Ah, another season, another year of The New Class that I’d rather forget ever happened. But yet, try as I might to forget, I really did sit through another twenty-six episodes of pure, unadulterated shit because, yes, that’s what it was. Not a single episode I truly like and at least one hit a new low for me.
And yet, this was even after a bunch of changes, both behind the scenes and in front. Gone are half of our characters from season three, again, replaced with fresh faces that will be with us until the end of the series. I don’t know how to sum up my feelings on these three. They’re not particularly irritating the way R.J. or Tommy D were, and Katie’s just as bland a character, if not more so, than Lindsay. But I have no emotional investment in these people, and I’m sure the people who were watching in 1996 didn’t either. After all, with this series’ track record, we could be replacing the entire cast for season five.
There was also more of an attempt to drop little Easter eggs of continuity. Besides appearances from Slater and Mr. Dewey and Screech recounting scenes from the original series involving the rest of the cast, we had references to teachers not seen in nearly eight years, acknowledgments that Tommy D and Lindsay had moved (no one gave a shit about R.J. anyway), and even a suggestion that Kelly’s little brother is now a football star at Bayside. Season four almost seems like it was trying to apologize for its three predecessors using the Saved by the Bell name by trying to convince you that, yes, it really is Saved by the Bell. Of course, it fails in all but the most superficial sense.
Behind the scenes, gone was Franco E. Bario as show runner, replaced by associate producer Chris Conte. I don’t know a lot about Conte, but, if his IMDB page is any indication, I’m not impressed. The only other scripted series he’s really been head of over the years was Malibu USA, another Saved by the Bell clone. Other than that, he’s been in charge of shows like Access Hollywood and Last Call with Carson Daly. And, while Conte had been affiliated with the franchise since Good Morning, Miss Bliss, there’s a distinct feeling that he’s trying to bring something different to the table while still pleasing fans of the original series.
Unfortunately, those new things aren’t all good. Screech is more irritating than ever, the love triangle between Nicky, Katie, and Maria was extremely unbelievable and resolved way too soon, and the crossover with Hang Time felt forced. Really forced. On the positive side, more of the main plots were going to the gang rather than Screech, but that didn’t say much as he still had annoying subplots, maybe more annoying than ever.
There was as little attention paid to the chronology as usual, although, this year, at least the Space Camp episodes weren’t used in the clip show episodes so they could at least take place after Christmas. (They take place in the summer, as we’ll see in a few episodes, but Rachel’s departure complicates this, as we’ll also see.) What this season, overall, signaled is that nothing will ever change, as they neatly assured us Bayside and The Max will always be there, no matter what else happens.
Interestingly enough, this season would also be the last for longtime director Don Barnhart. Barnhart directed virtually every episode of the original series and The New Class to this point so his departure is a serious blow to continuity. I have no idea why he left but, like Bario, it apparently was on good terms. His only directing credits since have been a few episodes of California Dreams and ten episodes of the Canadian teen drama Student Bodies. Other than a few documentaries about Saved by the Bell, he’s virtually dropped off the map.
Let’s talk characters, starting with the returning members of the gang.
Rachel really took a step backwards this season. Think about it: she was at her best when she was single and available for whatever plots were available, hence why I think her best season was three. After all, that was when she was in what is, to date, the only episode of The New Class I have truly liked. Any other time she is defined by the man she is with. In season one, she was an object to be used for Scott’s plot. In season two, she was totally defined by her relationship with Brian. And, in season four, Rachel had no characterization apart from her relationship with Ryan, which came the fuck out of nowhere.
She’s dull as ever this season and, as much as I should be sad that our last connection to the first season other than Mr. Belding is leaving, I can’t help but think the writers never figured out what to do with Rachel. She’s no Kelly because, while Kelly was also underdeveloped, we at least gave a damn what happened to her. Rachel will be replaced by another blonde next season and, sadly, there will probably be very little discernible difference.
I also have no idea how old Rachel was supposed to be. If she was a freshman in season one, that means she should be a senior this year, yet there’s no indication she was any older than our other characters who will graduate in season seven. Had Sarah Lancaster continued, would they have just pretended like all was as it should be? I think we’ll have our answer to that when Maria stays with the series until the end.
As with most of the women on this show, Sarah Lancaster has been considerably more successful post-The New Class than most of her male counterparts. She’s been in a ton of stuff since she left, but, most notably, she had a recurring role on Scrubs and starring roles on Chuck and Everwood. I watched her on Everwood and, I must say, her acting has not improved a bit since she was on The New Class. It was hard to watch her on here and not see the college co-ed who was fucking young Ephraim Brown.
Ryan’s just a dick this season. While it’s clear the writers are trying their damndest to turn him into a Zack Morris-like character, they have no clue how, and Ryan just comes off at times as being controlling, egotistical, and as an asshole. Take, for instance, his treatment of Nicky in “Oh, Brother.” Nicky did nothing to Ryan, yet Ryan was determined to make the former’s life completely miserable. Couple this with his controlling attitude towards Rachel and the fact that he was the one to cheat on her with a girl from Hang Time, and I really got pissed off at Ryan at times.
I’m really becoming convinced that Ryan has multiple personalities that rarely coexist in the same episode. There is, after all, asshole, controlling manipulative Ryan; conniving Ryan; loyal Ryan; and, of course, random responsible Ryan who gets a job at The Max after insisting he’d never do anything silly like get a job. All are equally underdeveloped and which one is used in a particular episode depends on what is most convenient to the script.
And, yet, he’s still an improvement over Brian. He’s at least a leader and does more than spout about being Swiss and loving Rachel. Ryan’s a constant reminder that it could have been worse, and let’s pray that it won’t be after season five. I’m still unsure what to make of the retcon that turned him into a wrestling star considering he showed no interest in wrestling last season, but it definitely wasn’t the most annoying thing that happened this season.
Maria started out the season continuing her role as the voice of reason, often intervening in conflicts, but her relationship with Nicky quickly hijacked all of that, and Maria suffered greatly for it. For once, though, she wasn’t completely defined by her relationship with Nicky. In fact, as I’ll mention when I get to Nicky, she was so not defined by her relationship with him that it was easy to forget she was even in a one to begin with.
And, what else can you say: Maria’s still as undeveloped as she was last season. She shows the hints of a real character but can’t seem to get past cliches and contrivances. If putting her with Nicky was supposed to help flesh out her character, it completely and utterly failed as I can’t think of a single bit of character development that’s truly come out of that relationship.
Nicky is an improvement over Tommy D. They don’t force him to be an idiot and he often serves as the voice of reason among the boys. Unfortunately, his character development is slow–in the first few episodes, all we really knew about him was he had the power of NEW YORK! He slowly gained other characteristics, and most made sense (though I still don’t buy he was obsessed with astronomy). It was clear that, with Nicky, they were seeking a foil to Ryan.
The worst episodes with Nicky involve his relationships. His love for Katie comes the fuck out of nowhere, and he just randomly falls for Maria. Neither relationship is believable–it’s pretty bad when episodes have to remind us that Nicky is in a relationship for us to remember. Both relationships just seems completely forced and have no chemistry. Sad as it is to say, Tommy D and Lindsay are still the gold standard for a believable relationship on this show, and Nicky doesn’t come anywhere close to living up to that.
We have to remember the line of characters we’ve gone through to get to Eric: Weasel, Bobby, and R.J. None of these has been particularly meaningful and I doubt there has been much weeping about the departures of any of these characters as they were basically there…to be there. The gang needed six characters, and so they added in a half-baked one hoping no one would give a damn.
So, is Eric an improvement? Yes, but a talking toaster would be better. Eric is best when they integrate the fact Anthony Harrell a singer in real life into his character. He’s worst when they try to make him a football star–I believe Eric’s a football star even less than the episode where Weasel was star for a day. The rest of the time, it seems like they’re trying to make him a lovable goofball and failing greatly. Eric’s the least developed character of the season. Also, continuing in the steps of his predecessor, he will never have a relationship longer than an episode or two, so you’ll never even get back door development for him.
The writers really can’t seem to figure out what to do with Katie. Is she smart? Is she poor? Would she do hair with a French guy named Jean-Paul? Is she Nicky’s girlfriend? Does she swim? Is she a bitch to random guys whose love brims? These are all things they have done with her this season, and the answer is still unclear to any of them as they usually last an episode and are then forgotten. What is Katie’s purpose on the show? Damned if I know and I think the writers are still trying to figure it out, too.
In any case, she’s defined half the season by her relationship with Nicky and the other half by nothing in particular. The second half of the season reminds me of Lindsay after she and Ryan broke up: nothing to do in particular because the only thing of consequence she had going is gone. Since we have three more seasons to develop Katie, I’ll wait and see if she improves. Judging by this season, though, I’m not too optimistic of that happening.
The biggest positive this season is that they’ve toned down the Screech and Mr. Belding plots. They’re still there but they’re usually more minor Mr. Belding is back to dispensing his usual judgmental lectures and Screech is a fucking moron. But they’re in positions on the show now that are at least tolerable.
Mr. Belding receives no character development this season. However, I have to mention his purchasing of Yukon Yogurt. Mr. Belding keeps insinuating his principal’s salary won’t support a wife and kid, yet he keeps purchasing businesses in the mall which are, presumably, failing, How can he afford this if he is so destitute?
Screech is more annoying than ever this season and has become a caricature of a cartoon character. Seriously, if Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd strolled into Bayside one episode, they would still be more believable than Dustin Diamond’s performance this season. Screech’s incompetence is truly astounding and how he keeps a job, I’ll never know. Even when the writers do a clip show trying to tell us how awesome Screech is, they succeed in little other than showing us how much he sucks at life. At least he doesn’t have to be involved in every little thing the gang does unlike the first three seasons, but his presence is still fucking annoying and not appreciated.
Given how many genuinely good shows are cancelled before they really have the chance to succeed, it’s truly astounding that this show just kept getting renewed season after shitty season. The burning down of The Max is kind of symbolic of what this season did to the reputation of the Saved by the Bell brand. I mean, by now, most loyal original series fans will say they abandoned ship, and very few have gone into the depths of the last few seasons as I’m about to. I’m convinced at this point that Peter Engel had blackmail on someone at NBC. After all, how else can you account for the fact that this show has now had more episodes than the original, which, though a silly but harmless teen show, is still considered a classic?
God I’m not looking forward to these last few seasons.
We’re back this season to five episodes I hated more than the others since there were no episodes I even remotely liked. Please feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments.
Episode 6: “Little Hero”: I don’t buy Eric as a football player for a second, much less as the star of the team. Add in a stupid cameo by Jim Harbaugh and the fact the writers completely fucked up Mr. Dewey’s character, and I just really hate this episode with a passion.
Episode 8: “Fall Formal”: Last season, I was really hard on episodes involving R.J. This season, it seems I’m hard on Katie-centric episodes. I really don’t get what the big deal was, especially considering the beautiful dress Katie came up with. Add the clueless consumerism of Rachel and Maria and I really hate this episode. Oh, and one can’t help but mention that this is the episode the now-infamous air conditioner repair subplot came from.
Episode 11: “Renaissance Faire”: It was a really bad idea to have the gang put on a renaissance faire anyway, but to do so while making a regular character look like a complete jackass because, out of nowhere, he believes his girlfriend is cheating on him…god, what were they thinking?
Episode 21: “The Fifth Wheel”: Another Katie-centric episode in which she randomly rejects a good looking guy because he knows about science. How horrible of him to actually learn something more than the idiotic ramblings of The New Class! The subplot involving ugly jackets just made me hate this even more. It is, possibly, the worst of the Space Camp episodes.
Episode 26: “Fire at the Max, Part 2”: I normally wouldn’t put a clip show episode on this list, but, considering how badly this one resolved the cliffhanger of the first part, it had to be added. What made the writers think they could burn down a beloved staple of the franchise and then resolve the plot via clips? A mangled cameo by Slater didn’t help it at all and the whole “Ryan’s feeling guilty” thing was barely given mention.