This season…this season had so much potential. After the cluster fuck that was season two, they had the perfect opportunity to start over and rebuild The New Class. So were they successful? Well, yes and no.
Taken as a whole, season three is much better than season two. Ryan and Maria were welcome additions to the cast (which I’ll discuss more when I analyze characters). There even seemed to be new life breathed into old, tired characters like Lindsay and Tommy D, at first anyway. And, for the first time in nearly a year and a half of watching this show, there was an episode I genuinely liked on its own merits. Season three seemed to do something completely unanticipated at first: turn around this horrible spin-off.
For all the promise the new season brought in the beginning, though, there was so much disappointment in the ultimate payoff. For one, this season suffered from one of the same problems of season two: too many episodes away from Bayside. As I discussed in the season two recap, part of what made the Malibu Sands episodes of the original series work was that we’d had two years to get to know the same six teenagers. Setting an arc of episodes away from Bayside gave us the opportunity to see them grow more in a different setting with new supporting characters.
This is something the producers of The New Class never seemed to have gotten. The episodes set away from Bayside on this show fall flat because you’re replacing up to half of the characters every season. We don’t get to know these new members of the gang at all before we’re thrust into outside situations that we just don’t know how to react to. Add on to this that none of the characters ever develop in these episodes outside single episodes crises and you have a recipe for disaster. Not to mention I believe that a show about high school should set the majority of its episodes in, say, HIGH SCHOOL! Season three featured thirteen episodes set entirely outside Bayside. That’s half the episodes this season! If I were a new viewer, I could easily forget what this show is supposed to be about.
On top of this, there’s signs the producers were getting desperate. On several occasions, plots used in seasons one and two were recycled for a new episode in season three with the hope that no one would notice. On top of that, two episodes were completely rip-offs of the Zack Morris and Kelly break-up with only the location changed. Add to this two of the worst very special episodes ever seen in the franchise, and you get why I’m disappointed with how this season turned out. There was no effort in most of the episodes this season. At this point, it’s like the writers were phoning it in. I long ago gave up on the idea that this show may be as goofy and lighthearted as the original but, when I’m forcing myself to watch out of duty with absolutely no desire to see what happens next, something’s wrong.
As if that’s not enough, the time line of this season is nearly as bad as season two’s. I was having a hard enough time figuring out when all of this was taking place until that revelation in “New Year’s Resolution” just came out of nowhere that this entire season, including multiple trips and three months aboard a boat, all took place in four months during the first semester of this school year. I don’t think anyone thought this through. If there’s one thing that’s become crystal clear about The New Class over the last two years is they don’t give a damn about things making sense or taking place in an orderly time period; they’re just banking on the fact that you, the viewer, are such a moron you won’t realize that all of the things that happened this season could not have happened in four months.
Behind the scenes, changes were happening as well. Not only did we lose supporting characters Milton and Ron, both of whom had been with the show since the beginning, but this would be the last season produced by Franco E. Bario, who had been a producer on the franchise going all the way back to Good Morning, Miss Bliss. I can’t find the reason Bario departed, but it’s unlikely he was upset at Peter Engel or NBC since he remained with California Dreams another two years. Bario’s often been credited as the third most influential person on the franchise behind Peter Engel and Don Barnhart, and his departure will signal a shift in the show next season.
Maybe it was time for new blood in this franchise.
Let’s talk characters.
Let’s face it: for worse and worse, The New Class has turned into The Screech Show for the last two seasons. Screech has to be involved in everything and, if anything, his boundaries with his students gets worse this year, as he lets Maria talk him into giving her a better grade in Driver’s Ed and actually takes Rachel to a school dance. Screech is a creepy, creepy little man in this show and his importance to Bayside only emphasizes how the writers don’t seem to have a grasp of what administrators actually do in a school. On top of that, there’s some just plan mean scenes where Screech, desperate to keep his plan to bring Mrs. Belding and Little Zack to the ski lodge for Christmas, cruelly keeps Mr. Belding from getting to a bus just to keep the secret going. The fact that nobody sees through his incompetence is utterly amazing. If I’d been Mr. Belding, I may not have been able to restrain myself from punching Screech over the whole ski lodge thing.
The writers squandered opportunities to explore Screech this season as well. From his random breakup with Alison, who hadn’t been mentioned since last season, to his return to Cal U, there could have been some explanation about just why the hell Screech is still at Bayside after his year internship. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t think characterization was necessary for Screech so we’ll never know the answers to why we’re still being subjected to Screech so much.
My theory on why Mr. Belding continues to put up with Screech is that he’s becoming a sad, broken shell of a human being with Screech’s constant idiocy. Think about it: why else would he not have fired Screech when he had the chance? Mr. Belding’s presence is often baffling: he continues to take jobs at the mall, apparently needing the money to support his family, as if principals in Los Angeles County don’t make any money. Is he using all his money to bail Screech out of his constant foibles? I don’t know. It’s a mystery that will only deepen in season four, though.
For what it’s worth, I still like Mr. Belding. Mr. Belding is at his best when he’s being the kind, supportive, and caring adult figure in the gang’s life, and he had several opportunities for that this season. Unfortunately, he’s also at his worst when he’s painted as Screech’s lackey, especially during the ski lodge episodes. I’m still convinced the reason the original series got rid of Max was because he simply wasn’t needed as Mr. Belding’s character developed more and more. Unfortunately, The New Class doesn’t seem to realize that it only needs one adult character, preferably the more competent one and not the brain dead moron.
Out of all the returning characters this season, Rachel may be the most baffling. Last season, she had a major arc during the country club episodes and her relationship with Brian overshadowed even the Tommy D and Lindsay relationship. This season, she’s just there most of the time. They’ve all but forgotten that she was a Lisa rip-off in season two and seem to just randomly insert her into plots when they can’t figure out who else is suitable for a particular episode. In fact, I dare say that every episode this season where she was the focus could have just as easily been Lindsay in her place.
What’s more, Rachel seems to have randomly picked up some of Megan’s old traits this season, such as being smart. Maria wasn’t a direct replacement for Megan, but it still makes no sense that Rachel just suddenly took on the role of the smart one in Megan’s absence when it had never been established that this was one of her character traits.
Ryan was one thing they got right this season. Last season, Brian was, perhaps, the weakest character on the show. Ryan feels like Scott 2.0. It’s like the producers actually realized that it was a horrible idea to make their lead male an emotionless guy with a funny accent who has nothing to do other than talk about being from Switzerland and loving Rachel. Ryan goes back to the Scott and Zack Morris mold of lead male characters and brings energy back to the role that was drastically missing last season. In fact, it felt like Ryan was Scott at times, between his rivalry with Tommy D and his desire to date the most popular girl at his new school.
That doesn’t mean they used Ryan perfectly this season. Too many episodes involving Ryan revolved around his relationship with Lindsay, which felt like one of the most force and least developed relationships (and eventual break-ups) in the history of the franchise. I hate to say it, but I think I bought even Screech and Alison more than Ryan and Lindsay, which is sad, quite sad.
The writers hardly did anything with Maria this season. She has very few episodes centered around her and her sole characteristic seems to be being an unlikable bitch, even towards her friends. So why am I giving her a pass over R.J.? Well, it’s for two reasons. One, she’s not a direct replacement for Megan. Instead, she’s actually an original character. I found that utterly refreshing in itself that somebody at The New Class looked at these six characters and decided to take a risk on something outside the normal Saved by the Bell formula.
Second, there’s hints of a character coming through. She was the only character to have been smart enough to realize R.J.’s talent scout was a scam artist and she geuinely tries to keep the identity of a celebrity in the mall a secret even when all her friends are being little assholes about it. At times, Maria is almost a female Slater, which might not be so far from the truth considering her name is an obvious feminization of Mario Lopez’s. I’m genuinely interested to see what they do with her character next season.
I can’t exactly say the same thing about R.J. There was never a reason to give a damn about R.J. He was a slight improvement over Bobby but that’s not saying much. About all he had to do this season was be shitty to a girl in a wheelchair and show his idiocy in being conned by a fake agent. Most of the time, he was just there, and the show was no better or worse for his presence. Replace him with a coat rack and you’d have most of the same plots.
His actor, Salim Grant, has never had much luck in the acting business. His longest stint on a show other than The New Class was a two episode gig on Salute Your Shorts. Connoisseurs of bad movies will recognize him as Bill Cosby’s son in the horrible Ghost Dad. Grant has continued acting on and off through the 2000s. Today, he’s primarily moved into the music business and is a music producer with Rising Platform Productions LLC. He also maintains a Twitter presence, if you’re at all interested.
I wrote in the season two recap that Lindsay didn’t really have much to do after she and Tommy D broke up. Well, this season they tried to remedy that by…having Tommy D try to get back together with her! And having Ryan chase her too! The problem with the episode ordering is there was never really much question where this plot was going since episodes away from Bayisde clearly showed Ryan and Lindsay together even before they started dating on the show.
Even more of a problem than that, though, was I never bought the relationship. The closest we saw to development was when Lindsay got pissed at Ryan for betting the money for Mr. Belding’s present, and that seemed pretty forced in an attempt to start a conflict that went nowhere. Other than that, we really just see the two of them kissing a lot, and not much more. So, when they broke up in “The Fallout,” I really had no emotional investment or care in their relationship. Other than not understanding why Lindsay fell in love with the human plot point as fast as she did, I really just didn’t care.
Maybe it’s good this is Lindsay’s last season. I honestly don’t know what they would have done with her for another season now that she’s dated Ryan and Tommy D.
Natalia Cigliuti hasn’t done bad for herself post-The New Class. She had a starring role on the short-lived Aaron Spelling dram Pacific Palisaides as well as alongside Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the only marginally more successful Raising the Bar. She’s had recurring roles on Beverly Hills, 90210, All My Children, and The Glades, and you may have heard her as the voice of Scarlett in G.I. Joe: Renegades.
Oh, Tommy D…
By the end of this season, it really felt like Tommy D was being kept around because they needed six characters. I don’t think the writers for The New Class knew what to do with Tommy D so they made him a complete moron. The rivalry with Ryan worked fairly well but it ended really quickly and without any bitterness, unlike Zack Morris and Slater’s rivalry over Kelly, and Tommy D often felt like window dressing. He just didn’t need to be there. The gang even seems to treat him like an outsider sometimes, as when they gave Lindsay shit for smoking but didn’t give a damn about him.
It’s a shocking devolution for a character that started out as a tough guy greaser who hates sports in season one to become a bumbling idiot who’s the football star by the end of the third season. It just goes to show how there aren’t any clear characterization plans for this show at all and that the writers seem to be winging it on the seat of their pants. In the cases of Tommy D and Lindsay, they just ran out of things to do.
Jonathan Angel has kept pretty low-key post-The New Class. For a guy that was once marketed as a new teen idol to replace Mario Lopez, he’s done very little and has largely dropped out of acting with the exception of a few low budget projects (including two, amusingly, as Han Solo) through the 2000s. This is even more astonishing when you realize that, according to the blog Cookies and Sangria, his father, Joe Angel, is a radio announcer for the Baltimore Orioles. Jonathan, if you read this, whatever you’re doing nowadays, I hope it’s more dignified an bringing you much more happiness than your The New Class gig.
Many people have warned me that The New Class takes a drastic shift after this season, some for the better but much of it for the worse. Only time will tell what’s in store for the final year and a half of this blog. One thing is for sure, though: for a brief moment, in the year 1995, The New Class actually got better, and that gives me a bit of hope. I know that my hope will probably get crushed on the same rock that gave Screech his brain injury, but I’m determined to see it through to the end, even if it means subjecting myself to more horrible choices by St. Peter and his gang. Lord have mercy on my soul.
As usual, I’m going to pick five episodes from this season that I absolutely loathed above all the rest. But, first, I’m going to do something I’ve never been able to do with The New Class before…
One Episode I Loved:
Episode 4: “What’s the Problem”: How surprising was it for me to realize that the first episode of this series I loved was a very special episode. This episode is well executed, believable, tackles a problem many in the target demographic may actually face, and utilizes Mr. Belding very well. It’s so good that Screech’s stupid sub-plot barely distracts from the episode itself. I was quite impressed and surprised, which is more than I can say for the other five entries on this list.
Five Episodes I Hated:
Episode 5: “Air Screech”: Good lord, this was a shockingly bad episode that assumes your basic view of humans is that they’re gullible morons who will buy anything they think is possible. And, okay, that may be true to a degree, but, come on, people lining up to buy shoes that are horribly spray pained? Ugh! It doesn’t help that it’s a Screech-centric episode, either. What makes it even worse is that it followed the one episode I liked! It also may be the worst episode to this point.
Episode 9: “Boundaries”: This one just pisses me the fuck off. They basically trivialized a very serious issue, sexual assault, and didn’t even have the guts to follow through on the plot or show any consequences for the perp; he just gets a stern talking to from Mr. Belding! It doesn’t help that the subplot is Screech being sexually assaulted by a pushy woman who doesn’t take no for an answer. Way to include a subplot making light of sexual assault in an episode on sexual assault!
Episode 16: “Screech’s Millions”: Ugh, another Screech-centric episode. Screech walks around talking in a fake accent that makes Thurston Howell III sound pleasantly working class by comparison! Add to that the fact that Mr. Belding finally fires Screech…but then immediately hires him back, and you have an episode that I’m very bitter about. I almost wished Screech had won a million dollars so I’d never have to look at his stupid face again.
Episode 20: “R.J.’s Handicap”: Both episodes centering around R.J. are painful, but this is a special kind of stupid that does nothing but make R.J. look like a jackass and make me grateful he left at the end of the season. On top of that, Maria’s subplot where she dates a guy who sounds like Gilbert Gottfried after he inhaled helium might be some of the most painful moments of television I’ve ever heard. To round out the badness, this is the first of the “Semester at Sea” episodes, which was just a bad idea. Bad. And I sure hope that The Suite Life of Zack and Cody didn’t copy this arc…
Episode 23: “No Smoking”: Nobody wanted The New Class to tackle the topic of teen smoking, especially in such a way that it makes everyone look like judgmental pricks. This episode does nothing but show how the writers for The New Class don’t understand at all why kids start smoking nor, if I was watching it as a teen smoker, would it give me incentive to give it up. This makes “No Hope with Dope” look successful by comparison.