Saved by the Bell was, for better or worse, a seminal part of my childhood. To say I watched it a lot during my preteen years would be a massive understatement. Through its original network broadcast on Saturday mornings to endless reruns on cable and local channels, I could easily burn through three to four episodes a day — eager for more antics from Zack Morris and gang.
The show exploded in popularity thanks to a potent mix of comedy, drama and cheesy plots that stood out from the usual Saturday morning cartoon fare. And I couldn’t get enough.
So I was intrigued when streaming service Peacock announced a new incarnation, which takes the very ’90s TV show and fast forwards to a new 2020 setting, complete with a new cast of students mixed in with a handful of the OG cast.
Then I watched the pilot.
The first episode of the new Saved by the Bell, which premierestoday, is so terrible it had me rethinking why I even enjoyed the original show.
Any nostalgic goodwill that comes from seeing Zack, Kelly Kapowski, AC Slater or Jesse Spano back in action fades away almost immediately thanks to some stilted acting and a stiff, awkward script. The new show is a mix of broad, stereotypical characters, predictable plotting, and a sitcom-feel that feels sorely tired and dated.
I’m not trying to place the original Saved by the Bell on a pedestal — it was clearly no Sopranos. It was a show designed for kids that shared its Saturday mornings with Alvin and the Chipmunks and Captain N: The Game Master. Rough acting, episodic stories and a bright and colorful look was 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 seeing Zack and Kelly again, but we’ve long grown past this Saturday morning fare. Younger audiences are going to miss the references and, well, there are a ton of other better options out there. The Saved by the Bell brand isn’t going to hold any cache with them.
Saved by the Bell is just one of many reboots or reunion shows greenlit thanks to the proliferation of streaming services hungry for recognizable properties. It’s why Fuller House got five seasons on Netflix, and why YouTube gave the go-ahead to Cobra Kai, the contemporary spin-off from Karate Kid (now a cultural sensation after moving to Netflix).
At least judging from the pilot, it’s hard for me to see Saved by the Bell repeating that success.
I should probably talk a bit about the cast and the premise. Light spoilers beyond this point:
Zack Morris, now governor of California, is forced to integrate students from inner city schools to schools in wealthier neighborhoods, like Bayside, after slashing $10 billion from the state’s education budget.
This move sets up the culture clash dynamic of the new Bayside, with Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) taking the lead role as an outsider alongside Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and Devante (Dexter Darden) trying to navigate their way through the ultra-wealthy student body. Sitting atop the pecking order of that body is Zack’s obnoxious son, Mac (Mitchell Hoog), and popular cheerleader Lexi (Josie Totah), who spar over frivolous things like who gets the primo parking spot in school.
(Zack, played, of course, by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, is only a recurring character, with Mario Lopez’s A.C. Slater and Elizabeth Berkley’s Jesse Spano the originals who are part of the main cast.)
The new show does get some things right, including putting forth a more diverse cast and casting Zack as more of a villain, which recontextualizes a lot of his antics from high school. It made me rethink some of those old episodes and realize that maybe I was rooting for the wrong guy. Watch a few episodes of the Funny or Die series Zack Morris is trash, and the original show can get downright cringeworthy.
Hoog offers a poor man’s take on Zack, and while this is just the first episode, many of the characters feel thin or cliche. Velazquez gives her Daisy bursts of energy, but her story feels too contrived.
While I can appreciate the new Saved by the Bell trying to break some formulas and even attempt to subvert expectations, the clumsy execution, rough acting and predictable turns has me calling time out on this show.