Saved by the Bell was, for better or worse, an important part of my childhood. To say I watched it a lot during my pre-teens would be an understatement. Thanks to its original network that aired on Saturday mornings in endless reruns on cable and local channels, I could easily burn three to four episodes a day – hungry for more antics from Zack Morris and his gang.
The show exploded in popularity thanks to a potent mix of cheesy comedies, dramas and intrigue that stood out from the usual Saturday morning cartoon fare. And I couldn’t get enough.
So I was intrigued when the streaming service Peacock announced a new incarnation, which picks up the ’90s TV show and quickly advances to a new 2020 setting, with a new cast of students mixed in with a handful of the OG distribution.
Then I looked at the pilot.
The first episode of the new Saved by the Bell, which premierestoday is so terrible that it made me rethink why I even enjoyed the original show.
Any nostalgic goodwill that comes from Zack, Kelly Kapowski, AC Slater, or Jesse Spano back in action fades almost immediately thanks to stilted acting and a stiff, awkward storyline. The new show is a mix of broad and stereotypical characters, a predictable plot, and a sitcom feel that feels sorely tired and dated.
I’m not trying to put the original Saved By the Bell on a pedestal – it clearly wasn’t Sopranos. It was a show designed for kids that shared its Saturday mornings with Alvin and the Chipmunks and Captain N: The Game Master. Brutal acting, episodic storytelling, and a bright, colorful look were appropriate.
Which raised another key question for me: who is this new show for?
Older fans like me will get the little nods like The Max and see Zack and Kelly again, but we’re long past that Saturday morning fare. Younger audiences are going to miss out on referrals and, well, there are a ton of other better options. The Saved by the Bell brand will not contain any cache with them.
Saved by the Bell is just one of many reboots or reunion shows lit by the proliferation of streaming services hungry for recognizable properties. That’s why Fuller House got five seasons on Netflix, and why YouTube gave the green light to Cobra Kai, the contemporary Karate Kid spin-off (now a cultural sensation after moving to Netflix).
At least judging by the pilot, it’s hard for me to see Saved by the Bell repeat this success.
I should probably talk a bit about the casting and the premise. Light spoilers beyond this point:
Zack Morris, now governor of California, is forced to integrate students from inner-city schools into schools in wealthier neighborhoods, like Bayside, after slashing $ 10 billion from the education budget of the ‘State.
The move sets up the culture shock dynamic of the new Bayside, with Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) playing the lead role as an outsider alongside Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and Devante (Dexter Darden) trying to pull herself apart. fight your way through the ultra-rich Student Council. At the top of this body’s pecking order are Zack’s obnoxious son Mac (Mitchell Hoog) and popular cheerleader Lexi (Josie Totah), who fight over frivolous things like who gets the parking space. first at school.
(Zack, played, of course, by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, is just a recurring character, with Mario Lopez’s AC Slater and Elizabeth Berkley’s Jesse Spano the originals being part of the main cast.)
The new series does some things, including offering a more diverse cast and making Zack a villain, which recontextualizes a lot of his high school antics. It made me rethink some of those old episodes and realize that maybe I was looking for the wrong guy. Watch some episodes of the Funny or Die series Zack Morris is a trash can, and the original show can get downright squeaky.
Hoog offers a poor man’s take on Zack, and although this is only the first episode, many characters feel thin or cliché. Velazquez gives Daisy energy blasts, but her story seems too artificial.
While I can enjoy the new Saved By the Bell trying to crack some formulas and even attempt to subvert expectations, the awkward execution, rough play, and predictable turns made me take the time to do this show.