Ah, the first episode of Saved by the Bell, the one that started it all! Before we talk about it, let’s talk about the opening for a moment.
There’s something about the opening of Saved by the Bell that I love. There’s energy behind it that wasn’t present in the Good Morning, Miss Bliss opening The lyrics are nothing to get excited about, but the tune itself makes me want to watch. It’s a tune that’ll get into your head and stay there, I swear. That’s something ’80s shows were good at that we’ve kind of lost today: catchy theme songs that create a brand for the show in and of themselves. Hell, Full House was terrible, but even it had a catchy theme. The actual graphics are simply scenes of all the cast members over top of a really cheap looking neon background; nothing to get excited about.
And, of course, we get a picture of Zack Morris that makes him look like he’s utterly pleased with himself. But, oh, that theme! It’s addicting! In fact, I’ll probably be humming it for the rest of the day. But it’s alright…damn you, whoever wrote this song!
So recapping this episode is going to be a little difficult in that this wasn’t the first episode produced. No, NBC decided fuck all with establishing continuity and characterization and just started with a random episode that assumes we already know everything there is to know about the characters. In fact, we won’t be seeing the pilot episode of Saved by the Bell for another fourteen episodes. Why NBC decided to do this I’ll never understand. It’s something networks occasionally do, but the only other times I can think of it being done are CBS with Star Trek and Fox with Firefly. As a new viewer, I find it utterly confounding to watch the first episode of a show and be expected to know everything about it.
I debated on how I would handle this situation. It could be amusing to pretend that I’m a new viewer and know jack about this show except what they’re telling me, but then I wouldn’t even have characters’ names to refer to. So, instead, I’m going to pretend like the episode actually introduces these people and explains who they are.
We open on The Max, which will serve as a major hangout for the teens throughout the show, and its owner, Max (Ed Alonzo). Oh what a clever pun the writers did there! Max comes down and unplugs the juke box, receiving jeers from his dancing patrons. But don’t you worry! He says he received a telegram!
This episode was filmed in 1989. I know e-mail wasn’t around for most people yet, but were people really still sending telegrams? I can’t ever remember even seeing a telegram when I was a kid. But here we see the major problem with the character of Max. Even though he’s a main character, it seems like the producers only hired him to do random magic tricks on the show. Now don’t get me wrong: Ed Alonzo is a very talented magician. I just wish they had given him more to do than random tricks. He could have been a great balance to Mr. Belding. But I have to hand it to him: he actually does a pretty good Casey Kasem impersonation.
Max tells the room that Casey Kasem is coming to town to film an episode of his show Dance Party, which, if it really existed, I can’t find anything about. I thought that might explain the out of order airing, but no such luck. He’s going to have a dance contest for the students at Bayside High School, our other primary setting in Los Angeles. Immediately, our main characters want to enter. Zack Morris and his rivaathletic beefy muscle man A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) both want beautiful and talented Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen), whom they both want to fuck, as a partner. There’s some jive going on, and they finally agree to a dance off to see who will fuck Kelly.
Of course, Screech still wants to fuck Lisa, a trait brought over from Good Morning, Miss Bliss, but she tells him to go fuck himself. Some random guy named Danny wants to fuck Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), but, after being initially excited, she tells him that she doesn’t believe in dance contests. And I wish I was kidding about the fucking part. When Jessie turns Danny down for the dancing, he actually suggests they just kiss all night instead. Zack Morris seems to like this, as, in his very first breaking the fourth wall monologue, says Danny might have the right idea.
Get used to these monologues. They’re going to become a staple of the show for the power of exposition and, if I remember correctly, they’re almost always, if not always, done by Zack Morris.
We have a random scene in the girl’s locker room where the only purpose served seems to be to establish that Jessie doesn’t like that she’s tall and freaks out on a scale. Then we have a random scene in band class with a giant, really long throw-away gag about how the teens play like shit when the band teacher is in the room but then start playing amazingly when he leaves the room. Little shits. And the band teacher, of course, is completely oblivious. There’s lots of stupid and painful puns on classical music. We have what’s obviously a pink balloon coming out of Zack Morris’s tuba, but the crazy band teacher calls it chewing gum. The only real purpose of the scene seems to be to establish that Jessie is a really good dancer and that Zack Morris seems to be avoiding dancing for everyone.
This scene is painful to watch. It’s really a bad scene that adds nothing to the rest of the episode and it’s hard to even make fun of it. Of course, we’ll never see the band teacher again despite setting up this gag. But fun fact: the guy playing the band teacher, Hamilton Camp, was a prolific voice actor and played, among other roles, Greedy Smurf and Harmony Smurf on The Smurfs and Gizmoduck on DuckTales. It can’t be a coincidence that he’s in an episode with Casey Kasem.
Our next scene shows Zack Morris in Jessie’s room. He confesses to her that he can’t dance, telling her he just didn’t want Slater to win the contest with Kelly, so he said he could dance so he could cock block Slater. He begs Jessie to teach him to dance. But we don’t get to see that yet. Instead, we have a commercial break.
And our first scene with Mr. Belding, who’s in his office when he has a mysterious knock at the door. Who else could it be but Casey Kasem in the flesh. Poor Casey. He looks like he’s in so much mental anguish during his scenes. The man who once did the voice of Shaggy is now reduced to stupid gags with Mr. Belding. Turns out all Casey wants is a school banner to hang at The Max during the dance off. Of course, Mr. Belding has to try and insert himself into the contest by demonstrating his best Chubby Checkers dance moves. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. He actually tries to do an impersonation of Chubby Checkers.
Back in the hallway, Screech comes down the stairs dancing with a doll and tells Lisa this could be her. It makes a lot of sense as I’m sure he’s fucking that doll.
We cut back to Jessie’s house and see her teaching Zack Morris to dance. For a guy who couldn’t even dance yesterday, he sure is doing pretty good thanks to the magic of choreographers and unlikely plot devices.Jessie pours her heart out to Zack Morris, telling him that she doesn’t want to enter the dance contest because she’s taller than all the boys. Come on, you’re barely taller than Zack Morris! And lots of guys are into tall girls! Suck it up, Jessie!
But no, instead, we get a daydream montage with Jessie where she’s growing taller and taller every time someone asks her to dance. And the first kid we see is obviously a bit younger than her, probably in junior high school.Our next scene shows Slater and Screech in the locker room wearing very short ’80s style shorts. And the boy’s locker room looks just like the girl’s locker room, which makes me think that they’re waiting in there to pounce on Kelly and Lisa and fuck them. Or it may just be the set designers were lazy and only built one set for both locker rooms. You decide. Anyway, Screech is obsessing over Lisa and Slater tries to comfort him and pushes him away when another student enters the room. And we have established a very weird relationship with Screech and the rest of the characters: all his friends seem to want to be his secret friends, despite the fact that he’s always around them so there is no secret to keep.
Zack Morris knocks on Jessie’s bedroom door. Man, this show goes through a lot of days. Does this mean that this episode has already taken place over the course of three days? Jessie seems to be surprised to see him at her door, saying it’s the first time Zack Morris has come in through her door and not the window. Well that’s…creepy. They have their final dance lesson, and, somehow, Zack Morris has become a good dancer in three days. Or as good as you can get on Saved by the Bell.
Back at school, Lisa has sprained her ankle after she kicked the television set, angry because she found out from a commercial that they discontinued her nail polish. Nothing about this makes sense. First, if you kick a television, you’re going to break your toes or your foot. Second, commercials generally advertise products that are available, not products that have been discontinued. Although that could be fun: air a commercial for a product and then say, “Ha ha! You can’t have it! It’s been discontinued!”
But let’s just roll with the Lisa sprained her ankle thing. It means that she might not be able to be in the dance contest. At that precise moment, her dance partner comes up and says he can’t dance with her because he wants to win. Lisa gets all butt hurt and Zack Morris, Slater and Screech threaten the guy, but, let’s face it: it is a dance contest and if Lisa’s not even planning on dancing, why is she so pissed? Oh, Lisa, it looks like you’re the one looking for a good fucking this time but all you got is a guy who wants to dance.
Kelly wants to have the dance off right there in the hallway, but Zack Morris tells her to just go with Slater, that he wants to go with Jessie. These early episodes really make it seem like Zack Morris might want to fuck Jessie, but, alas, we’ll never get to see that.
So, for the final scene, we’re at The Max for the dance contest. Max introduces Casey Kasem, Mr. Belding tries to insert himself again, and our contest begins, except we skip directly to the three finalists, and who else could it be? And, I have to say: The Max seems to be headquarters for ridiculous costumes tonight. Max is wearing a ridiculous hat.
Zack Morris and Jessie are dressed in the worst attempt to create “preppie” looking sweaters I’ve ever seen.And, of course, our third couple is Danny and Mr. Belding. Of course it’s fucking not. Lisa decided to go with Screech after all and, for once, they’re the most relatively normal looking couple there, despite Screech’s shorts.
I really don’t get the costume thing. Screech and Lisa aren’t dressed up, and none of the extras in the background, including Danny and Lisa’s original date, are dressed up, so why did our “heroes” feel the need to dress up? Is it Halloween or something?
Anyway, the judging, which seems to be based on Max’s arbitrary interpretation of the applause from the audience, says that Screech and Lisa, with their ridiculous looking hop on one foot dance they call “the Sprain,” win the contest. We know who Screech had to fuck to win this contest, although, as desperate as he wants to fuck Lisa, I could actually see him trying that. The episode ends with Casey Kasem encouraging the audience to all do the Sprain. And I think I can almost see Casey Kasem’s dignity dying.
Poor Casey Kasem. It’s not the last time we’ll be seeing him on this show.
As a filler episode, “Dancing to the Max” is pretty typical for early Saved by the Bell. You have a basic problem, the characters struggling to solve it, and an entirely predictable (and ridiculous) conclusion. There’s nothing special about this episode, which may be why they choose it to be the first episode. But, as a first episode, it’s horrible as the uninitiated viewer is required to constant guess at who the characters are and what their traits are. I don’t know why TV shows do this and I really wish they wouldn’t. It’s stupid and almost insulting. At least it’s not like some of the ridiculousness we’re going to see the longer I watch this show, though…
Firsts: Kelly Kapowski, A.C. Slater, Jessie Spano, Max, Casey Kasem, The Max, Zack Morris’s monologues, Zack Morris and Slater’s rivalry, Zack Morris and Slater love Kelly, Zack Morris and Jessie’s friendship, the identical locker rooms, daydream sequence, celebrity cameo, out-of-order episode.