A new Saved By the Bell reboot is now airing on NBC’s Peacock app. During the course of the show’s first episode, Bayside’s characters manage to sum its central theme up this way:
“Look, I always believed if you worked hard enough, anything was possible. But being here made me realize that’s only true for kids like you.”– – Daisy
“Hot kids?”– – Lexi
<rolls eyes> “No, privileged kids.”– – Daisy
Fans of the original show, which aired (basically) from 1989-1992 will remember that a central theme for the characters at Bayside was that their actions rarely had any real-world consequences. Sure, it was a kid’s show at heart, but even for the time, the lessons were paper-thin, typically boiling down to a smirky Zack Morris look at the camera and a cut to credits without any gravity or weight to it. That isn’t to say Saved By the Bell should have, at the time, been held to any high standard. It was schlocky after-school/ Saturday morning fare that was as empty as the characters’ heads.
The new Saved By the Bell appears to want to correct some of those past deficiencies while having considerably more fun along the way. The reboot plays up the same hamfisted, corny back and forth we knew from the original, though this time around it’s more tongue-in-cheek, knowing the joke is ultimately on them.
This second aspect, understanding the source of the show’s humor, was what I saw as the promise of Saved By the Bell from the reboot’s trailers. It sure did seem like series creator Tracey Wingfield would lean into this aspect, knowing the original show was unintentionally funny with the actual written jokes rarely being the reason for watching. It is the sublimely ridiculous plots and premises around Zack and company that makes it meme-worthy without it ever having been any good in its own time. There’s a not-so-quiet understanding with the reboot here, that the sins of the past will be readily mined for present-day comedy.
At the outset of the new Saved By the Bell, we quickly catch up with those from the original cast who’ve, in this world, never left Bayside. Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselear) is first on the scene when we learn that he’s now Governor of California. He got the job thanks to a scheme started to get out of a parking ticket. Zack is married to Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen) and their child Mac Morris has taken up his father’s mantle at Bayside as the resident prankster and lady’s man.
Also back on Saved By the Bell is A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) who is now the school’s football coach, still moderately and jockish-ily clueless, struggling with some feelings of inferiority around his position in the school and maybe in life. And joining him is Jesse Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), now a bestselling author and guidance counselor. Yet for all of her brains, she’s also woefully out of her element raising a teenage son, Jamie, who she seems to have infantilized along the way.
Noticeably absent from the original Saved By the Bell cast are Lark Vorhees as Lisa Turtle and Dustin Diamond as Screech Powers. The former has a role later in the season in a surprise spot. But Diamond isn’t here for the first go-around, though the show’s producers have at least left the door open for the legally-troubled former cast member.
We are introduced to Bayside in part through the eyes of three students who are new to the school. Governor Morris’s budget cuts have forced several low-income schools to close and one of them, Douglas High, is folded into Bayside. It is how we meet Daisy Jimenez (Haskiri Velazquez), a brainy and well-meaning student who instantly realizes the stark difference in haves vs. have nots when it comes to Bayside and Douglas students. She says as much more than a few times in Saved By the Bell.
There’s also Daisy’s best friend Aisha Garcia (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who has dreams of playing on the football team. And finally, the quietly reserved but confident Devontae Young (Dexter Darden), who Slater eyes as a possible fit in some athletic capacity.
The Saved By the Bell reboot uses the fish out of water situation with the Douglas students to hammer home the egotistical and morally devoid character flaws of the original cast by dialing up the same traits in the new Bayside students. Mac is self-centered to the utmost degree, openly admitting he’s only out for himself. He and his rival, the transgendered Lexi (Josiah Totah) regularly reference the famous people they know (Lebron James, the Kardashians, Tom Hanks) while also letting fly that they think even these celebrities are well below their own, unearned, station in life.
The Saved By the Bell revival starts a bit choppy with the humor, coming dangerously close to the stale laugh track of the original. But as it moves through the first episode, it picks up steam as we realize the jokes are going to come almost entirely at the Bayside originals and new kids’ expense. If the original Zack Morris was a teen heartthrob because of his good looks, devil-may-care attitude, and advanced (at the time) cell phone use, his son is a total zero for all the same reasons. In this aspect, Wingfield and company don’t hold back.
Saved By the Bell does have a story it wants to tell, one about the inequalities of life’s positions for teenagers, ones they rarely have a choice in making. But it also sets out to be strong in its approach to the school’s newcomers as they, presumably, work to enlighten the braindead trust already at Bayside. It’s an admirable effort.
The new Saved By the Bell isn’t perfect, it’s often working a bit too hard on the punchlines. Where Peacock’s other hit comedy AP Bio is unrelentingly funny from the first couple of seconds, Saved By the Bell struggles a bit to get there. But for the most part, it works. It’s a strong effort considering the source material. And I suspect it picks up steam as we get to learn more about how the original characters’ lives veered dangerously of course and how the new students bring themselves to equal standing in the school. I’m here for the results, cheesy one-liners and all.