So we’re nearing the home stretch, and this season was weird, to say the least. To remind us of where we’re coming from, let’s take a quick look at where we’ve been in this series. Season one was bad, but in a “they’re just copying the original class nearly word for word” sort of bad. Season two was complete and utter shit and best relegated to the dust bin. Season three saw a significant improvement but still had some pretty bad episodes and made Lindsay and Tommy D feel superfluous. Season four did better on integrating the cast as a whole but it felt like they had no clue what attributes to give the new cast members.
Then there’s season five. You would think that, with only one cast change this season, they would try to learn from the mistakes of last season and actually make a good season of this show. Instead, we get what may be the weirdest season thus far. With the exception of the very short rivalry between Ryan and Nicky over Liz, there were no clear threads this season.
Instead, it feels like the writers were throwing darts at a giant bulletin board full of story ideas and just going with the stupidest possible shit they could come up with. Nicky randomly breaking up with Maria over pot? Check. The boys getting stuck in an elevator? Check. Ryan suddenly being a swim team captain? Why the hell not, even though he was established as a wrestler last season. And this isn’t even counting the “away from Bayside” episodes, which, oh, I promise I’ll get to…
All in all, this season feels fucking boring. With the exception of Nicky and Katie getting back together in the penultimate episode, nothing of any lasting significance happened this season. Nothing. In a show that already feels horribly copied from its predecessor, this season felt like a filler season, like they had to pump out twenty-six episodes and so they put out twenty-six episodes that just leave one scratching their head and asking if that’s really the best they could come up with.
I mean, the writing quality was bad, even for this show. There were times it seemed like they were trying their damndest to keep up continuity, but then, other times, they just completely made shit up, the best instance being Screech not quitting his job as security guard at the mall after he told Mr. Belding he would. It’s just all so mediocre that I almost miss the bad writing of season two. At least that gave me something to get really pissed off about.
And I’m trying to be generous. I know this was Miguel Higuera’s first season as director and that he was filling big shoes after Don Barnhardt’s departure from the franchise. But, if Higuera couldn’t at least be as good as the previous season, maybe they should have gotten someone else to do the job. I just picture Higuera showing up drunk to the set every day and just telling the cast to act as stupid as they can while not exhibiting real emotion.
And the away from Bayside episodes…oh my lord…
Besides the mall episodes, which I’m come to expect this show to do a ton of, we had the Paris episodes, the Habitat for Humanity episodes, and the wilderness episodes. These three arcs may be the three worst in the history of this franchise and would have been more entertaining had it just been our eight cast members sitting in an empty room reading from Atlas Shrugged. By far, the wilderness arc was the worst of the three and doesn’t deserve to exist, but all three have their moments of facepalming awfulness, from Americans doing horrible French accents to not understanding basic immigration procedures to building a house in two weeks to Maria becoming Bear Grylls instantly to the worst looking outdoor set in the history of television.
I mean, seriously, these eight episodes can go fuck themselves. And, by request, I counted how many episodes were away from Bayside this season. There were thirteen, meaning that half the season of a show that takes place in high school doesn’t take place in high school. Mind you, I’m getting used to this as thirteen episodes each of seasons two, three and four also took place away from Bayside, but it’s still ridiculous.
Let’s talk characters.
Ryan continues the trajectory his character started last season of being a horrible asshole when it so suits the plot. At other times, we’re supposed to love and respect him as the default leader of the gang. Really, neither works because he’s long lost the playfulness and Zack Morris-like scheming that made me like him back in season three. Most of this season, he was solely defined by his relationship with Liz as the writers seemed desperate to ram that little subplot down our throats before Richard Lee Jackson left the cast.
And, yet, it didn’t have to be this way. There were interesting threads around, like the rivalry between Nicky and him, the pain over his break-up with Rachel (which could have easily been tied in with his cheating on her last season), and his…well, let’s face it, they didn’t give him a whole lot to do this season. Every time it looked like Ryan was going to get something interesting to do, they let it drop after a couple of episodes and pressed the rest button to ensure we wouldn’t have to think of it again. The character I once thought was the best addition this series ever made is a shell of his former self, and it shows.
As for Richard Lee Jackson, he’s continued acting on and off over the years, mostly in small roles, with his most recent gig being a 2014 episode of Grimm. He’s never quite been able to get out of the shadow of his more famous and successful brother, Jonathan Jackson, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying. He’s also tried his hand at music with his older brother to mixed reviews. These days, he mostly stays at home in Nashville and works on his graphic design business. If you’re curious what he’s up to nowadays, you can always check him out on Twitter where you can see two things: that he hasn’t aged a bit since the ’90s and that he is really, really in love with Ted Cruz.
Maria had a lot of episodes devoted to her, some of them the worst episodes of the season. The writers broke Nicky and her up very early, freeing her up to do not a whole lot of shit important to the show before eventually dating an older man and nearly killing Ryan. She would be the Screech of this season if it weren’t for Screech actually being on the show.
Yeah, other than her breakup with Nicky, nothing this season really feels like it matters. Her short-lived relationship with Mike is soon forgotten. She sees no character development or regression, her characterization is horribly inconsistent, ranging from tough Latina to little princess stereotype, and she’s just kind of there most of the time. Hard to believe she’s going to go into season six as the senior cast member considering the writers don’t seem to know what to do with her.
Nicky…what can I say about Nicky? At least he’s not talking about New York every episode anymore. Hell, I’m not even sure the writers remember all the shit about New York from last season. There is one thing consistent about Nicky’s major plot points this season: they all come the fuck out of nowhere. His breaking up with Maria, his desire to date Liz, and his getting back together with Katie all feel like the writers were just looking for random ways to shake things up so they started playing eine meaney miney mo with the female members of the cast.
And here’s the thing about Nicky: out of the male members of the cast, I care about Nicky less than any of them. There is no difference in characterization between Nicky and Ryan. None. Well, except maybe he doesn’t fill out a Speedo as well as Ryan. But if he was meant to replace Tommy D, they did a pretty shitty job of characterization. Nicky is useless on this show and I think the writers knew it. I just hope they do something to differentiate him from the new cast member next season.
Katie continues to be poor as her sole characterization, and even that is inconsistent. After all, how the fuck can she afford to go to Paris and on the wilderness trip? Sometimes she’s a voice of reason, more often she’s an idiot who runs around whining about not being able to find a job or obsessively stalking her boyfriend. The writers can’t seem to make up their minds what they want to do with her.
And yet she would have made a good candidate for a replacement for Lindsay, but the writers, for some reason, insist on trying to make her more of a Jessie when that’s obviously not who her character is. What are we supposed to make of her? I doubt even the writers knew, and why should they? By this season they were just inserting Katie into whatever random plot or subplot they needed.
Let me make this clear: Eric is at his best when he’s doing something music related, even if it’s the ridiculous gangster rap he tried to do this season. He’s at his worst when the writers are insisting on trying to make him a football star or making him whine about Paris and shit. Like R.J. and Bobby before him, Eric seems like the most underused member of the cast, although that began to pick up this season when he got a two episode relationship arc as the writers showed their ignorance of basic immigration procedures.
And there’s a strange trend: Eric being teamed up with Screech when they don’t know what else to do with him. Seriously, as lukewarm as I am on Eric, I don’t consider him such a huge idiot he would risk his liberty to do shit with Screech. If Eric were just abandoned a the wilderness lodge and no one ever came to pick him up, do you suppose any of the gang would notice?
It’s only when I write this recap that I realize how many of the characters could have been exchanged with a cardboard box and there would be no discernible difference in the plot, but nowhere is that more evident than with Liz. The writers seemed to have been searching for a new character with all the blandness of Rachel and none of the interesting bits, and they rolled that into her. Seriously, like Rachel before her, Liz is almost solely defined by the man she’s with.
I’m serious: without Ryan, I can’t imagine what Liz will do next season. She has the swim thing but you know they won’t give a shit about that beyond maybe an episode or two. She occasionally acts as the voice of reason when everyone else are acting like idiots, except when she’s acting like an idiot herself. They were in such a rush to pair her with Ryan this season they didn’t bother giving Liz an actual personality, so you’re left to assume that Maria and Katie bragging about how much more awesome Rachel was than her is an accurate assessment of Liz’s character.
And then there’s Screech and Mr. Belding. How Screech keeps a job is beyond me. One of the clip episodes even focused on how much of a fuck up he’s been this season, and that’s not even counting his stupidity from the previous three seasons. That nice lovable but goofy character from Good Morning Miss Bliss is now a law suit waiting to happen as he infests Bayside with the presence of a two year old caught in a grown up’s body. How women keep falling for him season after season is beyond me. I’d be afraid of being killed by his utter stupidity.
Poor Mr. Belding has now made the full transition to Screech’s lackey. Several of you have commented that Dennis Haskins was unhappy with the direction the writers took Mr. Belding, basically turning him into a nincompoop who was the butt of every stupid Screech idea, and I can believe it. I’ve said many times that Mr. Belding is at his best when he’s the loving but strict mentor figure to the gang, but I don’t think we’ve truly seen that side of him in a very long time. Instead, we get to see him run through Paris with plaster on his head or through the wilderness dressed in the world’s worst bird costume. Either must have been humiliating to Haskins.
Of course, with both of them gone so often from Bayside, the real question becomes how Bayside runs with its only two administrators traveling the world with six of their students. I wish I knew. If I was gone that often from my job, I’d be fired, and with good reason. I guess they should be glad the school board doesn’t give a shit what anyone does.
I don’t even know how to adequately sum this season up except to say it feels like it shouldn’t exist. The writers feel like they were at least trying to explore unexplored territory, but it’s either really boring or downright ridiculous. Nothing about the existence of this season makes any sense.
And yet, as I prepare to review the final twenty-six episodes of this show, I have to comment that it feels like this isn’t the same show I started reviewing two years ago. And that’s the sad thing: in the end, nothing matters on this show because Mr. Belding and Screech are the only elements that can’t be replaced. And I think that’s going to end up being the crux of the problem with this show: you could keep replacing cast members forever and it won’t matter because no one, from the writers to the director to the producers or even the set designer, gave a shit about this show. They were just watching it continue to rake in the dough from poor kids who wanted this to be the Saved by the Bell of their generation.
Mercifully, they wouldn’t have to wait much longer for this curse to end.
As usual, here are the five episodes from this season I hate more than the others since, yet again, we have a season where I don’t particularly like any of them, though I did think of including Thug Dog Little’s episode as an honorable mention since it was so stupid. Please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments!
Episode 4: “Football & Physics”: The New Class should not have tried to take on racism. What I’m sure they meant as a serious examination of a societal ill just makes it look like the writers have no clue what racism is and they perpetuate the stereotype that African Americans are always pulling the race card for everything. Seriously, after seeing how California Dreams handled racism, it’s even more painful to realize how much of an utter failure this episode is.
Episode 11: “Friends Behaving Badly”: Everybody acts out of the little character they normally exhibit this episode as everyone acts like a stupid idiot to Nicky but still want to go on yet another trip. These six fuck-ups must be the most privileged idiots in the world to get to go on so many worldwide trips every year.
Episode 16: “Screech and the Substitute”: Okay, I get it. I’ve been saying it all along: no woman should ever want to have sex with Screech. Yet, after you’ve spent three seasons charcterizing him as a lady’s man, you can’t just randomly have the gang decide to agree with me! Seriously, what the fuck were they thinking with this stupid episode!
Episode 23: “Private Peterson”: I will always remember this episode as the MRA episode. Seriously, the guys in this episode are so stereotypically misogynist it’s painful to watch. The conflict shouldn’t even be a conflict, as why the hell would Eric take those assholes’ sides over Katie. To top it off, the writers obviously don’t understand how ROTC works and it shows.
Episode 24: “Into the Woods”: Yeah, no surprise this episode is on here, right? There is so much wrong with this episode that I couldn’t get it all into the review, so you all kindly commented with the many things I missed. This one is a contender for worst episode of the season. I’d rather watch Lindsay’s anorexia episode, Rachel’s date rape episode, or the smoking episode over this one any day.
With that pain over, tune in Monday as we dive into season six of this horrible, horrible series. And don’t forget to check out my other review blog, California Dreams Reviewed, where I’m tackling another of Peter Engel’s ugly bastard children!