I feel like kids these days are deprived in a way. With 24/7 access to cartoons and other children’s programming via cable, they have no idea how big of a deal Saturday mornings once were for the big three (later four and then five) networks and their cartoons. They were damned competitive. What many forget is that, for many years, the networks aired half-hour preview specials showing all the new and returning shows in an effort to convince kids to give their loyalty to their network for the season. Yeah, there was rarely any switching between networks. If you failed to keep a young viewer for a full program, you were screwed. I remember watching these specials, deciding all serious like what cartoons I would watch that year.
1989’s Who Shrunk Saturday Morning? was NBC’s second-to-last Saturday morning preview show. They would do one more in 1991 before the mostly-Peter Engel produced TNBC shows bumped all NBC’s cartoons off the air. This one was, ironically hosted by the cast of the series that would eventually lead to the death of cartoons on NBC, Saved by the Bell, thus why we’re here today. So what happens in this bizarre little short? Why, I’m glad you asked! Let’s find out!
We open in Bayside’s classroom to find Slater, Kelly, Jessie, and Lisa delivering some exposition about how there’s a truant officer looking for Zack Morris. Yeah, there’s actually a very thin plot to this thing, even though there’s not a single laugh to be had, despite the fact that would have been the best advertisement for Peter Engel’s new show. There’s shocked to discover Zack Morris and Screech on the television in the middle of a laser tag arena.
Turns out Zack Morris and Screech can hear every word they’re saying, and Zack Morris says Screech hit them with his shrinking machine, which naturally somehow put them inside every television in the world at the same time. It’s sad when this is already making the leaps of logic on the series proper look reasonable by comparison. Jessie, the supposedly smart one, says she doesn’t know how they’re pulling this off, but they better get their asses to Bayside because being inside the television is no reason to be absent from school. Screech tells the rest of the gang they just need to go to his house and hit the reverse button on the shrinking machine. Slater and Lisa decide to take on the task and head to Screech’s house.
In Screech’s basement, Slater and Lisa discover the machine shooting a laser at Screech’s television. Slater tells Lisa to stand clear of the beam while he looks for the switch, which she automatically interprets to mean wave your hand in front of the beam like a dumb ass. Slater jumps in, trying to keep her from shrinking…
…and soon Slater and Lisa find themselves sucked into the world of the Lite Bright, too.
As they contemplate how they’re going to get out of wherever the hell they are, they discover their first guest, ALF, who tells them they’re in Saturday Morning Land. Not thinking anything of randomly meeting ALF, they ask him how to get the hell out, and, instead of answering their question, airs some clip from his new cartoon, ALF Tales, because that was really helpful to their situation.
The gang are impressed, so ALF shows them another clip and then tells them they need to search out the Master Programmer as the gang whine about the possibility of getting kicked out of school and shit, because that’s their biggest problem right now.
ALF sends them on their way along a Tron dance floor to find the Master Programmer.
They soon meet the Micro Machines guy, who’s apparently just there because they thought the kids would mistakenly believe he’s a main character in something this year. He’s some kind of circuit maker who fits people in their show slots or some shit, and, when he discovers they’re not in a show, tells them to leave the Master Programmer alone, and then disappears in the world’s stupidest cameo.
Back at Bayside, we’re introduced to the truant officer, Marsha Warfield, who apparently wants to sick some vicious dogs on the gang or some shit. In two hours, she tells Kelly and Jessie the rest of the gang will be on permanent detention if they aren’t back. I’m not so sure what’s magical about the two hours, but I guess they thought it would create some fake tension. If anything, this is reminding me of one of the truths I’ve discovered in reviewing twelve years worth of this franchise: Bayside’s faculty are always insane.
Back in the television, the rest of the gang discover a really shoddily constructed Japanese shrine containing a glowing orb with a voice Slater identifies as Mr. Miyagi. Sure doesn’t sound like Mr. Miyagi to me. He’s here to introduce us to the short-lived Karate Kid cartoon. Yeah, it only lasted thirteen episodes because it was shit. After his promotional indulgence, Mr. Miyagi gives them the helpful advice to follow the path they are on and they will be rewarded. I want to know what the hell kind of drugs the writers were on to equate Mr. Miyagi with a glowing orb.
They soon find their way to a big doorway with a smoke machine attached, which Zack Morris, Slater, and Lisa go through to find themselves in the land of the Smurfs. (Screech apparently doesn’t like Smurfs because their homoerotic tendencies make him feel funny inside.) Papa Smurf gives us a preview of what the new season has in store for the Smurfs involving dinosaurs, and I love how they don’t question where Papa Smurf’s disembodied voice is coming from.
They soon find themselves at Camp Candy, where they meet John Candy himself and are, unfortunately, rejoined by Screech, who I guess was just off masturbating in a corner while the rest were visiting the Smurfs. John Candy gives a preview of Camp Candy, but I can’t help but think during this segment how much I miss having John Candy in the world. If this special reminds me of nothing else, it’s that John Candy kicked ass!
Screech wants to stay behind at Camp Candy, but John Candy doesn’t want someone who’s going to grow up to be such a dumb ass in his cartoon. He sends them on their way to go back home, but tells them the Master Programmer is stressed because he’s missing a show for Saturday morning.
Soon they find their way to a bad eighties video, where there are signs pointing to, ironically, lots of NBC prime time shows, including ALF, Cheers, Night Court, The Cosby Show, and Unsolved Mysteries. You know, back when NBC actually had prime time shows worth watching. I’m not sure why these are here if it’s Saturday Morning Land, but I’m sure very little thought was put into the logic of how this world works.
The Micro Machines guy shows up again and tells them to use their imagination about what kinds of things they’d like to see on Saturday morning, so Screech uses his imagination, and I half expected to see a Mr. Belding porno come up on screen.
Instead, he leads them to a giant Nintendo joystick where, you guessed it, a preview for Captain N and the Game Masters, one of Nintendo’s first forays into horrible adaptations of its intellectual properties, comes on.
Back at Bayside, Kelly and Jessie watch the rest at the Alvin and the Chipmunks house, where the Chipmunks do their usual horrible covers of an old sixties song. Yeah, I can’t understand what ever saw in that show.
Marsha Warfield comes along and mercifully turns off the Chipmunks’ screeching, asking what the fuck that was. She reminds Kelly and Jessie the rest of the gang have five minutes to make it back before they’re in trouble, in case anyone was actually invested in the plot of this thing.
Back in the TV, Zack Morris and company discover the Master Programmer watching the Saturday morning cartoons on a bunch of monitors for some reason.
Turns out he’s Sherman Hemsley, who was relevant again for a short time due to starring in a NBC sitcom again. Sherman tells them he’ll send them back to Bayside, but only if they agree to be in the missing television show. The others think that’s a great idea but wonder what they’d look like as a silly, nonsensical sitcom, and he shows them clips from their own show. I wonder if these things actually happened to the gang at this point, or if he’s predicting the future? That’s pretty freaky if we’re finding out Sherman Hemsley is psychic. He sends them back and, as much as I wish he’d keep Screech so The New Class had never happened, sends him along with them.
Back at Bayside, Marsha Warfield’s excited that she’s going to get to enforce her arbitrary rules against the gang, but then they pop back into existence out of thin air before her very eyes just before the bell rings, because, get it, they were saved by the bell! Isn’t that a hilarious in joke? Laugh damn it! It took the writers a whole five minutes to think that one up! And our special ends with no one questioning the nature of their reality now that they know Saturday morning shows exist in their universe, controlled by Sherman Hemsley and the Micro Machines guy.
After reviewing the shitty New Class for so long, it was nice to see the original Saved by the Bell gang in action again, especially looking so young and full of life. Even Screech is his much more tolerable and younger self. This special raises so many questions, though. Were the gang self-aware they’re a badly written television series all along?
In any case, we now know why Marsha Warfield came to Thanksgiving at Cal U: to finally get her revenge on Zack Morris for the humiliation of not being able to punish him for truancy even though he was truant.