Greetings, glancers! It’s time again for another narcissistic tumble through time as I force my memories upon unsuspecting web travelers like you.
Today I remember a cult kids classic which, for a few years, was a prerequisite of weekend viewing. Saved By The Bell was a classic of its form – a bunch of kids in some picturesque US school get up to weekly comedic escapades, making viewers feel a part of the action and giving us a vicarious bunch of friends we were glad to call our own. Saved By The Bell followed (mainly) six friends as they made their way through high school, growing up through all the teenage pains and tribulations, from peer pressure to romance, to temptation, schoolwork, sex, pranks, and more in between. The show was so successful that it led to a spin-off sequel series, two movies, and a second follow-up series which lasted even longer than the original. The show made stars of its cast, and in many cases it has been one of those instances where cast member will forever be known as the character the played, no matter what later successes they moved on to.
I can’t say for sure when I first started watching Saved By The Bell and I was surprised when I saw how early the running dates were – with the series first airing from 1989 – 1993. What I do know for sure is that by the time The College Years aired I was already a big fan and watched each new episode of the College Years as they came to the UK, so presumably I watched the original from the time it was first airing. That likely explains why, even though I love it and have fond memories, I can remember so few actual episodes in their entirety. Now of course the show didn’t follow any sort of true arc and episodes therefore blend easily into one another, but I would have been younger than ten years old when I started watching.
I Don’t Like Sundays
So what did younger than ten years old me do on Sundays? I’ve always hated Sundays, with a passion. If Fridays were all about getting out of school, playing football and soldiers etc with friends, and if Saturdays were all about messing around, watching TV, going swimming, then Sundays were universally, inevitable depressing. Sundays in my house always featured some drab local radio talk show droning in the background, there was never anything good on TV until close to bed time, you were watching the minutes tick down towards school starting up again, and of course the whole day was based around waiting for Sunday School at 2 pm. That meant getting a bath or shower before hand, getting into hideous, itchy, scratchy clothes, being dragged down the road to a freezing gospel hall, and spending the next hour sitting among smelly, dim-witted, ill-behaved locals being told that I was born in sin and was going to burn in an eternal lake of fire. That was from 2 – 3 pm, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad had it been 10 – 11 so we could have had the rest of the day to look forward too. It was what it was though, and once 3pm turned around, I was out of there like Satan from Heaven, home via Page One – a local newsagent that stayed open on Sundays – where we would stop in and buys sweets. You see, if you answered questions correctly in Sunday School, you got money, so I would exchange my holy wares for whatever was most sugary and unhealthy as soon as possible – a cleansing ritual if you will. When we got home there was just enough time to catch some Italian football on Channel 4 before Sunday dinner was prepared. If we were lucky, some decent movie would be on before bed, or at the very least I could play with my toys in solitude before catching a You’ve Been Framed before lying down and preparing for another week of education.
I’ve always commented on how my hatred of Sundays is intertwined with my hatred of Sunday TV – one didn’t cause the other, but like the serpent eating its own head – they are inseparable, without beginning or end. Shows like Land Of The Giants, Wurzell Gummidge, Lost In Space, The Waltons, those filled me with existential dread at an age when I didn’t know why I should hate such things. If someone told 8-year-old me that there was this show with talking scarecrows, or where people were trapped a million miles from home or were shrunk down to the size of crumbs, then I would have thought ‘amazing, sign me up’, but when I actually saw them on a Sunday, or knew they were coming on, I felt sick to my stomach. Even now the mere mention of these things depresses me. While for many years Saturday and Sunday morning kids TV wasn’t actually all that different, with Motormouth being shown on ITV on both days, Saturdays still had the far superior shows (and Saturdays also had something like Going Live or The Wide Awake Club too). You knew that Sundays would be made up of cheap knock off Disney shows sandwiched between political, topical, or religious debate, and if you dared flick over to BBC 2 you’d hit Ski Sunday or Songs Of Praise. At some point though, Channel 4 got its shit together and began showing decent TV, with Saved By The Bell right up there being the show everyone wanted to watch. Ironically, I can’t remember talking about the show with anyone aside from my brother, and it wasn’t until I moved out of Primary school (and The College Years started) that I found anyone else who watched it and was willing to talk about it. For a brief time there was something worth looking forward to on Sundays, the glossy, pastel-tinged perfection of California where everyone was beautiful, and school actually looked like fun.
The show was born out of an earlier Disney experiment – Good Morning, Miss Bliss which featured Hayley Mills along with students Zach Morris, Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers, and Lisa Turtle, as well as Mr Belding. It wasn’t a success and a bunch of the characters were moved over to a new show which wanted to focus on the students and their school life. Joining Zach, Lisa, and Screech were Zach’s friend Jesse, love interest Kelly, and exchange student A.C Slater. Zach is your typical popular prankster, an intelligent slacker who enjoys scheming and messing around rather than actually studying and working. He’s head over heels in love with Kelly, the school’s perfect girl – charming, beautiful, popular, athletic, clever, but for much of the first season they are involved in a love triangle with Slater, the tough jock who eventually becomes Zach’s best friend. Slater has a relationship with Jesse, an interesting dynamic as Jesse is the opinionated freedom fighter of the group, fighting for various causes over the course of the series, none more so prevalent as feminism. Slater is the chauvinist of the group creating lots of funny sparring between the two. Adding some zany humour to the group is Screech, the slightly unhinged one, the nerd and weak otherwise loser who nevertheless is somehow part of the group and he has an unrequited love for Lisa, the fashion and gossip icon of the school. Add to the mix Mr Belding, the weary headmaster of the group, often a foil for the shenanigans, but someone who occasionally takes part in them, and you have the most famous group of school kids to ever set foot on TV.
The show was of course filled with various forms of humour – slapstick, plot jokes, running gags, topical humour, but it also frequently broke the 4th wall. Any time something needed further explanation, or if Zach had a particularly strong idea he would shout ‘Time Out’ and essentially stop time so that he could speak to the audience. This sort of humour was not usual on Kids TV, and when merged with the likable characters and situations that kids could relate to, the show was a massive hit. It wasn’t all about the humour, as little by little we grew to know the characters, growing up with them and watching as they prepared to graduate. Bayside school became a second home as we watched the character meet by their lockers, while The Max – a little diner/cafe where they would meet after school was a pretty cool hangout the likes of which I always wanted as a kid. It was better than meeting at a friend’s house, a random street corner, or a field like what I had. To have a place with food, warmth, music, where all the kids cool and otherwise could gather together seemed like another world. Even though the show did deal with ‘issues’ it was rare to have a full-blown serious episode – Jesse’s addiction is the only famous example I can think of. But it did cover every other facet of adolescence, from being self-conscious over your height, weight, hair, skin, fashion, from dealing with infidelity, jealousy, pressure of being a star student, of being a sportsman, how to get a girlfriend/boyfriend, dating, studying, etc etc. Every week you knew the gang would get into some sort of scrape, and that there would be plenty of laughs watching them get out of it. The same basic format followed into The College Years, with some cast members dropping, and some staying on, but I’ll always be thankful that even though the series was cancelled, we got to see a happy ending in the Las Vegas movie.
Copy And Paste
The show was so popular that it could be said to almost single-handedly have put an end to Saturday Morning cartoons. Live action was suddenly all the rage, and a whole raft of imitators were put into production – California Dreams, Hangin With Mr Cooper, Hang Time, Sister Sister, USA High, Boy Meets World, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air etc all had something to owe Saved By The Bell. Naturally those shows varied in quality, with some taking on a life of their own and becoming important in their own right, and others simply being a copy and paste into a slightly different school or situation. I did watch them, as they tended to be a direct Sunday Morning replacement when Saved By The Bell ended, and while they were usually funny and distracting enough, they lacked the iconic characters.
Since the show ended, Mr Jimmy Fallon has managed to pull the cast(or most of them) together at two different times for a couple of amusing skits where they performed their old roles once again – you can catch these online and they’re pretty good fun. Aside from these, what else have the guys been up to? Mark Paul Gosselaar appeared in a variety of cancelled shows and bit parts and small movies before getting better roles in well received shows such as Franklin and Bash, Commander In Chief, and Raising The Bar. Tiffani Thiessen stepped from one juggernaut directly into another, joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 for four years before hitting a slump and eventually returning in the likes of Fast Lane, White Collar, and Jake And The Neverland Pirates. Dustin Diamond stayed with the show which made him famous, returning for The New Class before embarking on various other endeavours including celeb reality shows, wrestling promotions, as well as playing himself in various series. After various straight to TV movies and appearances as himself, Mario Lopez has made a name for himself as a TV host in his own right, hosting the likes of America’s Best Dance Crew, and The X Factor. Elizabeth Berkley aimed for movie stardom, hitting the limelight infamously in Showgirls and although time has reevaluated that film in a more positive light, Berkley has since garnered praise for theatre and TV work and appeared in works such as Any Given Sunday, The First Wives Club, and Step It Up And Dance. Lark Voorhies has had recurring performances in The Bold And The Beautiful, as well as In The House and a number of small movies, while Dennis Haskins has popped up in a bunch of minor movies and TV series.
And yet, for all the work that the cast have went on to they will always be Baysiders to me – something to look forward to on the day that I dreaded, something to enjoy before the routine of homework and church and knowing the school week was about to begin again, so eternal thanks from me to thee. What are your memories of Saved By The Bell? Were you a fan or were you one of those strange kids who didn’t watch it? Who was your favourite character, and which of the copy and paste shows did you also watch. Let us know in the comments!