barely shows up at all. The prick.
The first episode of the show is a horrible portrayal of the characters but they do get more relatable as the season goes on. There’s a huge element of racism in the show as the parents of the Bayside white students do everything they can to target the poorer minority students. There’s another cabal of parents who form a committee literally called PITY who are racist but in a more well-intended condescending way.
This version of Saved By The Bell is more apt to actually tackle issues than its predecessor. The 90’s show wrapped everything up in a tight bow. A student could be addicted to drugs one second and it would all be fixed by the time the credits ran. You also got ridiculous stories like Screech becoming the face of Zack’s spaghetti sauce business using stolen school property.
In an episode Devante is nearly expelled after he pushes another student whose racist mother turns the encounter into an attempted murder. Although he comes out on top the characters acknowledge that this isn’t the last time students like Devante will be targeted.
Saved By The Bell brings two worlds together in a high speed collision; the sitcom world where everything is wrapped up in a half hour and the main characters never quite face consequences for their antics, and the real world where you can’t fix things like systemic racism or drug addiction with a cheesy soundtrack and hugging.
The showrunners have managed to create something that is self-aware without insulting the original program, that gives lessons without being condescending, and reboots a series in a way that doesn’t feel cheap, lazy, or in name only. Unlike many modern reboots they also didn’t go the route of making this dark and gritty. It forges a new path without relying on cheap nostalgia like Fuller House.
Hopefully it gets a second season.