If Saved by the Bell matured during season two, then season three was its coming of age. It was during this season that many of the most recognizable episodes of the series aired. Even the theme song and opening are now the more recognized versions, being familiar to many viewers from syndicated episodes. Unfortunately, for this franchise, that doesn’t mean it was all unicorns and gumdrops and Emmys. No, there are plenty of bad episodes this season, so many it’s going to be hard to narrow them down to just three, but they’re still widely remembered.
By season three, mainstream audiences were watching Saved by the Bell and firmly placing it on the road to become the cult classic it is today. The little show that could no longer had to prove itself and wouldn’t face another threat of cancellation until its natural conclusion at the end of season four. This meant that the writers really had free reign to try new and wild ideas without worry that it might get them cancelled. Some of these experiments turned out wonderfully and some turned out terribly, but they were all a big step for Saved by the Bell.
Of note during this season is how much of it was spent outside Bayside. This was a ballsy move to feature so many episodes away from the setting that made this show so popular, and it could well have gone down in disaster as evidenced by how horribly The New Class pulled off the same thing. The Malibu Sands episodes especially were actually pretty good over all, and allowed us to see the six characters we’ve come to know over the last few years interact in a different setting. If not for the success of these episodes, I doubt NBC would have green lit the two movies. They proved these characters were strong enough to exist outside Bayside.
Of course, this meant less Mr. Belding. They did the sensible thing and didn’t feature our beloved principal in any episodes set outside the school. Seems that sort of thing is a tad unrealistic, even for this show, and The New Class certainly could have learned from their example and not shoehorn in plots for Mr. Belding every episode. Unfortunately, this means Mr. Belding is the most under-developed character of the season by far. After having both high and low episodes in season two, we don’t get to see him do much more this year and he’s back to being the foil that he was in both Good Morning, Miss Bliss and season one.
Let’s look at the other characters.
Zack Morris starts out the season being dumped by Kelly and this frees him up for many of the plots later in the season, most notably the Malibu Sands episodes. What’s interesting is he seems to be in the wrong so much less this season, although the other characters seem to insist on making him the bad guy, even when he’s not. Take his being pissed off at Kelly in “The Aftermath:” he did nothing wrong but everyone else makes him out to be an evil ass because the message we’re supposed to get is it’s okay for your girlfriend to cheat on you and you shouldn’t feel feelings lest they ruin birthday parties. It’s really pretty idiotic and I hate that this is what they seem intent on doing with his character. He still had his moments of genuine assholish behavior, such as when he stole Mr. Belding’s car and set up Lisa just to get revenge on Eric or when he didn’t want to date Wendy because she was overweight, but they’re fewer this season.
Kelly continues to be defined almost exclusively by the men in her life. Other than a supporting role in the “Home for Christmas” two-parter, I can’t think of a single plot that didn’t involve her and her love life. She started the season breaking up with Zack Morris, had her little subplot with Jeff, considered getting back with Zack Morris, considered dating Slater, dated Johnny Dakota, and even, creepily enough, had Rusty from Full House beating down her door. She tries to be the voice of reason at times this season but fails miserably because that’s not her character. She really could be replaced with a pretty lamp without affecting the plot of the show at all.
Slater spends much of the season wrapped around Jessie’s finger. His misogyny is toned down this season and, though he still says the minor sexist thing, he’s changed quite a bit. Unfortunately, this means he’s probably the blandest character of the season. Really, he doesn’t do a lot and gives off the impression he’s around for eye candy.
Lisa’s probably the most developed character of the season. After having spent most of season two not doing much at all, she comes back this season and gains some personality. Unfortunately for her, that means she’s now a serial monogamist, but she at least has some definable characteristics other than liking clothes. There’s still a good portion of the season when she doesn’t do much, like during most of the Malibu Sands episodes, but her presence this season is much improved.
Jessie is a complete and utter sociopath this season. Her quasi-feminism is at its most annoying as she tries to boss around everyone in site. Her hypocrisy is on show when she tries to ruin her dad’s wedding for no reason, or when she has sour grapes when she doesn’t get the highest SAT score. She’s the most inconsistent character of the series and you never know what Jessie you’re going to get. If she ever went to court, I could almost buy a defense of multiple personality. A disproportionate number of episodes revolved around Jessie this season, and four episodes were devoted to dealing with her dysfunctional family. None of them were particularly good and she was only saved from being the worst character this season because of the abomination that follows.
Screech continues to be the most annoying character in television history. He’s not funny. Ever word that comes out of his mouth is either annoying as hell or idiotic. He’s constantly annoying the other characters. At this point, I’m convinced the others are only keeping him around because he’s blackmailing them. No episodes really revolve around Screech this year other than “Check Your Mate,” which also featured the final appearance of Violet. In some interviews, Dennis Haskins claims Dustin Diamond is a comedy genius. If, by genius, you mean completely incompetent and not funny, I think he’s absolutely right.
Saved by the Bell also did something interesting this season by adding two new characters for the Malibu Sands episodes. Mr. Carosi is obviously meant to fill the void that existed without Mr. Belding around as Zack Morris’s foil, and he pulls it off beautifully. At times, he even does it better than Mr. Belding. It’s a shame they never did anything else with his character.
Ernie Sabella came to Saved by the Bell after a year as Larry and Balki’s boss on Perfect Strangers. Sabella has since had recurring roles on The Practice, That’s So Raven, Providence, and Encore! Encore!, but the role that has perhaps defined him the most is as the voice of the warthog Pumbaa in The Lion King and its myriad of spin-offs and sequels. It’s kind of heartening looking at him knowing that the voice of Pumbaa comes from his mouth.
Of course, the more interesting character was Stacey, whose role became both an antagonist and love interest to Zack Morris. There were times she was idiotic, like not bothering to tell Zack Morris she had a boyfriend before she started dating him, but she successfully shook up the lineup of the gang in a way no other character has been able to. Her presence this season was, for the most part, a pleasant surprise. She might be the only girl other than Kelly whom Zack Morris seriously dates in this series.
Leah Remini went on to guest star in a shit ton of things before landing a role as Carrie Heffernan, the long-suffering wife to the lead idiot on King of Queens. She’s been successful as an actress and continues to land roles left and right, including starring in her own reality show last year for TLC.
I won’t be reviewing the special features for the DVDs this season since all they are is the cast talking mindlessly about the episodes, often not even talking about the episode in question. I turned on one during “Fake IDs” and it bored me to tears. On top of this, the cast they had on this episode were Dennis Haskins, Dustin Diamond, and Lark Voorhies, three actors who had almost nothing to do with this episode, and the result is just abominable. On top of this, they divided the season three episodes into two DVD releases: season three and season four. The episodes, as usual, are extremely out of order and I have no idea why Lionsgate thinks there were five seasons of this show. There weren’t. Make a DVD release that at least conforms to what’s easily accessible on IMDB.
Overall, this might be the most consistent season of Saved by the Bell and I feel comfortable saying that knowing what’s ahead next season. This is usually the season people fondly remember when they think of this show and that’s okay. This season is a part of lots of people’s nostalgia, and I respect that greatly. It’s what you’d expect from Saved by the Bell: goofy plots and unrealistic situations but all with heart and class.
As usual, I encourage you to agree or disagree with my picks in the comments section below.
Five Episodes I Loved:
1. “The Last Weekend” (Episode 12): A solid end to the Malibu Sands episodes. Despite the major plot hole that they never clearly indicated that Mr. Carosi didn’t know about Zack Morris and Stacey’s relationship, it really delivered. It actually captured the character development experienced during the arc.
2. “Mystery Weekend” (Episode 26): This is a weird episode, but weird in a good way! It’s almost like a send up to Scooby-Doo and I enjoyed it despite how unrealistic it was and how many holes were in the plot of the murder. It’s probably not an episode that could be successfully done again, but it was nice for a change of pace.
3. “The Game” (Episode 4): This is the episode that really brought Stacey into the fold of the gang as she helped them win the volleyball tournament. The antagonism developed between Zack Morris and Mr. Carosi was fitting as well, although it’s still a little creepy knowing Screech is out there luring little girls with promises of candy.
4. “All in the Mall” (Episode 16): This one is so ridiculous it’s funny. No, I don’t believe for a second gangsters would chase our gang through the mall or that a hidden video show would try to film them, but it’s just so stupid it’s hilarious. It also proves you should never put Screech in charge of anything important.
5. “Pipe Dreams” (Episode 11): Like when I picked “Jessie’s Song” for season two, please do not misinterpret this as me saying this is a good episode. It’s one of the more preachy episodes of the season, but the way the writers try to manipulate our emotions with Becky’s death is so ridiculous it’s hilarious. In any other show, this would be an offensive episode. On Saved by the Bell, it’s humorous in ways it never intended to be. BECKY!
Three Episodes I Hated:
1. “Rockumentary” (Episode 22): This may be one of the worst episodes of this series. It’s a twenty-three minute dream sequence, and a boring one at that. That’s about all you really need to know. It doesn’t even have a moral in the end, other than don’t piss on your friends when you all become famous musicians. It’s just Zack Morris pontificating on how awesome it would be to become a famous rock musician. Bull shit.
2. ‘The Aftermath” (Episode 3): Zack Morris and Kelly’s break-up is handled so piss poor. Not only did she cheat on him but everyone makes him out to be the bad guy when he dares to have emotions about it. The moral is hold your emotions inside because all they’ll really do is piss your friends off and ruin birthday parties.
3. “No Hope with Dope” (episode 21): In typical ’90s drug propaganda style, there’s no difference between doing marijuana, cocaine, or fucking caffeine pills, at least in the stupid world these characters exist in. All drugs are equally bad without exception, mmmkay? I can’t even say this one is untentionally amusing like “Jessie’s Song” or “Pipe Dreams.” It’s just a preachy PSA, and a horribly done one at that.