Yesterday, I counted down my least favorite episodes from the original class. While it may be cathartic to examine the worst of anything, it’s also good to examine when the franchise, intentionally or unintentionally, got it right. And this franchise has gotten it right, sometimes very right. So let’s celebrate these wins before we go back to more epic fails on Monday, and remember the episodes that were just that good.
Like my ten worst list, this list comes from the original class era: Good Morning Miss Bliss, Saved by the Bell, The College Years, and the films (spoiler alert: there’s not a single The College Years episode on this list). So, now, sit back and let’s look at the episodes that made this franchise a legend.
The Malibu Sands episodes were a very good idea on the part of the producers. After getting to know our gang for the last two seasons, we have an opportunity to see them in a new setting, interacting with new characters. These episodes were all good, despite completely forgetting to make it clear Mr. Carosi wasn’t supposed to know about Zack Morris and Stacey’s relationship. I must admit, I was sad to leave them behind around mid-season. Despite being, arguably, the most pointless of the clip episodes, “The Best Summer of My Life” was right: Malibu Sands was awesome.
My pick for the best of these episodes was, well, the last one. We get a touching conclusion to the Zack Morris and Stacey relationship plus a final admission from Mr. Carosi that he had grown fond of the gang, especially Zack Morris. Despite the creepiness of Rusty from Full House hitting on Kelly and the barely acknowledged subplot involving a secret admirer for Slater, this is a solid episode and one that illustrates how the Malibu Sands episodes helped keep Saved by the Bell fresh into its third season.
Season three of Saved by the Bell seems like it was about taking risks to keep the show fresh, and this may be the oddest of them all. Many episodes his season took place away from Bayside, with some better than others. The premise is that the gang won a mystery weekend, but Zack Morris soon finds himself accused of a real murder. Soon, even Lisa disappears and he finds his friends doubting him.
And, strange enough, it works! We get a chance to see Zack Morris squirm for something he didn’t do (for once) and we get a genuine mystery as we at home try to figure out what happened (well, until we realize that the two women are men in bad drag). It’s a nice break late in the season and, as an unintentional season finale, it’s a fun excursion from the normal on this show.
Good Morning Miss Bliss‘s second attempt at a pilot didn’t waste any time establishing Zack Morris as the primary character of the gang and, in this episode, we get a hint of what the show could have been had the episodes been much more consistent. Zack Morris has a summer romance with an older girl, lying to her about his age, and is shocked when she shows up as a new student at RFK Junior High. He tries to keep up the charade for the benefit of the girl, but can’t keep it up forever.
The episode perfectly balances Zack Morris’s story with Miss Bliss’s subplot about going on a date. She’s the mentor figure that Mr. Belding became at his best and is dedicated to her students, helping Zack Morris figure out what he needs to do. It is kind of creepy that Miss Bliss’s students know where she lives and randomly show up at her back door, but it’s a minor unbelievable plot point that we would have just laughed and poked fun at. All in all a good episode.
Lisa didn’t get much of a chance to do anything on Saved by the Bell other than being the voice of reason (and absorbing some of Kelly and Jessie’s characteristics during the Tori episodes) so this episode is refreshing. Zack Morris and Lisa work together and realize they’re falling for each other. It’s also nice in that she didn’t often get to have a relationship longer than an episode so the possibility of her actually dating a main character was intriguing.
If the episode has a weakness, it’s Screech’s idiocy in being jealous at the new relationship, and it’s really a sign of things to come with Screech’s borderline psychotic relationship. The episode is saved by Lisa being the one to stand up to Screech and tell him to back the fuck down. It’s unfortunate that the writers decided to forget about the Zack Morris/Lisa episode after this. It could have made for a nice arc. Of course, the writers would have eventually defaulted back to Zack Morris/Kelly, but it’s nice to think of them actually doing something different.
It’s understandable the Tori episodes have a bad reputation: Tori was a replacement for two popular characters whose absence is never explained. But Tori really wasn’t that bad, and all of the episodes she appears in during season four are better than most of the Kelly/Jessie episodes. For a tacked on arc where one could excuse the writers for not giving a fuck, they really put out some good episodes.
“Earthquake” is my personal favorite of the bunch. It starts ridiculous, with Zack Morris using Mrs. Belding’s pregnancy as an excuse to get out of a test, and ends with Zack Morris and Kelly delivering Mrs. Belding’s baby. Sure, it’s absurd. Slater single-handedly kicks down a door. Mr. Belding and Screech run around like morons. Tori has a phobia of earthquakes. But it all somehow works in this absurdest humor sort of way, delivering a solid episode in a mostly low quality season.
Now we get to a whole other form of “good” altogether: the unintentionally hilarious! And what do you get when you mix an oil tycoon so stereotypical he could have been in an episode of Captain Planet, a desire for improvements at Bayside and Zack Morris’s love for a duck? Why, the stupidest take on environmental issues ever.
And it’s so bad it’s good! Everything about this episode is so over the top that one can’t help but find it absolutely hilarious at points where the producers obviously intended seriousness. If the writers had simply embraced the self-parody of this episode, we could have had the most epic episode of the franchise. What more can I say other than, “Becky!”
Speaking of the “so bad, it’s good” category, Saved by the Bell‘s first attempt at a very special episode is just amazing in how over the top it is in every way. All you really need to know is that it thinks a serious examination of drug use is Jessie misusing caffeine pills. Yeah, it’s as stupid and ridiculous as it sounds and Jessie’s breakdown as she quotes Pointer Sister lyrics is known even by people who know nothing else about Saved by the Bell.
I tend to wonder if the cast realized they were making an episode that has turned out to be so epic. In any case. Saved by the Bell created an absolutely awe-inspiring display of pure unintended humor. Later very special episodes fell flat because it was obvious they were taking themselves too serious, but this one…once again, it could be considered self parody if it weren’t clear from reading about the episode that Peter Engel was intending to be one hundred percent serious.
Season one teased us with who Kelly would pick: Zack Morris or Slater. This episode resolved that running plot to some degree, though Slater would continue to try to win Kelly over for much of the season. But, more than this, it showcases Zack Morris at his best: doing his best to make Kelly feel better about not being able to attend the prom.
Kelly’s socio-economic status often seemed like a plot point that was only brought up when it was convenient to the plot, but this episode makes good use of it and deals with an issue that many in the target demographic will actually face: not being able to live up to the popular standards of their peers. It was a good start to a continuing plot that would have its up and downs over the season.
I still maintain that this episode is not only the best episode of Good Morning Miss Bliss. It’s one of the best of the franchise. The plot is simple: Miss Bliss goes on a blind date with a man who turns out to be Zack Morris’s original father, Peter Morris. Though she’s quite taken with Peter, Miss Bliss has to decide whether to date him, especially when Zack Morris deals with the news of his father dating his teacher in a less than excited way.
Miss Bliss shines in this episode and shows her obvious devotion to her students that she would put her own happiness aside in order to help her students. It’s a high point in the series, perfectly showcasing Miss Bliss’s dilemma over an issue that I’m sure many real teachers have faced, and Zack Morris’s reaction is so realistic: even if he likes Miss Bliss, he’s not necessarily ready for her to date his father. Unfortunately, neither Miss Bliss nor this incarnation of Zack Morris’s father made it to Saved by the Bell, but we can imagine what might have been.
What can I say about this episode I haven’t already said? It highlights Mr. Belding at his best: not as a boundary crossing, idiotic clown that many episodes, especially in The New Class, will portray him, but as a mentor figure that loves his students and won’t stand to see anyone, even his own brother, hurting them. More episodes should have utilized Mr. Belding like this rather than making him look barely competent to engage in everyday life.
The way Zack Morris discovers Rod Belding’s irresponsibility is perfect, too. It’s not the usual Saved by the Bell omniscient point of view, but he overhears Rod ditching the gang and Mr. Belding kicking him out of the school. This is the point in the series where Zack Morris should have finally seen Mr. Belding as the wise and sagely figure, but they’ll never explore this, although it could have been a perfect lead into Mr. Belding naming his son after Zack Morris.
And there you have it: my picks for the ten best episodes from the original class (and, by extension, the best episodes of the franchise). Feel free to disagree with me in the comments. And stay tuned tomorrow as we take one more look back at the original class and why it’s endured in the hears of viewers nearly thirty years after its introduction.