In philosophy, there is a theory that says all possible worlds exist in the same way ours does. So, there is a possible world out there somewhere in which The New Class was not cancelled after season seven. Instead, it continued with Screech as principal and a consistently rotating class, and is still airing to this day. In this possible world, critics look at The New Class as an icon of television in the same way they do The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, Law & Order, Gunsmoke, and other long running shows. Also, Dustin Diamond is a sex icon and all the ladies yearn to be fucked by him.
Fortunately, that is not the possible world we exist in and, on January 8, 2000, the final new episode of The New Class aired, marking an end to the official Saved by the Bell franchise. It’s hard to believe that the franchise which always seemed a decade behind in its fashion and music managed to squeak into the twenty-first century, but it happened.
Meanwhile, in my world, I was blissfully unaware of how horrible a show I’d managed to miss. After all, I was nineteen at the time the show went off the air, so, not only am I as old as some of the cast, but I was the target demographic. Fortunately, I was busy getting into anime and B-movies so I had no time for what seemed like a stupid and brainless American teen comedy.
Was I right to skip this series? Oh, fuck yeah! I had much better things to do with my time and much better shows to watch. But The New Class was still hanging around, waiting for a reviewer with a high tolerance for pain to review every stinkin’ episode. I’d like to say it was because I’d watched so much Mystery Science Theater 3000 growing up, but I would rather watch most of the movies on there any day without Joel, Mike, and the bots riffing them than ever watch another god damned second of this stupid shit.
And, so, I’ve done what no other reviewer I know of has ever done: I’ve reviewed the complete official franchise, including The New Class. Plenty have done the original series, and many, including my reviewing idol, Billy Superstar, have included Good Morning, Miss Bliss and The College Years, but none that I know of have ever tackled this shit stain of a show. Oh, how I envy them. I can’t unsee the last three years of my life, no matter how much I would like to.
So how did a franchise that was once a guilty pleasure so-bad-it’s-good type show that is fondly remembered by many turn into this? Well, I’ll give you three guesses, and, if you say anything other than Peter Engel and NBC wanted to keep the cash cow that was Saved by the Bell going, you lose. It actually made sense for the original Saved by the Bell to go off the air after four seasons. But it had become a cult favorite by that point and NBC wasn’t so willing to let it go.
And so we got the horrible spin-offs that were The College Years and The New Class. Fortunately, they got rid of The College Years after a season. But why did The New Class stick around so long? I’ve had people argue to me that the reason was because it was good. No, the real reason was a Saturday morning show didn’t need the type of ratings a prime time one did, and The College Years just couldn’t compete while The New Class didn’t need to because kids can be stupid and will watch any old shit. So, no, I do not consider seven seasons of this show a real success when it was carrying the Saved by the Bell brand.
It wasn’t helped by its constantly revolving cast. I have no idea for sure why so many teenagers graced the halls of Bayside on The New Class. If I had to guess, though, I would say that, at least in some cases, the cast got too cocky and wanted more money. Dustin Diamond claims in his book that Peter Engel was unforgiving when it came to money, and this is why Kelly and Jessie didn’t return for the final episodes of Saved by the Bell. If this is true (and it is admittedly difficult to tell what that comes out of Diamond’s mouth is real), I would say some of them demanded raises and then walked when they didn’t get them. How else do you explain that Maria was with the series for four filmed seasons, but no one else made it past three? I could especially see this with, say, Bianca Lawson and Richard Lee Jackson, Bianca because she probably genuinely deserved a raise, Richard because he thought he deserved more as Jonathan Jackson’s brother.
The real test is how well the show is remembered today and, as my commenters have pointed out, it’s really not. Many people remember Peter Engel’s other shows such as California Dreams, Hang Time, City Guys, and even USA High. But how many really remember The New Class? Not a lot. In fact, it hasn’t been in syndication in at least a decade, and the DVDs are out of print now. For a show that lasted so long, The New Class has had virtually no staying power, and that really says a lot to me about how forgotten this series is.
I mean, people talk about Zack Morris, Slater, Kelly, and even Screech all the time as television icons from their childhood, but when was the last time you heard someone talking about the wacky Swiss boy, Brian, or the pretty gymnast, Lindsay, or the…whatever the hell he’s supposed to be, Tony. At their worst, characters from The New Class made me want to punch my screen. At best, they were bland and uninteresting with no definable characteristics.
That’s because, at its core, The New Class wasn’t about the teenagers. It was about Mr. Belding and Screech, the only two consistent characters over the seven season run. Even when they try to focus on the teenagers, there has to be a subplot between these two, even if it’s ridiculous and contrived. I have a theory: The New Class is really about Mr. Belding’s slow mental breakdown. In the first season, he’s enjoying his job as he’s adjusting to life as a father. When Screech returns to Bayside, his sanity is slowly drained as time and time again Screech makes his life a living hell and makes him look like a complete fool to his colleagues. By the seventh season, Mr. Belding is ready to snap when he gets one final chance to get the hell away from Screech and takes it.
Really, it makes sense. I’ve seen a fan theory that suggested the time capsule clip show episode from the original series was really Mr. Belding imagining what his life would be like had Screech never came to work at Bayside. And it’s sad, indeed, to watch a once great character go downhill so much. Mr. Belding was not Mr. Belding any longer on this show. Instead, he was around to be Screech’s punching bag, and that’s not how I want to remember this character.
The New Class suffered from never having a real identity of its own and always trying to imitate the original, not to mention a few plots ripped directly from other Peter Engel sitcoms. It was most blatant in the first season, but it never really disappeared. In fact, if anything, the more subtle the plagiarism became, the worse the show was.
To me, this is the real reason the series has had no staying power. In the absence of no real identity of its own, the series is instantly forgettable once you turn it off. I didn’t realize until I started putting the bottom ten list for this series together just how many episodes I’ve already forgotten from this series. Is there truly a reason to watch it over and over again?
This was compounded by the fact that the show tried to take all the things the original is remembered for and multiply them. An attempt to recapture the glory days of Malibu Sands led to a tradition of staging episodes in increasingly more ridiculous settings away from Bayside. People’s memory of Saved by the Bell‘s very special episodes led to some pretty horrible, preachy messages that got worse as the seasons rolled on. Even Screech inventing a robot led to the invention of Kevin’s mentally challenged brother.
All, in all, I don’t have much more to say about this series or its characters I haven’t already said. It should have never seen the light of day, and then it stuck around for seven years with the most incompetent writers and cast I’ve ever seen.
I think Billy Superstar got off easy reviewing Full House. The New Class was a horrible, painful experience from start to finish, and, once I’m finished with this blog, I never plan on watching it again. I spent nearly three years reviewing this damned show, and I feel like I’m dumber for the experience. I think it shows in my reviews as well. At times, I wondered how many more ways I could find to express my disgust with this show’s cast and its writers. One commenter even suggested a drinking game every time I call Screech a dumb ass.
And it’s the truth. I completely get why I’m the first person to review this series all the way through. It’s the ugly stepchild of the franchise and, I dare say, if they ever have a reunion movie, it would not surprise me in the least if they retcon everything from this show and declare it non-canonical. It’s time to leave this show behind, with my recommendation that no sane person ever put themselves through what I have. Unless you’re a sado-masochst, there’s really no reason you need to subject yourself to The New Class.
So what now for this blog? Well, I’m not quite done with the Saved by the Bell franchise yet. I probably won’t finish reviewing the comics as the Harvey ones are just fucking horrible and the Roar Comics ones are…well…actually pretty decent, making it very difficult for me to find stuff to make fun of in them. I reviewed the first volume of the Roar Comics version, so that should be enough to give interested people a taste.
That said, there are still some odds and ends in the extended Saved by the Bell universe I want to take a look at, so I’m going to spend the next couple months or so looking at some of the odder corners of this franchise. When I’m done, I will be doing a final retrospective on the franchise as a whole as well as this blog. In the meantime, though, tune in next Monday as we delve into the first installment of the odd, odd world of the extended universe with Who Shrunk Saturday Morning?