Before I recap Good Morning, Miss Bliss, a few announcements. First of all, I want to thank everyone who’s read, shared, and liked this blog over the past few months. I especially want to thank all of my wonderful commenters who have made this blog extremely fun to do and have given feedback and to TMC for posting about the blog on message boards. I have to admit I’m having a blast doing this blog but you guys really make it worth it.
Earlier this month, I launched Very Special Episode, what I hope will become a network site with pop culture reviews. It’s already launched its first new blog, Gossip Girl Here, a blog reviewing every episode of Gossip Girl one week at a time, written by regular SBTB Reviewed commenter senorbrightside. In the coming weeks, I hope to launch more new features, so be on the look out as I have tons of ideas.
Speaking of other sites, the Saved by the Bell Reviewed podcast, from the writer who brought us Full House Reviewed, launches this Monday. I am looking forward to seeing the similarities and differences between my reviews and theirs and encourage all my readers to support both my project and theirs.
Also, if you like this blog, make sure to support it! There are several ways you can support this blog and they’re found in the right hand column. Of note is the Saved by the Bell…Reviewed Store, where you can buy clothing, DVDs, comics, and books.
And finally, now that Good Morning, Miss Bliss is done, the logical question is what’s next for Mondays? I’ve decided I’m going to continue doing reviews on Monday as I’ve actually enjoyed the variety of doing more than one series at a time. With that in mind, starting this Monday I’ll be doing Saved by the Bell: The New Class. It seems like the logical choice since it requires very little knowledge of the continuity in the Saved by the Bell seasons I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m looking forward to it, though I expect it to be a doozie of a series.
With that, Good Morning, Miss Bliss.
It’s hard for me to make heads or tails out of what the expectations for Good Morning, Miss Bliss were. The original pilot was aired in a prime time slot and was definitely more adult oriented. Miss Bliss and her husband, Charlie, made several not so subtle references to fucking, and even one of the kids, who were supposed to be eleven, was overly sexual. By the time the Disney Channel picked it up, though, newspaper articles were referring to it as a “children’s show,” and the show definitely was made more low-key, with Charlie and Georgie, the most sexually-explicit characters, written out completely.
It was a grand experiment for its time, though. It marked the first time a series produced by one of the broadcast networks was aired on a cable channel. NBC apparently intended to reair the episodes on Saturday mornings during the summer if Good Morning, Miss Bliss was successful, which would have also been a first. I do wonder how they intended to do a second season had it been renewed. After all, the kids eventually had to grow up and go to another school and they could only transfer Miss Bliss so many times before everyone just stopped believing it.
Unfortunately, this experiment may have been doomed from the beginning. Many today will not remember that the Disney Channel was originally a premium cable channel, similar to HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. This meant that one did not simply get the channel in their basic cable lineup. No, if you wanted the Disney Channel, you had to pay an extra subscription fee for it, and most viewers opted not to do that. Unlike today when premium cable channels are producing high quality shows, the Disney Channel was relying tremendously on old and repackaged programming, and Good Morning, Miss Bliss was a very expensive project that, given the lack of viewers who would have been able to see it, probably did not make sense to continue.
I tried to find some information on the specifics of why Good Morning, Miss Bliss was cancelled, but I came up empty-handed. Executive producer Peter Engel says in a documentary on the franchise that Disney simply opted not to continue the show after thirteen episodes, and that it was a devastating blow to the cast and crew when they were told.
My question becomes: would Good Morning, Miss Bliss have survived had it remained on NBC, either as a prime time show or a Saturday morning show. My answer, based on my own gut feeling, is possibly. The original pilot showed great promise and we’re all well aware of how Saved by the Bell eventually took off on Saturday mornings. It’s probable that Good Morning, Miss Bliss was cut short because of its relationship to the Disney Channel. It’s a question we will never have a definitive answer to, but I think it would have had a much better chance.
Its treatment since cancellation has been all the more strange. Despite the fact that it takes place in a different school in a different state with some characters who are never mentioned again, Good Morning, Miss Bliss was revamped into episodes of Saved by the Bell, with a voice over by Zack Morris telling us this is him remembering his days in junior high school. Some even consider this its first season. Reader Mark Moore let me know after I lamented in the first review that the series may never be released on DVD that every episode except the pilot is available on Netflix with the Saved by the Bell opening, listed as Season 1 of Saved by the Bell.
Let’s talk characters beginning with the four who continued on to Saved by the Bell.
Zack Morris kind of starts out just as an asshole, and not even a selfish asshole, when one of his very first scenes involves deliberately making Screech fall down. But that quickly gives way to a different form of Zack Morris, and most of the characteristics we will later associate with him are present: his scheming, sociopathic tendency to use others to further his own agenda, and his loyal changes of heart at the last minute. Miss Bliss told Zack Morris’s father that he had the greatest untapped potential of all her students and, as much as I made fun of that statement at the time, it does seem true. He’s smart, likable, and can be a good friend, but he’s also lazy, opportunistic, and selfish. It’s hard to know whether I should love him or hate him.
But perhaps no other single episode makes him look more despicable than “Clubs and Cliques,” where he deliberately and intentionally humiliates his friends with no comprehension of the consequences, all to win the approval of some older kids. Really, the argument for Zack Morris as a sociopath could be made from this episode alone. We’ll see him act worse in some episodes of Saved by the Bell, but not much worse. This was about the lowest of the low. But it did give the producers their first opportunity to highlight him with his shirt off.
Screech is intended to be the stereotypical dweeb, but a lovable one, and, in this series at least, I find little reason to dislike him. All the things that will make Screech hated and reviled later in the series are absent or downplayed, and he’s quite harmless in this pre-pubescent form. Even his love of Lisa is downplayed this season, and he even talks about having crushes on others girls rather than just having an obsessive fixation on Lisa. It probably has to do with the fact Dustin Diamond was younger than the rest of the actors, being cast on the show at age eleven.
I guess if they couldn’t bring all five kids over to Saved by the Bell, Screech was a natural choice to bring over. He brought a certain cuteness factor to the show. And, let’s face it, he represents the awkward kid inside all of us trying to find his place in the world. Unfortunately for the show, Dustin Diamond had to grow up eventually and, as we’ll see soon, this awkward shtick wasn’t as enduring when Dustin Diamond continued playing the same character well into his twenties.
There’s not a whole lot to say about Lisa from this series. All the trademark Lisa characteristics are present: her love of fashion, her repulsion to Screech, and her selfish attitude. She’s not completely unlikable as she does come to Screech’s defense in “Showdown” and to Zack Morris’s defense (before he humiliated her) in “Clubs and Cliques.” And her character definitely shows great potential.
The problem during Good Morning, Miss Bliss is that she didn’t have a lot to do. She was really only a major player in a few episodes. In others, she was barely present and relegated to some throw away bits. Lark Voorhies does a great job with the role, but she definitely was more a supporting role to the other characters. I’ll speculate on why I think they kept her in the transition to Saved by a Bell in a moment.
I have to admit that, out of all the characters, Mr. Belding shows the most character development throughout this series and, though I would have loved them to bring Miss Bliss over to Saved by the Bell, I can kind of understand why they choose Mr. Belding instead. In the pilot, Mr. Belding is played as someone who just doesn’t want to get involved beyond the school day and can’t wait for retirement. Had this been the Mr. Belding that made his way into the series, I have no doubt that Mr. Belding would have been dropped.
But this is the Mr. Belding we have all come to know and love. He very much appreciates having a teacher like Miss Bliss in his building, though he is very self-aware of his own limitations and that sometimes brings jealousy out in him, as in “Clubs and Cliques” when he realized that he is not a good teacher. The fact that he can alternate so easily between straight man and comedy relief made him a shoo in for the Saved by the Bell cast, as they needed someone who could be a foil for the antics of the kids. We begin to see his love/hate relationship with Zack Morris here but it wouldn’t be fully developed until Saved by the Bell.
Can you imagine being fired from your own show? Hayley Mills certainly hasn’t had it easy in her adult career. She became deservedly famous as a child actor playing the leading roles in the original Parent Trap. The child actor curse seems to have found. Disney kept her around for many years playing minor roles in various movies and television shows, but she never really found a big break again. This was intended to be her big break as an adult actress.
And she certainly does shine through. Miss Bliss is warm, caring, and comforting to all those around her, maybe to a fault. From the pilot on, her students are first and foremost in her life, even when it might strain an outside relationship. The students trust her and Mr. Belding trusts her. I would trust her if she were my teacher. I suspect there is some unresolved pain deep down that could have been explored had Good Morning, Miss Bliss continued, but we will never know. It would have been hard to bring her over to Saved by the Bell, but I wish they had attempted it.
If I wished that Miss Bliss had been brought over to Good Morning, Miss Bliss, I’m very glad that Tina Paladrino was not brought over. She was probably intended to be Miss Bliss’s foil, but she comes off as grating and superfluous. Only one episode really featured her extensively, and she was only seen teaching in one episode (separate episodes, mind you). I can’t figure out what kind of character she was intended to be other than overly-emotional and a kooky dresser.
The actress playing her, Joan Ryan, has kept busy over the years, though. She’s actually done more behind the scenes work than she has been in front of the camera Apparently she’s also an acclaimed singer and stage performer, traits that should have been emphasized in Tina’s characterization here.
If Tina made me grit my teeth, Mylo Williams made me want to punch my screen. Mylo never has an episode that involves him extensively and he is completely useless in every episode except “The Mentor.” Virtually every scene he was in throughout the series could have been cut without any effect on the rest of the episode. His characteristics seem to be a mixture of jive talking, nosiness, gossiping, and being a stickler for union rules. With all these exciting traits, one sarcastically wonders why Mylo was not brought over to Saved by the Bell.
The actor playing him, T.K. Carter, has had a very strange career in Hollywood. He was an up and comer at the time he appeared on Good Morning, Miss Bliss. He had previously appeared in episodes of shows as diverse as The Waltons, Good Times, 227, and Quincey M.E. His big breaks were recurring roles on Punky Brewster and the cartoon Jem. In the early nineties, he seems to have had a very strange feud with Eddie Murphy in which T.K. Carter claims he was blackballed from Hollywood for stealing Eddie Murphy’s watch. It could be true. He’s mostly had bit roles since Good Morning, Miss Bliss, though he did have recurring roles on The Steve Harvey Show and The Corner as well as quite a bit of voice work. His last acting role was in 2007 in a one-off appearance on Everybody Hates Chris.
I know I’ve given the characters of Mikey and Nikki crap, perhaps more than they deserve. Mikey, unlike Slater, who he was replaced with, was shy and sensitive. He was the perfect straight man for Zack Morris and Screech, but the problem is that out of the five kids, he probably had the least to do in the entire series. One episode, “Love Letters,” I had to rewatch to see if he was even in the damned thing. Only one episode focuses heavily on him, and the rest of the time he’s kind of Zack Morris’s lackey.
Nikki was slightly more developed and truly filled the role of rival to Zack Morris that Slater would fill during the first season of Saved by the Bell. In the end she ultimately respects and values Zack Morris and there’s even a hint at romantic interest, but he drives her crazy. She’s smart and athletic and your overall goody good. It’s kind of harsh but it seems like she was ultimately dropped because she wasn’t as conventionally beautiful as Lisa, Kelly, and Jessie.
When it comes down to it, I have a great deal of sympathy for Max Battimo and Heather Hopper. Hollywood can be a tough town and they had to find this out way too soon. Good Morning, Miss Bliss was the big break for both of them: both have only a few bit parts before the show. They took very different paths after Good Morning, Miss Bliss though. Heather Hopper continued acting throughout the late eighties and early nineties, mostly in bit roles. Her biggest success was a supporting role in the film Troop Beverly Hills. Other roles have included “Two Bit Whore” on The Shield and “Surrogate Candidate #1” on Passions. Her childhood was apparently tough, though, as she suffered from anorexia in her late teens. Though her last acting role was in 2004 (her IMDB biography says she gave up acting when she became a mother), she appears to have done some stand-up comedy. I did find this video of her one woman show on YouTube in which she actually turns her stay in a psych ward for anorexia into a comedy routine, and it’s pretty good!
Max Battimo took a different route. He was so hurt by the decision not to bring him over to Saved by the Bell that he quit acting completely. He’s found his passion, though. After Good Morning, Miss Bliss, he found he loved ice hockey and, today, he is an official in college hockey. But he’s still occasionally recognized for his brief acting career. There’s an anecdote told by an ESPN writer in which Battimo was attempting to explain a penalty to the head coach of the University of Denver. The coach just smiled at him and said, “Saved by the Bell, huh.”
There’s not much continuity or character development to speak of through these episodes. Each is self-contained with a dilemma that’s solved by the end of the episode. Even brief mentions of character traits that could have been explored in a very interesting way, such as the death of Miss Bliss’s husband or Lisa sneaking behind her parents’ backs to wear make-up, were never explored. I would like to think that they would have been had the show continued. After all, the final episode was basically a lot of explaining of where Miss Bliss’s passion for teaching comes from. And, though many of the character traits developed for Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding during these episodes will be carried over to Saved by the Bell, nothing that happens in any of these episodes will. It’s a definite alternate universe in which Zack Morris is a good ‘ole corn-fed Hoosier boy, and the attempt to shoe horn these episodes into Saved by the Bell is, I feel, wrong-headed and futile. Good Morning, Miss Bliss should be watched, critiqued, and appreciated on its own merits. While it may have given birth to the franchise, it is its own entity.
At the end of the day, the question that must be asked is whether Good Morning, Miss Bliss was a good show or not. My answer is it depends on your standards. There have certainly been better shows. The Wonder Years premiered at the same time as Good Morning, Miss Bliss and set the standard for the coming of age comedy series. It certainly hasn’t gone down as one of the great shows that was cancelled too soon. It has its flaws: contrived and overly moralistic plots, unlikable supporting characters, inconsistent writing, and a team that seemed to know nothing about the setting. And there are certain episodes that I despise, especially “Wall Street” and “Let’s Get Together.”
However, there have been much worse shows, some of them premiering around the same time as Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Full House makes Good Morning, Miss Bliss look like Citizen Kane by comparison. And there isn’t anything particularly harmful in Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Overall, I can understand why the producers and NBC believed in it enough to revamp it into Saved by the Bell: it’s a harmless family comedy essentially about the pains of growing up. Junior high is a time many of us have negative memories of and wouldn’t want to repeat. If we were lucky, we had a group of friends like Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa, Nikki, and Mikey, each with their own flaws but, at the end of the day, each coming through as a true friend and comforter.
If we’re lucky, we still have friends like that today. And hopefully we had a teacher who gave a damn about us like Miss Bliss, for all her flaws, gave for her students.
Every recap I’ll have a list of my favorite and least favorite episodes of the season. I encourage you to agree or disagree with my picks in the comments section!
Five Episodes I Loved:
- “Parents and Teachers” (Episode 5): The chemistry between Miss Bliss and Peter Morris was apparent but even more apparent was Miss Bliss’s care for her students and that she wanted Zack Morris to know that she cares about him. Hayley Mills really shined in this and it was this episode that made me decide I wished she had been brought over to Saved by the Bell.
- “Summer Love” (Episode 1): This episode highlights Zack Morris just being a stupid teenager trying to get along in the world. He does something we probably all did at one point or another, lie for love, and, though he’s being selfish here, it’s not the borderline sociopathic selfishness he’ll display later on.
- Original Pilot: What can I say? I’m a sucker for this episode. The chemistry between Hayley Mills and Jonathan Brandis is so good that it’s a shame he wasn’t brought over for the series proper. In addition, I actually liked Charlie Davis because he brought to the surface a conflict between Miss Bliss’s personal and professional lives that is apparent later but largely unquestioned.
- “Save the Last Dance for Me” (Episode 7): I was very critical of this one the first time around but have since come to realize it’s pretty realistic of the conflicts I witnessed from my middle school days. Though the ending is obviously shoehorned in and forced, Zack Morris, for once, is the bigger man despite the fact he technically did nothing wrong, and his actions save his friendship with Mikey.
- “Love Letters” (Episode 2): Eighth grade Screech is considerably less annoying than he will be the longer he’s associated with this franchise, and he’s actually a bit endearing in this episode as the underdog desperate to impress the girl he loves. It’s definitely a crush in this episode and not the sort of stalking and creepy behavior we’ll see him display towards Lisa in Saved by the Bell.
Three Episodes I Hated:
This was a hard list for me because there are so many lousy episodes during this series that I could have easily named most of the ones not in the episodes I loved list. “Showdown” and “The Boy Who Cried Rat” are definite runners-up for this list. But, in the end, it comes down to personal preference, and these are the episodes I have chosen.
- “Let’s Get Together” (Episode 9): Good god this was a horrible episode, partly because it focused so heavily on Tina, who makes Zack Morris look normal by comparison. The endings to both conflicts are completely forced and, in the case of the Zack Morris/Nikki conflict, custom tailored to Miss Bliss’s standards for an A on the project.
- “Wall Street” (Episode 3): This one almost made the number one spot because I hated it almost as much. Zack Morris does something utterly despicable and he gets no punishment for it because Miss Bliss feels guilty for yelling at the kids. La di da, get over it, punish the kids, and give us a believable ending rather than one that involves selling potatoes.
- “Stevie” (Episode 11): I know some people love this episode but, from the unrealistic premise of a pop singer coming to sing at JFK to her actually staying with her former teacher and the creepy kissing of a fourteen year old by a seventeen year old, I found this episode to be very disturbing. The horrible music video did not help at the end and I still maintain that, if they wanted to do an episode on a pop singer, they should have found a pop singer, even an up and comer.