When Wedding in Las Vegas aired on October 7, 1994, it was essentially the end of the original cast’s era. Sure, Screech went on to be the most annoying administrative assistant ever on The New Class while Zack Morris, Slater, and Lisa will make cameos, and there were a few more novels and comics produced featuring the original cast, but the closest we’ve come to a reunion has been the Jimmy Fallon sketch. Most of the cast hate Dustin Diamond so much that it’s likely we will never get another live action entry for the original cast.
And if the franchise started with a whimper, with the only reason anyone took notice of Good Morning Miss Bliss being the collaboration between NBC and Disney Channel, it went out with a bang. Zack Morris and Kelly’s wedding was highly promoted and The New Class even shoehorned in a reference to make sure everyone knew this was happening. Hell, even if you didn’t watch the show, you probably knew the wedding film was being aired.
And, nearly thirty years after the original class made its on screen debut, the series has become legendary. Zack Morris, Kelly Kapowski, Screech Powers, and A.C. Slater are household names among kids from my generation. And the legend continues to be well known. When the YouTube series Teens React did an episode in honor of the original series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, some of them readily recognized Saved by the Bell.
And it’s no wonder. The original series has been in near constant syndication since before it left the air. As of this writing, reruns continue to air on MTV2. At times, edited episodes of Good Morning Miss Bliss and The College Years have even aired in the rotation. The show that was panned by critics has become a legend today and shows no sign of going away anytime soon.
I’ve said about as much as I can in the reviews and individual recaps, but an interesting question I have barely touched on is: why has this silly franchise persisted when so many others have faded? It’s clear from the documentaries that the people responsible for this show had no fucking clue, and the critics and academics fared little better. Maybe this is why The College Years crashed and burned so hard: there was no serious thought behind why people actually watched this show.
To me, it appears to be a combination of things. Boys wanted to be Zack Morris, the cool, attractive, athletic guy who almost always got the girl and could always scheme his way out of trouble. Girls wanted to be Kelly Kapowski, the cool, pretty, popular girl who everyone wanted as a friend and who seemed to have it all, despite coming from a lower economic class than the rest of her friends.
But, more than this, it was a microcosm of high school life, and I think the critics are on to something when they say we hoped things would turn out for us as well as they did for the Saved by the Bell characters. I mean, hell, Zack Morris was a slacker and managed to get into an Ivy League college. Screech was a fucking dumb ass and managed to not let his own stupidity get him killed (and people liked him, for some reason). And everyone seemed happy and part of a group.
And it was just pure fun. Very few people took the stupidity of some of these episodes seriously. Did anyone seriously think caffeine pills were dangerous? Did we really believe the government was stupid enough to mistake Screech for an alien? Were we really in the dark how unrealistic this portrayal of high school life was? I don’t think so. We took it for what it was: a gloriously ridiculous show that only bore a passing resemblance to reality.
And behind it all was Zack Morris, undoubtedly the central character to the original cast. What we don’t tend to remember is how much of a sociopath Zack Morris was. I mean, hell, he actually got married just to prevent Kelly from going on a semester at sea program. What it boils down to is that Zack Morris had no concern for anyone but himself (unless, of course, the plot called for it to be otherwise).
The New Class tried and failed to replicate Zack Morris four times. There can only be one, and his antics are what made the show. It’s been argued that Zack Morris and Slater were essentially the same character and, while there are similarities, their personalities were definitely different. No one will ever accuse Slater of being the sort of sociopath that Zack Morris became.
For six years, Zack Morris gave hope that one could do whatever the hell they wanted and get away with it. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? From coming to class nearly naked to getting virtually any girl he wanted, rigging elections to gaining admission to a university he clearly didn’t deserve, Zack Morris was a role model for the boys and a sex object for the girls (and the gay and bi boys).
The problem is that the longer the original class aired, the more serious they took themselves, and that just didn’t work. We went from goofy episodes about Screech getting psychic powers or Zack Morris thinking Kelly was a psycho in season one to the drudgery that was much of season four and The College Years. It just didn’t work to take this goofy, so-bad-its-good show and try to turn them into Full House. And that’s exactly what many of the later episodes were: boring shadows of how the show started.
Would Saved by the Bell make it today? I think it would. Think about how many cheesy shows on Disney and Nickelodeon owe their existence to the Engle-verse. Would Hannah Montana or Drake and Josh have become household names had there never been Bayside High? I tend to think not. Saved by the Bell wasn’t the first live action scripted show to be primarily marketed to young teens, but it was the first to show that such shows could be successful and, more importantly, profitable.
Even if NBC is no longer producing programs aimed at teens, the legacy continues and will continue. There will continue to be teen comedies and dramas for the foreseeable future. Some will be more popular and successful than others, but all will owe their existence to an accidental success: a teen sitcom about a sociopathic young boy, his five easily tricked friends, and their naive school principal. Oh, and there was a shitty magician thrown in there for a season as well.
I don’t think any of us will ever know for sure what the on-set dynamics were like. I tend to think Dustin Diamond was full of shit at least eighty percent of the time in his tell all, and the Lifetime biopic is almost certainly equally inaccurate. Watching interviews with the cast, I tend to think most of them have a genuine affection for one another. Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley seemed genuinely happy to be together again on Extra, and the whole cast minus Diamond and Voorhies seemed to work really well together on Jimmy Fallon.
Most of the cast have, understandably, distanced themselves to some degree to avoid being typecast. The big exception is Dustin Diamond, who’s still trying his damndest to ride the B-list celebrity status that thirteen years associated with this franchise gave him. What’s for sure are that these actors were talented, even Diamond, and that the success of the show depended a lot on their performances. After all, look how horribly The New Class falls flat due to bringing in a bunch of actors who couldn’t cut it.
It’s time to say goodbye to most of the original cast. We’ll have another opportunity to say goodbye to Dustin Diamond and Dennis Haskins. For now, though, it’s time to bid farewell to the rest of the original cast.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar found himself typecast following The College Years and had a bit of trouble finding work. He got his big break in 2001 when he was cast as a replacement for the lead role on NYPD Blue. Since then, he’s aced almost constantly, with his other most famous role being the titular Franklin on Franklin and Bash. As of 2015, he’s married and has two children. All in all, it seems like he has a good life.
Mario Lopez has acted nearly constantly since The College Years was cancelled, with recurring roles on The Bold and the Beautiful, Nip/Tuck, and The Chica Show. But his most famous role has, by far, been as the co-host of Extra. He’s also somewhat of a fitness expert, authoring his own book on fitness.
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, or Tiffani Thiessen as she prefers to be called nowadays, found steady work faster than any other cast member as replacement Shannon Doherty on Beverly Hills, 90210. No, really, she was replacement Shannon Doherty. She was even briefly considered as a replacement for Doherty on Charmed. She’s worked nearly constantly. Other than 90210, her most famous role was as a regular on White Collar. As of 2016, she seems to be taking a break, with her last acting credit being the Jimmy Fallon sketch, presumably taking a break to raise her new baby.
Following Saved by the Bell, Elizabeth Berkley made the mistake of starring in the so-bad-it’s-good cult film Showgirls, as I’ve made fun of her for several times. Though she’s continued to act over the years, many people find it difficult to take her seriously, which is unfortunate, as Showgirls being as terrible as it was clearly wasn’t her fault. She’s had very few recurring or starring roles as a result, with notable exceptions being on The L Word and CSI: Miami. She also runs a non-profit, Ask Elizabeth, which aims to help teenage girls overcome personal issues, and is raising a beautiful family.
Lark Voorhies has been, perhaps, the least successful actress post-Saved by the Bell. She’s been in a lot of stuff, but her only recurring roles have been on Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful, and In the House. She’s been twice married and divorced and recent photos seem to suggest she’s been having Michael Jackson levels of plastic surgery. Her last acting credit was in a 2014 children’s show, and she seems to be keeping a low profile nowadays. She’s also the only cast member that seems to be cordial to Dustin Diamond nowadays.
And now what some of you have been waiting for: the future of this blog on Fridays. When I began, this was as far as I knew I wanted to go with this blog, and it has been a painstaking process, especially since I added The New Class to the mix. I’ve been keeping a steady pace on this blog for nearly two years and have never missed a deadline. While reviewing the original class, my life has changed drastically, and I’ve even lived in multiple countries since this blog began. I’m tired.
Some people expressed surprise that i decided to go directly into The New Class when I finished Good Morning Miss Bliss. It was partially motivated by the fact that I knew this day would eventually come: the day when all I have left to review are episodes of the bastard stepchild of the franchise.Given the reputation of The New Class, I didn’t quite fancy having nearly three more years of reviews to go when I finished The College Years, so I decided to jump right in and get it over with.
But I need a break from this pace. I’m definitely continuing The New Class on Mondays, but Fridays will be less structured. I’m eventually going to finish reviewing the comics and delve into some of the other oddities of the franchise (and, yes, the Lifetime biopic will probably eventually be in that mix). I’ve considered reviewing the teen novels, of which thirty-seven exist, but it would mean tracking down all these on ebay and Amazon Marketplace and then actually reading them. And I’d still love to delve into some of Peter Engel’s other TNBC series, though a full TNBC Reviewed blog doesn’t seem tenable given that some of the more obscure series seem to have disappeared without a trace. What should come once I get some energy back? You let me know.
For now, thank you for reading the rambling of a guy who managed to miss Saved by the Bell completely during the nineties despite being the age of the target demographic. I know it may be tempting for some of you to leave now, but please don’t! Share my pain as I review the final three seasons of The New Class! Don’t make me do it alone! In the coming weeks, we’ll get to experience the dangers of marijuana and herbal supplements, watch the gang build houses for Habitat for Humanity and travel to Paris, and wonder why Kareem-Abdul Jamar was so desperate he accepted a cameo on The New Class. Doesn’t that sound exciting kids?!?
I know. I’m kidding myself again.