Category Archives: Miscellaneous

I Was Saved by the Bell

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I’ve given Peter Engel a lot of crap, both on this blog and on California Dreams Reviewed, for producing some of the cheesiest and corniest story lines in existence. I may have implied a time or two that he doesn’t understand the basics of how high school works and that his writers couldn’t come up with a compelling story or character in The New Class to save their lives. I may have been pretty harsh on the guy over the last three years.

Yet there’s something about Engel that exudes just being the nicest guy in the world and genuinely wanting to make good television for teens and, though I’m sure he and I would disagree about religion, I can’t fault him for that. He’s like the polar opposite of Dustin Diamond: a man I would probably agree with more on such controversial topics but would be tempted to scream at if I saw in person. So, when I discovered his memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True, was coming out in November 2016, I thought that reviewing it would be a great way to end this blog, plus I still really want to wash the taste of Behind the Bell out of my mouth.

I won’t go in too deep on the parts that don’t directly deal with Saved by the Bell, and it is a long book, so I’ll do my best to let you know if it’s worth reading or not.

Prologue: Thirteen or Call Security

This is a cute story about how Engel convinced Brandon Tartikoff to give the first season of Saved by the Bell a full order: he laid down in the middle of Tartikoff’s office, demanding thirteen more episodes or Tartikoff would have to call security to have him removed. Very telling how much he believed in the show, even so early on.

Part I: In the Beginning

Like a memoir should, this one starts off in Peter Engel’s childhood, telling the story of how he began his love affair with television soon after his father purchased their first set, how he fell in love with producing, briefly studied textile engineering in North Carolina where he experienced the wrath of segregation, changed course to film at NYU (maybe Nicky choosing NYU for film was a homage to Engel?), and became a page at NBC, learning the ropes on The Tonight Show and The Perry Como Show. The amazing thing is you can tell he has such a deep respect for the people he worked with that hardly an ill word is ever spoken.

We have such an amazingly class picture here of a young man coming up in television, and Engel soon started producing New York area sports for television in between being a reservist. This section ends with a shocking incident in 1963 and a lead in to a part of Engel’s life that was very painful and disheartening for him. I can’t help but admire him, for, though he always felt like the outsider in his family and, later, career, he pushed on, determined to make a name for himself.

Part II: JFK

This is a relatively short part designed to show how important Engel’s work as a campaigner for John F. Kennedy in 1960 was. Through the campaign, he became optimistic and full of hope for the future, but his hope was soon shattered by news that an assassin’s bullet killed President Kennedy only three years later.

Part III: California Here I Come

This section details Engel’s move from New York to Los Angeles with his first wife, Chris, to work for Metromedia. Though he was enamored with the allure of California, he continued to have trouble finding a production gig, and he details encounters with Bette Davis and Orson Welles he hoped would lead to a show but didn’t.

Metromedia put Engel to work making pilots while he searched for a show. His first production was for a mini-series about the ice capades. There, he met a fiesty Olympic figure skater named Linda Carbonetto, and realized he was in love.

Part IV: Searching for that Hit

Engel’s relationship with his first wife deteriorated as he started seeing Linda behind her back. Eventually, Engel and Chris divorced and Linda became his second wife by 1974. There’s some funny antecedents here about Engel finding out his new father-in-law is a drag queen, acting as a handler for Jacques Cousteau, and pissing off legendary producer Joseph Levine. He tried to get John Lennon for a talk show but was prevented because Lennon wanted Yoko Ono to be his co-host. Engel also saw the birth of his first child, Lauren, during this period.

The bulk of the section, though, is about Engel finally producing his own series, Sirota’s Court, which sought to use humor in examining hard issues of the day, including racism and homophobia. The series received critical acclaim and was picked up for a thirteen episode mid-season run on NBC in 1976. Sadly, the show wasn’t a favorite of big-wigs at NBC and it was quietly dropped after its initial run.

Part V: God is Nice

This is where a lot of the dark stuff comes in. Engel had poured his heart and soul into Sirota’s Court. It was cancelled shortly after Linda asked for a divorce in 1978. To top it off, Linda decided to move Lauren to New York, and this broke Engel’s heart. He found himself suddenly drawn to drugs, and lots of them. His contacts in Hollywood soon dried up and he found himself sinking lower and lower, to the point that he was gaining a reputation in Hollywood.

This is what I love about Engel. Unlike Dustin Diamond, Engel is not talking about his sordid past to say, “Hey, look how cool I was!” but to point out how low he’d fallen. This goes for his drug dealing and his cheating on his first wife in section four. Peter Engel was crashing, and he needed help.

He found it one night, in the midst of what he thought was a heart attack, when he had a mystical experience during which he says Jesus appeared to him. A few months later, he found himself at a party with Blazing Saddles actor Cleavon Little, where he met a Christian couple who lead him in a conversion experience. Engel turned his life around and soon met his third wife, Connie. They were married in 1981 and had two sons, Joshua and Samuel.

Part VI: Saved by the Bell

Now we get to why most people are probably reading this book: Saved by the Bell. Much of this story will already be familiar to people who have much familiarity with the background of the show, so I’m going to go through and list some of the new details I gleaned from this section:

  • NBC had already decided not to pick up Good Morning, Miss Bliss when they aired the original pilot in 1987.
  • Engel’s sons drew the heart that became the logo for Engel Productions.
  • Engel’s daughter, Lauren, had Zack fever.
  • Unlike other accounts, Engel says they always intended to have Jessie as a character; they just weren’t considering Elizabeth Burkley for her role until after she auditioned for Kelly.
  • Dustin Diamond’s claims to the contrary, Linda Mancuso appears to have been smitten with Mario Lopez.
  • Mark-Paul Goselaar was intimidated by the crowds of girls who wanted to meet him even before the show aired.
  • Mark-Paul also would frequently visit Engel to make sure he had the “talk to the camera” segments where Zack Morris broke the fourth wall down.
  • Lark Voorhies was almost fired by Brandon Tartikoff because she had an exceptionally bad performance during one of the early episodes. She was saved because she avoided Engel and Engel put off telling her she was fired. Lucky for her, “The Lisa Card” was the next week’s episode, and Tartikoff was impressed and endorsed her staying with the show.
  • There’s no mention of the show having bad ratings in the first season. By Engel’s account, it was a hit nearly instantly.
  • The mall tours led to an incident where Mark-Paul and Tiffani had to be whisked away by the police. In the process, they accidentally left their set teacher, Sydney Sharron, behind in a swarm of obsessed teenagers.
  • One mall tour stop was moved from Manhattan to Long Island because it was feared a full scale riot would break out.
  • Engel’s son, Stephen, then six years old, often helped him warm up the audience, and Engel himself loved the atmosphere of excitement the audience produced.
  • In “Jessie’s Song”, Jessie was originally supposed to be on speed, not caffeine pills, which made a hell of a lot more sense. The censorial department at NBC vetoed this, though, and caffeine pills became the compromise. I’m actually inclined to forgive Peter Engel for this knowing this tidbit of information.
  • Engel had never met Aaron Spelling prior to casting Tori as Violet. She was just so good in auditions she had the entire room in an uproar.
  • Engel says Aaron Spelling told him he liked Saved by the Bell better than 90210.
  • During Engel’s last visit with Aaron Spelling, after he’d already been diagnosed with cancer, they joked about different shows involving Screech they could make, like Screech as a brain surgeon, Malibu lifeguard, or pastor, like on 7th Heaven.
  • Engel knew Zack Morris and Kelly would have to break up as Zack Morris was a much less exciting character while dating. The audience booed Kelly cheating on Zack Morris, and Mark-Paul and Tiffani begged Engel to change the script, but they went on.
  • Engel admits there was on-set drama and cliques. He saw it as his job to break up the cliques and keep the actors on good terms. Dennis Haskins was often his on-set mole, alerting him to potential problems. One story he tells is that Mario and Tiffani started dating just before the Palm Desert episodes, and she would later find him kissing another girl in his dressing room, ending their relationship.
  • Many of the Malibu Sands episodes were filmed during the “June haze,” when a thin layer in the air brought freezing temperatures to the L.A. beach. So, the actors had to work hard to make working in bathing suits look fun as they froze their asses off.
  • During taping of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Mark-Paul challenged Engel to an ATV race. Mark-Paul won because Engel couldn’t figure out how to shift the thing.
  • Hawaiian Style had a small budget, even for a television movie, and it reflected in a break-neck shooting schedule and the fact that many scenes had to be filmed in California.
  • The scene in Hawaiian Style of Screech being drawn out to sea on his inflatable dragon was real. Wind almost drug Dustin Diamond out to sea, and he grabbed the ankle of a random lifeguard hired to be a surfer extra at the last minute to keep from being pulled out. How unfortunate for us. In any case, Engel liked the footage so much he kept it in.

Part VII: NBC and Me

Engel’s first show after Saved by the Bell was California Dreams, and he got an instant deal on a number of episodes based on his success with the former. There was tension about a new kid on the block, though, and it really heated up when Engel decided to organize a softball game between the two casts. Fights ensued. Perhaps this is why there was never a crossover episode with California Dreams except for brief mentions of Pacific Coast High on The New Class.

Engel says that Tiffani and Elizabeth left after the graduation episode because they were just ready to say goodbye, and he didn’t want to stand in their way. This contradicts Behind the Bell, of course, but I’ve always thought Dustin Diamond was full of shit, so what’s new. Engel says he was quite happy with the Tori episodes and that Leanna Creel did as well as anyone could expect her to given the circumstances.

“School Song” was the last episode of Saved by the Bell to be filmed, and the cast kept messing up the final scene on purpose so they’d have to reshoot. They didn’t want it to end. The College Years had not yet been announced so, as far as anyone knew, this was it for the show.

NBC ordered The New Class as the first spin-off of Saved by the Bell. During a focus group for The New Class, a fifteen-year old girl exploded at the conveners as they tried to make her hate Kelly, saying this is stupid! She asked why they didn’t just send the original cast to college, and The College Years was born. Warren Littlefield, who succeeded Tartikoff at NBC, loved the pilot, but he became overconfident and put the show up against Full House and Rescue 911, which enraged Engel. He ended up being right, and The College Years wasn’t renewed for season two.

They did get an order for Wedding in Las Vegas, though, and, on the last night of shooting, Engel, Mark-Paul, and Mario all sat around reminiscing about their memories of the show. It’s kind of surreal as they knew this time it was it, and it kind of does bring a tear to the eye. I wonder if, even back then, they knew there would never be a true reunion with Engel at the helm.

The first season of The New Class, on the other hand, turned out to be a disaster. Rushed to find a cast because of a deal to have them on Kellogg’s cereal boxes, Engel went with a group of actors he wasn’t completely confident in. Engel asked Dustin Diamond to join the cast after The College Years ended so he could have someone funny on the show.

Shortly after, Engel, Dustin Diamond,and Dennis Haskins attended an NBC event at the White House. Dustin was recognized by Secret Service and suddenly swarmed by people who were supposed to be protecting the president begging for autographs. Diamond and Haskins were the hit of the party, and Diamond even got to sit in the president’s chair in the Oval Office, a sobering thought indeed.

One incident on City Guys involved the censors asking for a joke about dwarf tossing to be nixed. By then, Engel’s scripts were so squeaky clean, he rarely got comments on them. Engel didn’t care about the joke, but he and Linda Mancuso played a joke on NBC and pretended Engel was going to quit over the joke being censored. He ended up having to come clean when NBC executives took him completely seriously, with his friend, Don Ohlymeyer, president of the west division of NBC, responding, “I love you, Peter. But fuck you.”

Engel’s anecdote about Hang Time involved bringing Dick Butkus into the cast and finding out what a gentle giant he could be. One episode involved sliming Butkus, and the former football player insisted Engel stay and watch instead of going to a City Guys taping across the hall, with Butkus totally psyched to be slimed..

In 1998, with ten shows under his belt, Engel prepared to shoot his 500th episode with NBC. Variety ran a giant tribute to him include thanks from all six of his show runners and Linda Mancuso, as well as interviews with writers and former cast. A street on the NBC property was even named “Engel Avenue” in his honor.

Engel admits that, by this point, success had gone to his head and his shows were becoming about expansion and quantity, not quality. He gives, as an example, Malibu, CA, which he thought up in less than five minutes in a bathroom. It was sold on the reputation of Engel alone, but lost $52 million for the studio. Engel ends the section by admitting that stellar reputations can go down the drain.

Part VIII: Exile

The section starts with a beautiful tribute to Leslie Eberhard, the former Fraiser writer I’ve praised on this blog for writing the only episode of The New Class I truly enjoyed unironically, “What’s the Problem.” I wondered then how a guy of Eberhard’s caliber ended up on The New Class, and I have my answer here: he really wanted the job because he believed in Engel’s shows, even if Engel himself knew Eberhard could get any job he wanted.

Engel tells of how they sang songs from musicals together and how Eberhard helped him create USA High. The chapter ends with a conversation that moved me to tears. Eberhard was on his death bed, dying from exposure to asbestos as a child. As a gay man, he asked Engel, a right-wing Christian, if Engel thought he’d get into Heaven, even though he’s gay. Engel told him that, if Eberhard didn’t get into Heaven, he wasn’t going in either. And Engel softly sings musical numbers to Eberhard.

This is why I fucking love Peter Engel. The humanity in that encounter just speaks volumes to the kind of person he is. Try finding an account like that in Behind the Bell. You won’t find it.

By 2001, Peter Engel Productions had no shows in the can. TNBC was over. Engel’s sons, both in their late teens, took a cross-country road trip, during which he and his wife, Connie, separated and eventually divorced. Linda Mancuso was being treated for breast cancer and decided to leave for ABC Family. Engel was having another crisis of faith when he was asked to produce a reality show that eventually became Last Comic Standing.

In the midst of this, Pat Robertson asked Engel to become Dean of Communications at Regent University. Engel accepted because he thought maybe God was calling him to it, but almost immediately regretted his decision as he felt out of place politically and even had to endure Robertson defending a Liberian war criminal he was doing business with. Robertson mainly wanted Engel to try and legitimize his fake university, and Engel wasn’t enjoying it. And then Linda Mancuso died, leaving Engel devastated.

Engel’s unhappiness came out in an interview on The 700 Club after Last Comic Standing was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, and Engel told Robertson flat out, while taping, that he was homesick and wanted to go back to California.

Part IX: Totally a Happy Man

Engel didn’t win a Primetime Emmy for Last Comic Standing and he wasn’t expecting to. What’s worse, NBC fucked with the schedule and aired a rushed third season only eighteen days after the end of the second. They cancelled the show unceremoniously and, even though he didn’t have a show, Engel quit Regent and flew back to Los Angeles.

Engel started touring colleges, ending up back at NYU. He also completely broke with the Christian right in a fiery speech to the National Media Prayer Breakfast in which he denounced the Bush administration and Christians’ blind support of Republican policies. At this point of the book, I truly think I misjudged this guy…

Much of the rest of the book is about his family: his pride at walking his daughter, Lauren, down the aisle at her wedding; his son, Stephen, living in Palestine and changing his Zionist views; his son, Joshua, graduating Northwestern and woring in India; and his reconciliation with his second and third wives, Linda and Connie. Last Comic Standing was resurrected and is now in its eighth season, though Engel has little day-to-day involvement in it nowadays, and he’s produced other reality shows since then.

He says, though, that Saved by the Bell is still his crowning achievement. After numerous failures with Kennedy and Sirota’s Court and his marriages, Saved by the Bell gave meaning to his life, and he still considers it his crowning achievement. It even gave him the approval from his mother he’d always sought. And our book ends with Engel saying he has no regrets about the way his life has turned out and he encourages readers to never let seeming failure bring them down.

Analysis

"Saved by the Bell" creator/producer Peter Engel

I really like this book, a lot more than I thought I would. I figured I would like it more than Behind the Bell, but that’s a rather low bar to set since I can say that about Atlas Shrugged as well. What really surprised me is how good, how compelling it is, and I heartily recommend it whether you’re a hard-core Saved by the Bell fan or not.

And, I have to admit, I misjudged him. I knew about his past as dean at Pat Robertson’s university, his Christian faith, and the shit Dustin Diamond says about him. I assumed he would be a man I would strongly disagree with politically. Turns out I totally misjudged him based on my own preconceptions. For that, I am sorry.

What’s amazing is how well Peter Engel humanizes his life without coming off as whining and pretentious. He doesn’t shy away from the negative in his life, but he doesn’t focus on it as well. He tells negative stuff about people–such as mentioning Mario Lopez’s cheating in Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, not to put down Mario Lopez, but to show that, no, things were not perfect in the Saved by the Bell kingdom.

In many ways, Peter Engel’s life has been shittier than Dustin Diamond’s. The big difference is Peter Engel doesn’t act like a victim. He could have been bitter about his three failed marriages or the cancellation of Sirota’s Court and Last Comic Standing, or NBC’ s mismanagement of The College Years. He could have failed to see his own complicity in the declining quality of shows towards the end of his run at TNBC. He isn’t angry, though. He comes through as a man who’s loved his life and has no regrets. He’s a man of integrity, principle, and, yes, faith.

I would hang out with Peter Engel any day. And I hope he continues to enjoy his life, feeling like a totally happy man.


So, as hard as it is to believe, this is my final review for this blog. Next week I’ll have one final post: a recap of this blog and the franchise in general. So, come back next week and let’s do it one more time!

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

So this has been one of my most demanded reviews, and I’m not quite sure why.  The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was Lifetime’s 2014 attempt to cash in on Dustin Diamond’s book and tabloid television. It was pretty generally panned by both critics and audiences, though it had good enough ratings that a biopic for Full House was later ordered.

I must confess: I was going to review this when it first came out, but it was so painful to get through that I soon gave up. I figured I’d get around to it eventually when I had nothing else better to do, so here we are, and boy is it bad. Let’s see just how bad!

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We open in Cincinnati in 1990, which neon pink numbers are nice enough to announce to the world in true nostalgia-puke color scheme fashion.

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And the guy playing Mark-Paul Gosselaar looks like he’s about to fall asleep. Come on, guy, wake up! You’ve still got an hour and a half of this shit to get through! It’s just beginning! These are all virtually unknown Canadian actors they’re using and it shows how inexperienced they are, but the guy playing Mark-Paul is the only one you might recognize from being on the Canadian teen sitcom Wingin’ It and a year of Degrassi: The Next Generation, where he played a hockey player who committed suicide because he can’t get roles other than in stupid teen stuff.

Yeah, I’m not going to have much positive to say about this cast.

The teens of Saved by the Bell are on their way to a public event, one of their first since the show aired, and they’re nervous that no one will show up.

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Dustin Diamond is the first to notice the gaggle of underage girls surrounding the car because of course he is.  Girls even through themselves on a moving limo hoping to get a piece of them.

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Mark-Paul goes to do a time-out as the girl on his right stares at his ass, and he starts to deliver a monologue about Saved by the Bell being a wild ride…

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But he’s interrupted by Dustin Diamond saying this time it’s about him because Lifetime choose to base a good chunk of their shit on his book. Great, so it’s going to be full of lies, exaggerations, and shooting cats apparently. He’s all, “THIS IS MY STORY! PLEASE LIKE ME! I’M COOL YOU GUYS!!!”

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Yes, this is The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, complete with the worst opening I’ve ever seen. It’s basically just showing lots of pictures of Los Angeles and traffic and shit. If I wanted to see that, I could go sit in it. Los Angeles traffic is not fun, believe you me.

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So we go back to 1988..

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…to Peter Engel and Linda Mancuso meeting with Brandon Tartikoff and listening to him pontificate about his old teacher, Miss Bliss. Oh, god. I just realized Linda Mancuso is in this. Please don’t let her fuck Dustin Diamond. Dear lord, don’t let it happen!

Oh, wait, no, that’s “Sharon Harris,” a completely different character who’s nothing at all like Linda Mancuso except fulfilling her role to a “T.” I guess at least the producers of this have more class than Dustin Diamond and choose not to drag the name of a dead woman through the mud.

That’s always a good sign, isn’t it: when your biopic about real people has a fictional character in it. We’re off to a great start.

Anyway, you know the story: Tartikoff wants a sitcom about his teacher and he gets Peter Engel to create a show about her, a family sitcom about the high school we all wish we’d gone to, even though Good Morning, Miss Bliss was set in middle school. Engel is skeptical about setting it in Indiana and asks who would put a television show there? Ever heard of One Day at a Time. I hate people talking smack about my home state. Dick.

Engel’s not sure he’s the right person for the job, but Tartikoff and “Sharon” convince him to do it, and so we’re off for casting calls without even an acknowledgement that there was an original pilot with different characters because who cares about accuracy.

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Dustin Diamond and his father sign in for a casting call, with Dustin’s father doing what he does best in this film: bitching about driving Dustin to casting calls because he wants to support his son’s acting career all the while making him feel guilty about it I guess.

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We see Lark Voorhies sitting there…

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…making googly eyes at Mark-Paul, because we need foreshadowing that they’re going to fuck apparently.

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Dustin Diamond wants to read with this guy auditioning for Zack Morris, who snubbs him because everyone in the world is a jerk except for Dustin Diamond. You might not think much about this character, but, according to the credits, this is supposed to be Brian Austin Green. Yeah, Dustin Diamond isn’t petty or anything. On a different subject, if Green wanted to be on the show, why would he have to audition again if he was in the original pilot? Seriously, did the writers of this do any research about the history of production?

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Mark-Paul will read with him, though, and the two have a chemistry that leads to them being cast, while Lark is so good as Lisa they change her from a Jewish princess to a sassy African-American girl.

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And so we’re at the studios of Disney to film Good Morning, Miss Bliss, with Dustin looking on in amazement that he’s a part of any of this. What I really want to know is what show is that hamburger in the background for? Seriously, I don’t remember that in any classic Disney show.

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We meet Mark-Paul’s mother and learn he’s half Indonesian, and Mark-Paul and Dustin go exploring the studio and acting like kids to convince us Mark-Paul was a nice guy in the beginning before that evil fame went to his head.

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We meet Hayley Mills and Dennis Haskins, and Dennis awkwardly kisses Hayley’s ass and talks about how he wanted to bang her as a kid. Nice, awkward conversation to be having.

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As the two of them and Mark-Paul try to do a read-through, Dustin makes chicken noises because he’s Dustin Diamond and everything, every moment of the day has to be about him. Dustin says it was like a dream come true, being with people who recognized his superior intellect as a human being, and he wished it would never end.

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But then, five months later, Peter Engel tells the cast that Good Morning, Miss Bliss has been cancelled. No reasons given; it just is because we have to move along to more important things.

And we manage to get through that entire scene about Good Morning, Miss Bliss without anyone mentioning Mikey and Nikki because shut up.

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So we’re back in Brandon Tartikoff’s office, where Tartikoff suggests revamping the show to be about the teenagers since that’s the only thing anyone cares about with this show apparently.

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So Dustin Diamond sits at home, whining about going to school as his father acts like  caricature and tells him to just start standing up for him and shit. I guess that’s the advice he took years later when he tried to stab a guy in a bar in Wisconsin. He gets a call telling him they’re bringing the show back, except he thinks it’s going to be about Zack Morris and Screech this time around because we have to inflate his little pubescent ego to the max at all times.

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Our big neon numbers inform us it’s now 1989, and it’s time for more thrilling casting calls, because that’s what you tuned into this to see for the first twenty minutes!

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We meet Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley, who are both up for the role of Kelly and they vow not to hate each other because I guess all people who are up for the same role hate each other at all times. We also get some clunky exposition about how Tiffani is a model and Elizabeth is a dancer, but they both want people to take them seriously as actors and shit, which is why they’re going to be on Saved by the Bell.

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We also meet Mario Lopez, who wows them so much as Slater that they cast him despite Linda, I mean “Sharon’s” reservations that he’s Latino. Are they trying to imply that Linda Mancuso was a racist or something? I guess that would be just a little better than having sex with Dustin Diamond, but still…

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They’re divided on Kelly, though, and decide to throw away that girl on top, Jenni Garth, because she’s never going anywhere in her career. Engel can’t decide between Tiffani and Elizabeth for Kelly so he just decides to create a sixth character for Elizabeth, and the rest is history.

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Cut back to the new cast gathering to read the script, and Mark-Paul doesn’t want to talk to Dustin anymore because he’s talking to Mario at this very second about driver’s licenses! What an asshole not wanting to talk to someone every moment of every day! And Dustin has to sit on the other side of the table by Dennis Haskins! What horror! They sure were shitty to him, weren’t they guys?

Peter Engel lectures them on being professional and shit and tells them to keep their relationships professional as Mario hits on Tiffani and Elizabeth because Dustin Diamond thinks Mario got all the ladies…

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…while Mark-Paul and Lark secretly hold hands under the table because they’re totally screwing.

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It’s time for a run through, and everyone sucks. Mario can’t remember his lines, Lark isn’t loud enough, and Dustin is Dustin. Enough said. “Sharon” is worried they won’t be good enough to last, but Peter insists they just need to give them a chance.

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To really amp up the excitement, we get to watch the cast in school! How thrilling! I think Sydney Sharron was very miscast, though. I don’t remember him looking so feminine when he was on The New Class.

Well, teacher lady leaves the room, and this gives us a chance for exposition dump. Peter’s been asking all the cast about their interests outside of acting so he can incorporate it into the show. Mario’s a dancer and a wrestler and Tiffani likes horses but is going to have to settle for modeling because Saved by the Bell can’t afford horses. Mark-Paul’s not really a blonde, shock of shocks, and is the son of Dutch and Indonesian immigrants, and Dustin likes karate, which no one gives a shit about because Dustin is so misunderstood and outcast.

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So it’s almost time for their first audience rehearsal, and the cast is getting ready, including Mark-Paul dying his roots and shit.

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We get a scene at The Max that never occurred on the show and is basically just everyone talking about random shit while a laugh track plays in the background because that will make everything funny.

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And Zack Morris has a plot that never happened on the show about forgetting his mother’s birthday.

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While Screech dresses up as Abraham Lincoln because it’s President’s Day and he’s a dumb ass. I get they probably couldn’t get the rights to recreate “King of the Hill” scene for scene, but surely they could have made this more convincing that they knew what the fuck they were talking about. This is just…bad…

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The cast do their curtain call for the audience, except Ed Alonzo because he’s not important enough to remember for the sake of this movie. And Dustin Diamond pauses a moment before the audience, his ego inflating to the max with their praise.

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But their egos are soon deflated when they read the critics talk about how much they suck even worse than the original Saved by the Bell cast, especially Dustin, who’s just an unfunny idiot.

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So Dustin, the entitled prick he is, does what you would expect him to do: he marches right into Brandon Tartikoff’s office and demands Screech to be a cooler guy. Brandon explains to him that Screech is a geek because he’s a role people like, but Dustin doesn’t have to be like Screech, which falls on deaf ears because Dustin Diamond turned out to be a much bigger asshole as he aged than he was as a kid.

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We cut to four months later, where Peter Engel and “Sharon” deliver the bad news that Saved by the Bell has been cancelled. Though they say they’re proud of the work that the cast has done, ratings just haven’t been where the networked hoped and they’re pulling the plug. And Dustin Diamond’s there to tell us, “See! I’m the omniscient narrator and told you Good Morning, Miss Bliss wouldn’t be the last time we were cancelled! Please think I’m cool!”

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Yes, it seems that, in the pre-Internet days of the 1990’s, word of mouth convinced gaggles of young teens to start watching Saved by the Bell, or at least that’s what this version of the production would like us to believe. It seems to contradict other versions of how the show got popular, including the one I’ve heard most often: through constant syndication.

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But, for the purposes of this film, we now have little girls begging Zack Morris to marry them via t-shirt, even though merchandising shouldn’t exist yet if the show is just now getting popular.

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So Brandon Tartikoff tells Peter Engel randomly that the show is now a bona fide hit, meaning they seem to be implying that Peter Engel doesn’t keep up enough about his own show to know what the hell is going on and shit.

So we’re back to the scene from the cold opening. Teenagers are flipping out over getting to meet our six teenagers.

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And then shit goes out of control and they decide to go after Mark-Paul’s clothes in the incident referenced in the E! True Hollywood Story.

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Security rushes them inside with Mark-Paul’s shirt in shreds because they wanted to see his nipples. And the others just start celebrating inside…wherever the hell they are, even Mark-Paul, despite his characterization in the E! True Hollywood Story as being kind of shy and not particularly liking the fame Zack Morris brought him.

I haven’t talked much about the soundtrack of this movie yet, but it’s pretty early-nineties. The music they play has nothing to do with the show other than being released in the same time period it aired, and they seem to love one-hit-wonder Cameo’s hit song “Word Up”…a lot…

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So Saved by the Bell is bringing the network lots of money, but “Sharon” isn’t happy that someone authorized sexy time photos of Mario because it might ruin their wholesome image and shit.

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Mark-Paul, meanwhile, isn’t happy to discover that his parents won’t let him buy a car because they’re investing his money in a trust, which he should be grateful for considering how many teen idols find their parents squandered all their money.

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The girls find out just how popular they are when they’re out shopping and a couple of girls tell them how much they over-obsess about the show and base how they live their lives on the gospel according to Kelly Kapowski.

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This makes Elizabeth decide they need to push for more serious story lines that will teach life lessons to these kids who apparently don’t have parents who give a shit about them. Mark-Paul and Mario agree to help them influence the writers who will eventually influence Peter Engel.

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During all this, Dustin is busy hiding in the closet because of course he is. He scares a random member of the crew with a fake spider and she wonders where she went wrong in her life that she has to put up with this bullshit.

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He watches Mario taking a girl on a tour of the set and getting ready to get it on…

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…and has a creepy fantasy sequence that girls are waiting in a hot tub to fuck him…

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…complete with some of the worst effects ever aired on television. Seriously, I find the aliens on the original Star Trek more convincing than these horrible CGI muscles on Dustin Diamond. It’s just absolutely atrocious!

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Mark-Paul and Lark have a date on the roof, where he gives her a birthday present, which gives her an opportunity to exposit about how she’s a Jehovah’s Witness and isn’t supposed to celebrate birthdays and shit…

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…and they’re interrupted by Elizabeth, which sends Lark scurrying along because…I don’t know. I don’t get this scene at all. All it really does is give Mark-Paul a chance to tell Elizabeth how insecure he is in his secret relationship with Lark  since they never get to spend any time together.

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It’s not helped by Tiffani deciding she needs to practice her kiss with Mark-Paul before they do it in front of a live studio audience. Oh, Tiffani. Your audience has never been touched by anyone. They would be awed even by the awkward peck kisses you were doing at first.

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The cast gather to take promo photos, and there’s tension between Lark and Tiffani because Lark’s jealous of the little tickles Mark-Paul is suddenly giving her.

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And we get to explore Dustin’s notorious hatred of Mario doing push-ups on set…

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…leading them to randomly almost fight for nearly no reason.

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We go to a Winter Carnival scene so Dustin can tell us that whoever was dating on the show was dating in real life as Mario and Elizabeth get close, which is obvious bullshit since Zack Morris and Lisa didn’t date until season four…

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…and I’m pretty sure Tori Spelling wouldn’t touch Dustin at all off set. Yeah, we get to hear Dustin Diamond brag about getting his first kiss from Tori Spelling because of course he would. He’s Dustin Diamond. He once bragged about shooting his neighbor’s cat with a BB gun.

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In real life, though, this Dustin Diamond is portrayed as not getting the poon himself despite his portrayal of himself in his book, as we see this girl using him to get to meet Mark-Paul. Oh, boo hoo. You didn’t lose your virginity in middle school. Cry me a river, asshole.

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Peter Engel tells his producers he wants to do more serious story lines for the kids, which “Sharon” and the rest think will never work…

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…but Brandon Tartikoff loves, so more serious story lines it is because we have to keep Brandon Tartikoff’s ass thoroughly kissed. Also, we get to see Dustin giving Tartikoff’s daughter a tour of the set, with Tartikoff commenting that Dustin has matured a lot since he last saw him. Yeah, don’t hold your breath for that to last, Brandon.

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Elizabeth interrupts Mario sunbathing to tell him about the script, and how she’ll be popping pills. This scene mostly only serves to set up “Jessie’s Song,” but he does assure her she’ll be great in the role, and there’s a hint of romance and shit.

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So Mark-Paul and Elizabeth practice the infamous freak out scene from “Jessie’s Song”…

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…and Dustin Diamond is portrayed as being the only one who thinks the scene is ridiculous because he’s an auteur and shit. The others call him a dumb ass for hurting Elizabeth’s feelings about her big scene, causing him to stomp out like a little baby and kick a trash can.

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It’s there that he meets Extra Guy, who never gets a name but plays a major role through the rest of the film, getting Dustin started on vodka and shit. I guess he’s supposed to be based on the guy in Behind the Bell who tried to screw Dustin Diamond over. I wonder if he’s a combination of that guy and Dustin’s best friend who’s frequently mentioned in Behind the Bell but never seen in this film. But I know the makers of this film have enough integrity they would never change shit from the narrative they believe happened, right “Sharon”?

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We skip to 1991 and season three…

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…and we briefly touch on the Malibu Sands episodes as an excuse to show the cast playing practical jokes on one another as Mark-Paul gives Mario a photocopy of his ass, literally.

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Things are rocky outside the show as casting calls for movies about Eleanor Roosevelt don’t want to take Elizabeth seriously as an actress because she is in a kids show, or at least the receptionist doesn’t. I’m pretty sure he has little say over whether you get to play Eleanor Roosevelt or not, dear, although I’m pretty sure you’re not right for the role.

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Things are rocky for Mark-Paul and Lark as well as she’s jealous that he’s spending so much time with Tiffani, even being filmed in public going to the movies with her. He says he doesn’t understand what the hell their relationship is supposed to be, so she stomps off in a hissy fit and shit.

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Dustin and Extra Guy get heckled waiting in line for a movie about how much Screech sucks ass and how Dustin and Extra Guy are probably gay for each other…

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…so Dustin does the mature thing and lays the heckler out on the ground because why the hell not.

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On set, Dustin and Dennis are running through lines as Peter Engel walks through, and I genuinely thought Engel was about to chew Dustin out for the fight in the last scene. But, no, he’s distracted because Brandon Tartikoff and his daughter have been in a car accident. Brandon is okay but it’s not looking good for his daughter. This is actually based on Tartikoff’s daughter, Calla, who really suffered a brain injury in a car accident and needed extensive therapy to walk and talk again. Really, Tartikoff and his family were very unlucky. Besides his own early death from lymphoma and his daughter’s tragedy, Tartikoff’s parents survived the collision of two 747’s in Tenerife in 1977 that killed 583 people. Seriously, I would give him a hug if he hadn’t been dead for twenty years.

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The injury of Taratikoff’s daughter makes Dustin storm off to be alone and kick shit, ignoring Dennis’s suggestion he take the afternoon off. Real maturity there, guys. And he drinks him some vodka, showing he’s become the alcoholic he was destined to be thanks to Extra Guy.

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Now it’s 1992…

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…”Sharon” and Peter discuss the future of the show, and “Sharon” insists it can’t be cancelled because too many people love it. Don’t worry, “Sharon”, I’m sure you’ll find an inferior knock off to keep the cash cow mooing. Peter says it’s time to go, that the kids have grow up and are ready to do other things. “Sharon” wants twenty-six more episodes, which she’s not going to get since there weren’t twenty-six episodes produced for season four when you factor in the may out of season episodes, but never mind that now. Peter says the kids are only under contract for ten more episodes, so what are they to do?

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Why, send them on expensive trips to bribe them into resigning, of course! Mark-Paul and Tiffani are going to Paris, and I can’t tell whether Lark is happy or ready to cut a bitch. They kind of dropped the whole Lark being jealous of Tiffani plot so I’m not sure where anyone stands with anyone at this point. Elizabeth and Lark are going to New York City, and Mario to Miami.

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Dustin, always being the weakest link, is sent to Spartanburg, South Carolina, because no one really gives a shit about him. He takes Extra Guy along with him and whines about everyone getting to go to awesome places but him, so Extra Guy convinces him it’s a good idea to get drunk before a public appearance.

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This leads to him back in L.A. and being chewed out by Peter Engel, and Dustin whines about being picked on and shit and blah blah blah! Dustin Diamond is so misunderstood and all he did was get drunk, make an ass of himself, and fuck some random fan. How horrible! Peter says if Dustin messes up again, he’ll have to fire him.  This is another incident from Behind the Bell and I just want to slap Dustin Diamond for thinking he deserves any sort of sympathy for this.

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In Paris, Mark-Paul and Tiffani get some wine because French stereotypes and all, and Tiffani tells Mark-Paul that she and Elizabeth aren’t going to renew their contracts because Elizabeth wants to make it big in movies and Tiffani wants to keep growing as an actress and shit. Mark-Paul is stunned.

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And we’re back in L.A. where Tiffani and Elizabeth are already saying goodbye to their costars.

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Mark-Paul can barely hold it together, trying to be a tough guy and shit.

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Tiffani and Elizabeth leave together, wondering if they made the right choice in not renewing their contracts as they see Leanna Creel dancing around on set for Peter Engel, for some reason, the only time we’ll see her in this film. I guess at least they included her, unlike other people from the franchise.

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A daredevil motorcyclist rides around outside, scaring Mario.

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Yeah, turns out it’s Mark-Paul, and Mario warns him about breaking the dangerous activities clause of his contract, but Mark-Paul doesn’t give a shit about any of that noise. Don’t worry, though. It’s never brought up again, making me question why it’s even in here to begin with.

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Meanwhile, Dustin hangs around and is filmed by Extra Guy smoking a joint and doing bad Wayne’s World impersonations. Extra Guy is pissed off, though, because Dustin hasn’t gotten him a better role on the show because that’s something actors have the power to do apparently.

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Mark-Paul and Mario attend a random party where they run into Tiffani and Elizabeth. There’s no real purpose to this scene other than to establish that Elizabeth might be getting the lead in an awesome new film coming out.

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And Extra Guy reveals he’s blackmailing Dustin with the joint tape. He says he wants a piece of the action, which I assume means he wants a little something something from Dustin. Yeah, this is another incident from Behind the Bell. Do I feel sorry for Dustin Diamond as the film wants me to? Hell no.

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It’s 1993 and “Sharon” is concerned that the cast are doing wild things like drinking and partying. Peter tells her they’re just kids an they can’t stop kids stuff, so he suggests sending them out with the graduation fans have wanted the past four years.

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In the costume room, Mark-Paul and Lark try on their gowns while Mario wears his Kermit the Frog ballet costume.

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Tiffani and Elizabeth are back, too, because the producers called them up and asked them to do the episode. This is the only version of the production history that says the graduation episode was the last one filmed. If this is the case, it makes no sense why Leanna Creel wasn’t a part of it, so I choose to believe this is yet another liberty this film is taking with what actually happened for the sake of drama and shit. I don’t believe it for a second.

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Mark-Paul goes to search for Dustin to tell him it’s time for the read through, and finds him alone in a library I guess. Dustin confides in him about Extra Guy blackmailing him, and Mark-Paul convinces him he needs to tell the producers because they will protect him despite Peter’s warning not to do anymore stupid shit. We never find out if he does in this film (though Behind the Bell confirms the network buried Extra Guy in lawsuits, as Mark-Paul said they would), and I’m not sure why they even brought it up this late in the film. This is the problem with this biopic: shit is brought up and then forgotten about because there’s too much they need to get to in ninety minutes.

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Peter gives the cast one final pep talk and says he’s proud of how far they’ve come during the course of the show.

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We get a reenactment of the graduation scene, complete with scenes of each of the six teens from this film so we can remember all the stuff we just watched. Yeah, I hate it when shows do that. The least they could have done is show actual scenes from the cast, not these second rate replacements.

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As Peter watches them, he says he can’t believe it’s over, and “Sharon” says that maybe it’s not.

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Dustin does one final time out to tell us it wasn’t over. The College Years lasted a season but they don’t give a shit about it so why should we? He says no one wanted to see them grow up, which I’m pretty sure is a huge simplification for why The College Years failed. He says this was their last cancellation, even though it wasn’t, but they’re not going to talk about The New Class at all in this. Dustin gives a brief “Where Are They Now” for the six teens, except he’s really vague about where he went because I guess it would mean saying he’s a huge douche bag today and has alienated himself from most of the cast and crew and received multiple felony charges. Then they time in.

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Everyone throws their caps and celebrates…

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…and our film ends with this odd title card. Are they implying Saved by the Bell could come back some day? I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen, for the simple reason no one likes Dustin Diamond anymore.

Overall, this is a pretty damned terrible look at the making of Saved by the Bell. Attention to detail is horrible, and it’s obvious it’s trying to combine so much from Behind the Bell, the E! True Hollywood Story, and other sources that it doesn’t have time to flesh out anything and just hits on a bunch of random shit and quickly forgets about it. Most notable is Mark-Paul and Lark’s romance, Mark-Paul’s motorcycle, and Extra Guy’s extortion of Dustin. I don’t feel like anyone got much of a look but, rather, a few hit and miss glances.

A good biography should make you feel a connection with the characters whether you know anything about them or not. This fails in every way to do just that. It treats them as two dimensional and doesn’t make you feel for them at all. If I didn’t already know as much as I do about the six, I wouldn’t feel compelled to learn anymore. Maybe this is why I had so much trouble completing this review in 2014: I just didn’t give a shit about it.

What’s worse, for something that pretends to be giving such an overarching view of Saved by the Bell, it sure does miss a part. Dennis Haskins and Haylee Mills are minor characters, Leanna Creel is barely mentioned, and the complete absence of Ed Alonzo and The New Class just makes it feel like they weren’t concerned about giving anything more than a sanitized, brief overview of the show. Really, for a movie that claims to tell the shocking true behind the scenes story of the show, it doesn’t have much to say other than what’s been said before. Dustin Diamond used marijuana and the teens were sexually active! How horrible! They tuned down a lot of stuff from Behind the Bell, probably scared of being sued. And the way it just causally turned Linda Mancuso into a fictional character and told a complete lie about how the graduation episode came about made me wonder how dedicated to the truth this film really was.

The E! True Hollywood story was a much better telling of the general Saved by the Bell story. I hope never to watch this one again.


Well, I’m nearly out of material for this blog, but I have one more review next week. In two weeks, I’ll have some final thoughts about this franchise and the process of producing reviews of it every week, and then I’ll be saying goodbye to the halls of Bayside High for good. So join me for the final weeks of Saved by the Bell…Reviewed!

Saved by the Bell: The E! True Hollywood Story

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The Saved by the Bell episode of E! True Hollywood Story aired in 2002, and was the first attempt to do a sort of behind-the-scenes account of the show. Being that this was years before Dustin Diamond’s douche-baggery, it has much more cast cooperation than any subsequent behind-the-scenes book or movie.

So we start with Peter Engel and the narrator giving us the origin of the series in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, even going all the way back to the original pilot in 1987, one of the few times I’ve seen it openly referenced. The story is familiar by now: Brandon Tartikoff wanted to create a show about his sixth grade teacher, and he only had one lady in mind who could pull it off.

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Yes, Sandy Duncan was to play Miss Bliss because apparently they wanted someone who screamed conservative schoolteacher who once played Peter Pan. Unfortunately for them, Sandy Duncan was busy doing The Hogan Family, so they got Hayley Mills instead, taking a risk since she’d never been in a television show before. And, damned if they even got Hayley Mills to do an interview, and they even acknowledge Jonathan Brandis, Jaleel White, and Brian Austin Green.

The story from here is familiar: the show didn’t get picked up by NBC and moved to Disney, where it was completely revamped with new kids, a new city, and a new school, and set about casting the kids. Mark-Paul Goosselaar, Dustin Diamond, Lark Voorhies, and Dennis Haskins were soon on board, with Diamond acknowledging he was picked because he’s always been weird. An asshole is the word you were going for, Dustin. No acknowledgment of the rest of the cast, though. I guess Heather Hopper and Max Battimo wanted nothing to do with the interview.

Mills says that Good Morning, Miss Bliss just wasn’t appealing towards children or adults. It couldn’t find its audience, and it was soon cancelled. Tartikoff soon revived the series as a Saturday morning sitcom called Saved by the Bell. They dropped Hayley Mills, moved to California, and came up with a teen-centered show as a fantasy about what kids hope high school will be like.

But the brass was skeptical.

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Oh, god, Linda Mancuso. I feel so sad to see you after the bull shit Dustin Diamond wrote about you in his book. This was like a year before she died, too. You never knew what that douche would say about you after your death.

We get the same information on casting about Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, and Mario Lopez we have before. I don’t think there’s any dispute over this stuff. The most distracting thing here is Peter Engel describing the music on the show is hot. I guess if you’re into really boring muzak.

Peter Engel says their original crew sucked, and, as they were taping the first episode, they couldn’t get through a scene without the actors being interrupted by some problem such as cameras hitting lights. I guess NBC wasn’t willing to give up its top tier people for the show.

They decided to launch Saved by the Bell in the prime time for three weeks during the summer before moving it to the prime time. Of course, critics hated it, and Engel says at least one critic made fun of Tiffani’s name.

Mancuso says that, as they were trying to juggle issues kids really face, they were trying hard not to be preachy. I guess they forgot all about that by the time “No Hope With Dope” and the myriad of very special episodes for The New Class came around.

By mid-season one, the narrator says Saved by the Bell was gaining a huge teen following. This is news to me as I’ve always heard it said the show didn’t really pickup until TBS started airing reruns. They even ranked number one among teens, and beat The Bugs Bunny and Tweetie Show in ratings. Merchandising was to follow.

We get some of the stuff about limited hours and breakneck speed of filming that was alluded to in Behind the Bell. Dustin Diamond even gets a chance to whine a bit about being an outcast years before he would talk shit about the cast in his book.

They talk about bizarre fan letters, with one guy writing Dustin Diamond to tell him he was going to kill himself because Tiffani hadn’t written him back. Mark-Paul struggled with his heartthrob status, and even ripped his clothes when he went out the front door. Mario relished the attention, and Dustin Diamond was the misunderstood outcast.

They briefly talk about “Jessie’s Song” and the ridiculousness of caffeine pill addiction. They also tell about Scott Wolf, Denise Richards, and Tori Spelling each having early roles in their careers on the show.

And Dustin Diamond talks more about being excluded. Geez, I really see his book coming from a mile away. Peter Engel and Bennett Tramer admit there was lots of dating going on and it made things tense and awkward when people broke up.

They went into syndication and did a thirteen city mall tour, and they were discovering just how popular they were. And here’s where the opening scene of the Lifetime biopic comes from: Dustin Diamond talks about Mark-Paul having his shirt ripped off by a fan.

Leah Remini talks about coming on the show for the Malibu Sands episodes and Patrick Muldoon talks about being hated since he broke up Zack Morris and Kelly.

By season four, the teen actors were feeling the pains of not having a real childhood and having their growing pains aired on television. Don Barnhart says the kids were getting sick of the show and ready to leave.

The success of the show led to Hawaiian Style, which the narrator tells us was the last thing that Tiffani and Elizabeth shot with the cast.

They finally graduated, but they still couldn’t escape because NBC brass ordered The College Years. Engel says Tiffani was brought in because testing on the new series showed audiences missed the girls. It was up against Full House, though, and, with terrible reviews, they just couldn’t gain an audience for the new show.

And Dennis Haskins continued on into The New Class. Haskins says he was told to embrace being a part of Saved by the Bell or run far away from The New Class and he embraced it as long as he was on the show, which I totally believe. Everything I’ve seen suggests Haskins is just an amazing guy and loved being a part of this franchise.

Mancuso admits they never quite got the cast of The New Class right: they were never as talented or likeable as the originals, which is an understatement if I ever heard one. But it would continue while The College Years was cancelled and ended with Wedding in Las Vegas.

Most of the cast, of course, had trouble post-The New Class, except Dustin Diamond, who was brought back for season two. The rest of the cast wanted to shed their squeaky-clean images, though, and found themselves taking roles on other shows we’re very familiar with: Mark-Paul on NYPD Blue, Tiffani in Beverly Hills, 90210, and Elizabeth in Showgirls. They do a run-down of where everyone ended up after Saved by the Bell. Strange enough, it’s Dennis Haskins telling most of what happened to the cast. How has he kept up with the cast this well when they weren’t on the show anymore?

Dennis Haskins says the last year and a half of The New Class was not fun for him at all, and he felt they were taking liberties with Screech and Mr. Belding. Well, yeah, they basically made you gay lovers. He says they were disrespecting the cast, and Mancuso says they were running out of ideas and repeating stories. They finally ended it and put Dennis Haskins out of his misery.

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Post-The New Class, Dennis Haskins and Dustin Diamond found themselves typecast. Dustin Diamond went into stand-up, I assume because no one else wanted anything else to do with him. Most of the rest of the stuff they talk about with the cast were short-lived shows and forgotten movies. Yeah, Mark-Paul, Mario, and Tiffani are really the only ones still doing much of anything.

Overall, it’s a pretty good if not rose-colored glasses picture of Saved by the Bell. It’s worth watching if you want a basic background on the franchise, though it’s definitely not complete. I couldn’t help but notice Ed Alonzo and Leanna Creel, though seen in stock footage and promotional footage, are not mentioned at all, and they mention The College Years and The New Class as little as possible, which is probably for the best. It’s all stuff that can be found elsewhere, but, in this pic’s defense, it did it first.

Well, that’s it, right? That’s the biopic you’ve all been bugging me to review, isn’t it? No? You want me to review that other one? Well, I guess if I must. It can’t be worse than reviewing seven seasons of The New Class, can it?

The Jimmy Fallon Sketch

Jimmy Fallon had been hinting for years that he wanted to be the talk show host to bring the cast of Saved by the Bell back together for a reunion. He eventually got five of the seven cast members to agree, but, because two were holding out, it looked like he was giving up. When he aired a California Dreams reunion instead, it really looked like he was settling for another Peter Engel show over his dream of bringing our gang back together.

I have no doubt that part of this was due to the continued fallout following Behind the Bell as Dustin Diamond managed to piss off his former cast mates royally, to the point he was even excluded from a reunion photo shoot with People magazine. It definitely looked like Diamond was going to be the weakest link in preventing any sort of Saved by the Bell reunion.

Then, in 2015, just as Jimmy Fallon was settling into his new role on The Tonight Show, we were treated to  special Saved by the Bell sketch, starring the original cast. Okay, so it was actually starring only five of the seven original cast members, and Max and Tori are nowhere to be seen either, but it was a joyous event for Saved by the Bell fans who, once again, got to watch their favorite characters in action.

Screech and Lisa were nowhere to be seen, though. In Lark Voorhies’s case, I have no idea why she wasn’t invited to the reunion. Dustin Diamond, though, is obvious: it was the only way to get the other original cast members, who didn’t want to be in the same room as him. Diamond initially claimed he had been invited but declined. He later admitted he’d been snubbed, though, proving without a doubt that he’s willing to lie as much as needed to make Dustin Diamond look better.

The actual sketch is pretty simple. Jimmy Fallon remembers the days when he was a student at Bayside. With the Valentine’s Day dance coming up, Slater plans to take Jessie while Zack Morris is taking a very pregnant Kelly. But all is not well: Jimmy tells the gang he’s moving to New York to pursue his dream of being on Saturday Night Live and dating Nicole Kidman. The gang are dejected by this news and sing Zack Attack’s hit song “Friends Forever” to wish him goodbye and good luck.

What’s more impressive is the production of the entire thing. The hallway from Bayside looks perfect, nearly identical to the show. The clothes are spot on what were used in the show, and the props, down to the brick phones, are very believable as relics of the early nineties. Someone put a lot of love and care into making this sketch feel as close to the atmosphere of the original Saved by the Bell as possible, and it shows. This was something they easily could have skimped on and been forgiven, but they didn’t and it shows a level of professionalism I have to appreciate.

Even more than this, the little things they got right are just amazing. The scene opening music, use of the time out, and Zack Morris’s monologue are perfect. The inside jokes in the background like referencing the rafting trip from “The Fabulous Belding Boys” showed they actually knew what they were doing in recreating Saved by the Bell. And even the references to various episodes didn’t feel terribly forced. Okay, I have to admit, Jessie’s recreation of the freak out from “Jessie’s Song” felt a bit forced, but, other than that, it was great.

I have to admit, the cast looks great. Only Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Dennis Haskins look like they’ve aged at all since the original show. Seriously if Slater, Jessie, and Kelly were to film new episodes today in the costumes Jimmy Fallon provided, I could believe they were leftover episodes from the original series. They were that good. Either they haven’t aged a day or the make-up on The Tonight Show is able to perform minor miracles because it was such an amazing job making them all believable that I can’t praise it enough.

Reviews and buzz on the internet following the skit were overwhelmingly positive. Jimmy Fallon managed to create a tribute to a childhood favorite of many of his viewers without seeming patronizing or overly critical. That’s not an easy task, and this could have been horrible but I think it shows the depth of love that Fallon himself has for the show that it went so well. I have a feeling this is the closest we’ll ever get to an actual Saved by the Bell reunion unless Dustin Diamond manages to kiss ass enough to be invited. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing at least part of the original cast in action again in the midst of doing this blog.

Breaking Belding & Better Reach Screech

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Breaking Belding is something I normally wouldn’t touch on this blog: basically an eight minute tribute to both Saved by the Bell and Breaking Bad, a mash up of the two series in an attempt to make you laugh. I didn’t laugh once during it, and I normally wouldn’t hold that against it being that it’s a well-intentioned fan film. After all, I’m not a huge fan of Breaking Bad, so maybe there’s something here that I’m not seeing.

But then I realized who was playing Screech in it:

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Yes, Dustin Diamond appears in this strange little film, meaning that it qualifies for the odds and ends of the post-The New Class era. I’m becoming convinced that Dustin Diamond will appear in just about anything that’s thrown at him to keep himself in the spotlight. If this was Dennis Haskins, I would say he was just being a nice guy. But, after having endured the horror that was Behind the Bell, I’m convinced that this is just Dustin Diamond keeping his ego alive that someone gives a shit about him.

Directed in 2013 by Sandeep Parikh, a guy I’ve never heard of but who’s apparently been in a bunch of shit I’ve also never heard of, and distributed by website The NerdistBreaking Belding recreates one of the scenes from the first episode of Breaking Bad. Whereas, in Breaking Bad, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were in a RV in the desert making a batch of cocaine, Mr. Belding and Zack Morris are creating the world’s most pure batch of caffeine pills called Zack Attack. Like I said, I won’t fault them on the implausibility of this shit given it is just a loving fan film.

Basically, Max shows up and wants to arrest them but is distracting by Screech acting like a dumb ass. Then Lisa and Tori show up, guns a blazing, to try and steal the caffeine pills, but Slater blows them up before they can. Zack Morris uses a time out to save Mr. Belding and himself before the explosion and pulls Mr. Belding’s pants off in the process, driving off into the sunset. Yeah, it’s as weird as it sounds.

The whole cast is here, and I don’t get most of the Breaking Bad references. Max is a DEA agent who does magic. Screech is a lawyer. Kelly od’ed on caffeine pills. Jessie is an addict who takes Zack Attack. Slater is in a wheelchair for reasons I didn’t fully grasp. And Lisa and Tori are drug buyers. Like I said, I don’t get it, but I guess I’m not truly the target audience for this one, although there are in-jokes, like Zack Morris talking about delivering Little Zack and Jessie recreating the infamous freak-out scene from “Jessie’s Song.” And, of course, Zack Morris using a time out.

Other than Dustin Diamond, there are no actors of note in this, which is to be expected from a fan film. Some of the actors cast, though, are actually right on. Brendan Bradley as Zack Morris and Alicia Marie as Lisa are right on. Others not so much. Brian Palermo as Mr. Belding was pretty bad and wearing an obvious bald wig while I never would have guessed Todd Stashwick was playing Max if they hadn’t referenced him by name as the actor looked nothing like Max. I guess you can’t expect too much out of a fan film, but they had the budget to bring in Dustin Diamond so I have to expect at least a little better out of them.

And, I have to admit, Dustin Diamond isn’t annoying as shit in this as he doesn’t try to do some horrible The New Class high-pitched voice. He does come off as the douche he is playing a sleazy lawyer, which may be just as well. In any case, for once he isn’t the worst thing about something related to Saved by the Bell.

To promote the short film, there were also two commercials created for the fake spin-off, Better Reach Screech.

The first is Dustin Diamond advertising he’ll sue anyone, anytime and shit, which is quite ironic considering the pariah Dustin Diamond has made of himself.

The other basically just gives different examples of things you can sue for.

Like I say, these are definitely not my thing so don’t let me dissuade you if they sound interesting. If you enjoy both Saved by the Bell and Breaking Bad, you may want to check it out, and it’s only eight minutes of your life. The worst that will happen is you’ll have to watch Dustin Diamond briefly again.

Saved by the Belding

In 2010, two brothers, Matt and Scott Hamilton, directed a short fan film about a group of four friends who not only think Rod Belding, Mr. Belding’s irresponsible brother, is real, but that he didn’t actually stand up the Bayside students on their rafting trip for a girl, and actually had the flu as Mr. Belding told them. When I first about this short film, I thought it sounded intriguing and, at twenty-two minutes, wouldn’t take a long time to watch.

Even more fascinating is that these young filmmakers got Dennis Haskins and Ed Blatchford , who played Rod in the episode “The Fabulous Belding Boys,” involved (Blatchford even helped write and produce the short!). This was no small feat considering that, according to IMDB, the entire thing was shot on a budget of $3,000. I know Dennis Haskins has a reputation for being a really nice guy and supporting fans, but I figured there had to be something he and Blatchford saw in this project in order to get involved. After all, Blatchford basically came out of retirement to do the short; he hadn’t had a project in five years and hasn’t been in anything since.

Indeed, there was something to this neat little film.

The genesis for Saved by the Belding was actually the Hamilton brother’s previous short, 2009’s Lost Heroes: Rod Belding. Shot in the style of True Access HollywoodLost Heroes features interviews with four young men who believe Saved by the Bell was a documentary about the real life antics of Bayside High, and that Rod Belding was a real person who inspired them to greatness. The nine minute short posits that everything started going wrong at Bayside after Rod disappeared, including Jessie getting hooked on caffeine pills, Slater and Jessie breaking up, and Tori’s existence. (I know they got the timelines a bit wrong, but I forgive them for this because I genuinely laughed at this, and I would like to blame Screech being at Bayside during The New Class on Rod’s disappearance.

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This apparently lead them to expand the concept into the longer Saved by the Belding, shot in documentary style and following the action real time. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Hamilton brothers have removed the short from their YouTube channel so all that is still online is the trailer. As such, I’ll be working from memory on the details. I hope one day they restore the full short so it can be appreciated by a wide audience.

The basic premise is that the four main interviewees from Lost Heroes are in a Rod Belding support group being lead by a psychologist who is a “Rodologist.” They are constantly at each other’s throats about whether Rod actually had the flu or not, and asides from the psychologist reveal he knows Rod Belding isn’t real, but realizes his patients aren’t getting anywhere with their therapy. As such, he decides to send them to California to find Rod Belding.

In California, they actually do find Ed Blatchford, who initially thinks, with the cameras around, they’re a crew from True Hollywood Story. Ed eventually figures out they’re not from the show, but still plays along, even letting them call him Ed and inviting them out for dinner.

But, at dinner, Ed runs into a female acquaintance in town for the night who wants to have some fun with ole’ Eddy. He decides to ditch the four, and Dennis Haskins randomly shows up for a recreation of the scene from “The Fabulous Belding Boys” where Mr. Belding chews out Rod for ditching the students as Ed basically takes the line of, “What the fuck are you doing, Dennis?” Instead of Zack Morris, this time one of the four overhears, and Dennis ends up having dinner with the four instead, with the one who overheard remarking, as before, they got the better Belding.

The short is magnificently shot, especially considering the budget they were working with. It could actually be believed that they were doing a documentary on four really naive kids who wanted to find the real Rod Belding. I can’t emphasize enough as well how awesome it is that both Haskins and Blatchford were so heavily involved in the project. It really is awesome that they support their fans so much they did this.

In the end, it’s a good-spirited send up of “The Fabulous Belding Boys” and Saved by the Bell in general. You can tell those involved in the making of the short are fans and having a lot of fun in the production. I have made my opinion abundantly clear on numerous occasions that I think “The Fabulous Belding Boys” is the best episode of the original class, so I think it’s great that the film picked this episode to do a parody of. I feel like, if they had focused on other episodes such as “Jessie’s Song” or “Running Zack,” it could have felt really overdone considering how cliche those episodes have become. But “The Fabulous Belding Boys” is just well known enough that the whole concept feels original, funny, and a little believable, since the inability to tell the difference between fiction and reality is a real mental condition.

The Hamilton brothers appear to have moved on to other ventures after directing just a few more shorts, which is a shame since they’re clearly talented. They each did a bit of work on legit documentaries, so it would be interesting to see what else they could do. And, hell, with their connections, maybe they could even do a send up to the horrible Lifetime biopic.

In any case, next week we’ll look at a second fan film, one I’m not as big a fan of.

Behind the Bell

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In 2009, Dustin Diamond published a tell-all book about Saved by the BellBehind the Bell was touted as the book that would give you all the juicy gossip behind the scenes and drop bombshells about what the cast was really like. In the end, the book actually damaged Dustin Diamond’s reputation and left most of his former cast mates refusing to speak to him or even appear publicly with him.

Diamond’s since went into full damage control, claiming that an unnamed and unspecified ghost writer wrote the entire thing and filled it with lies. He’s attempted to reconcile with the cast, and some, such as Dennis Haskins and Mario Lopez, seem to have accepted his apology. Others have not been so eager. He was even snubbed from the Jimmy Fallon skit.

I don’t believe Diamond for a second. I think he’s full of shit and thought that throwing his former cast mates under the bus would somehow jump start his career. After all, he was on The Howard Stern Show just before the release of the book bragging about his supposed truth bombs. I think when the entire project bit him in the ass, he suddenly realized he had to backpedal, and has been trying to resurrect his reputation ever since.

Naturally, the book is out of print, but I obtained a copy and decided to read it all the way through in order to tell you guys what I thought. Is the book as bad as critics claim? Let’s find out!

Introduction

The introduction is basically a few pages of Dustin Diamond talking about how shitty Hollywood is. He does take a moment to trash a former cast mate for the first time, in this case Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, saying Hollywood turned her into a whore. This sort of character assassination posing as gossip is a running theme of this book, as we’ll see.

Part 1: The Beginning

Dustin Diamond claims within the first part that he’s not trying to paint a woe is me portrait of his life on the Saved by the Bell set, but he sure does seem that way. What this section taught me is that he has no clue the meaning of the phrase, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” The entire section is basically about how almost everyone in Dustin Diamond’s life was a meanie pants who wouldn’t let him play with the cool kids.

And, ironically, his reason for not liking many of them is because they acted like kids. Fred Savage once did something kid like on The Wonder Years, so he’s an asshole. Neil Patrick Harris had an ego like a kid who’s starring in one of television’s hottest shows. Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen thought they were all great because the fans loved them. Really, he just goes on and on about how everybody was jerks.

Well, almost everybody. He seems to have been in love with Hayley Mills. And Brandon Tartikoff kissed his ass so he was okay with him. He seems to like Dennis Haskins even though he talks shit about his ability to get women. And he has sympathy for Lark Voorhies because he seems to think she was raped or abused or something.

Dustin Diamond is also a petty, petty man. He dedicates entire sections to hammering out old, petty grievances with each of the cast members, although much of his vitriol is directed at Mark-Paul. They each did him wrong so he’s going to get them back, including talking about a rape Mario Lopez supposedly committed and then NBC covered up, which makes me wonder why Mario’s not suing Dustin Diamond for libel instead of inviting him on Extra.

And the jealous talk about sex. To hear Dustin Diamond talk, everyone was fucking everyone except him, and isn’t it just too god damned bad he was left out. As if that’s enough, his section on Elizabeth Berkley is basically devoted to how she saw a picture of his penis once and how he got to see her naked long before Showgirls.

Remarkably, for a section called “The Beginning,” there is very little information on Dustin Diamond’s life before Saved by the Bell. What little he does give seems to be designed to paint himself in a good light as a kid who started from the bottom, unlike all those other child actors who…started from the bottom I guess.  He seems really in a hurry to trash his co-stars, so he doesn’t give much background.

Chronological errors in this section:

  • Dustin Diamond places the release of Showgirls in 1995, but says Elizabeth Berkley was still on the cast of Saved by the Bell after its release. He seems oblivious to the fact that The New Class was getting ready to start its third season by that point and Berkley left Saved by the Bell in 1992. Thus, everything he says about the reaction to Showgirls is a fucking lie.
  • He tries to insinuate Ed Alonzo and Neil Patrick Harris were fucking around. Neil Patrick Harris says this is years before he even knew Ed Alonzo.

His memory of Anthony Harrell’s siblings appearing on The New Class also doesn’t seem to be accurate as he claims they were playing a band that had just lost its singer and Eric filled in. In reality, Harrell’s siblings were playing Eric’s siblings.

Why is Dustin Diamond talking about Anthony Harrell in this section you ask? Because it’s Dustin Diamond and he can’t go two pages without a completely unrelated tangent. He’s just that horrible a writer.

Part II: How the Magic Happened—A Week in the Life of SBTB

This may end up being my favorite section of the book as it’s one of the few where I can actually believe half the shit Dustin Diamond says. As the title would suggest, Dustin Diamond takes you through the work week and explains what it was like to work for a television show. It’s actually quite fascinating and I quite enjoyed picturing what it must be like to be a star week in and out.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s all good. He takes the time to give more subtle jabs at Mario Lopez, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Fred Savage, and Neil Patrick Harris. Oddly enough, after accusing them all of being assholes for doing stupid shit, he brags about peeing in an extra’s purse and putting a bottle of Ex-lax in a member of the crew’s drink–or, more precisely, his drink he knew the crew member would steal.

Interesting enough, Diamond claims that “Slater’s Friend” is the least-aired episode of the series. He says even all the cast and he were unable to shoot the episode without laughing every few minutes because it was so ridiculous. I get the out of season episodes are bad, but I didn’t think “Slater’s Friend” was worse than, say, “Screech’s Birthday” or “The Babysitters.”

And it wouldn’t be Dustin Diamond if he weren’t bragging about his prowess with the ladies which, at this point, is beginning to just sound pathetic. He brags about getting audience members and extras to do shit with him and then tries to justify why he’s not a loser at it like Mario Lopez. How noble of him.

In the end, the theme of this section is, “Look, ma, I’m a real actor and all professional like and shit!”

Part III: Famous as Shit

So we went from the best part of the book to the worst. I swear to god, part three spends a large chunk of its time talking about girls Dustin Diamond has fucked. Like seriously, he keeps referring to his penis as a monster and talking in the most sexist terms possible about how much he enjoyed fucking all these girls. Seriously, all the shit he talks about regarding other people, and he brags about picking up foreign girls at Disneyland who recognize him from Saved by the Bell and fucking them.

I feel dirty.

On top of that, he’s turning out to be one of the most sexist guys I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, these girls were nothing but props to him, living, breathing sex dolls, and he has the gall to talk smack about Mark-Paul and Mario fucking around. Seriously, does he have no semblance of measure? He’s making himself out to be such a fucking asshole I don’t even have words.

Perhaps the chapter in this section that nauseated me more than any was him bragging about an affair with Linda Mancuso, who was VP of children’s programming at NBC. You can tell he’s doing his damndest to try to write an erotic account of his time with her, but it just comes off like someone who has no clue what sex or romance is. What’s worse, Mancuso died in 2003, so there’s no way she can defend herself against Dustin Diamond’s bullshit.

His timeline is completely off for his relationship with Mancuso as well. He claims he was fucking her while Saved by the Bell was still going on, but then he says he got his driver’s license shortly before he had sex with her for the first time. If he was eleven when Good Morning, Miss Bliss started, Dustin Diamond would not have turned sixteen until either The College Years or the second season of The New Class.

But, seriously, he wants you to think he fucked all kinds of extras and an executive at NBC.

There’s also a chapter about how he was pissed that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen went to Paris with Mark-Paul instead of him (boo hoo) and one about a violent stalker who tried to set his house on fire, forcing him to move in with the Thiessen family for protection. Perhaps the most bizarre, and infuriating, chapter was a random account of his misadventures with cats and how he seriously brags that he shot his neighbor’s cat with a BB gun to scare it away from messing with his cats. I really have no idea what it had to do with anything else in the book at all other than to further illustrate how fucked up Dustin Diamond is.

By the time I got to the second to last chapter, I was seriously wondering why I was now reading Dustin Diamond brag about all the celebrities he’s met. No, really, that’s the entirety of the second to last chapter. But there are no words for the final chapter, his account of how an extra used him and tried to blackmail him and sue NBC.

Like the previous sections, there are random tangents that have nothing to do with anything, like Mark-Paul urinating in public and Sidney Sharron, the set teacher, having to get him out of it when a police officer witnessed it, and Dustin Diamond’s history with marijuana. There’s also a bizarre account of him getting drunk the night before a promotional appearance in South Carolina and claiming that it was such a disaster the local affiliate dropped Saved by the Bell after that. I need proof of this story actually happening since I find it hard to believe that wouldn’t have made the tabloids.

This section should have been titled, “Hey, guys, I’m cool! Please believe me! I’m cool!” I feel a little sick to my stomach after reading it, and it was the longest section in the book. Dustin Diamond claims everyone else were such huge jerks. Maybe they were. But he’s the biggest of them all and dares to point fingers when all fingers should be pointing at him.

Part IV: The Denouncement

This is a weird section. Diamond has the expected, obligatory chapters on The College Years and The New Class. Yet he talks very little about those shows in their respective chapters. In fact, he really only gives two brief vignettes from The College Years before going off on a tangent about Mark-Paul injuring himself while training for Circus of the Stars and then giving his own woe-is-me story about how he got injured playing at a concert.

There’s no real analysis of why The College Years failed other than Drew Carey and some critics hated it and how pissed off Diamond was that Tiffani-Amber wiggled her way into it. What’s worse, the entire last part of that chapter is all about the final season of the original Saved by the Bell. Yeah, Diamond can’t even stay on topic for a chapter. He talks about the graduation episode and the Tori episodes and continue spewing bullshit about his imaginary timeline for Showgirls. Not only that, he claims Tiffani-Amber joined the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 immediately after she quit Saved by the Bell, apparently forgetting he was just fucking complaining about her joining The College Years!

He also talks a bit about Wedding in Las Vegas so he can take the opportunity to brag about fucking a Vegas showgirl, the classy guy he is, and accuses Mark-Paul of taking steroids during The College Years. As if that’s not enough, he randomly decides to talk about how Tori Spelling had no boobs in those years and wanted to fuck Mark-Paul, apparently jealous she didn’t want him in real life.

For The New Class, he mostly complains that Brett Dewey was purposely making homoerotic scenes for Mr. Belding and Screech while getting dates very wrong. For instance, he claims that Richard Lee Jackson replaced Robert Sutherland Telfer for season two, even when a photo in his own book clearly shows Christian Oliver in the blonde lead role for the second season. He also claims he grew his hair out into a curly Afro during the final season to divorce himself from the Screech character, even though that was seasons four and five and he was back to short hair for seasons six and seven.

Yeah, he claims that he grew his hair out and did the horrible Screech voice because he thought that would allow future casting directors to separate Dustin Diamond from Screech and not typecast him. He must have been a fucking moron if he really thought that.

He doesn’t get very much into his post-The New Class career. He devotes a chapter to complaining that Hollywood screwed him over because the live action Scooby-Doo movie was his idea and he wanted to play Shaggy and fuck Matthew Lillard and all that shit. He talks about doing stand-up on the college circuit and about how he moved to Wisconsin. He waxes poetic about his messed-up childhood and reveals that his parents squandered most of his money; as a result, he’s not on speaking terms with his father. And he talks about his reality show days, claiming he’s not really an asshole, but it was another role he was playing.

Perhaps the most hypocritical part of the book, though, is when Dustin Diamond complains about people labeling other people based on roles, like how Screech was a nerd. I say it’s hypocritical because he spends most of the book labeling his co-stars and other random celebrities who caught his ire. So, fuck you, Dustin Diamond. Fuck you.

Epilogue

After spending nearly three-hundred pages talking shit and whining, Dustin Diamond switches to philosopher in the last few pages and talks about how, despite everything, he misses playing Screech, but will fight anyone who talks shit to him. Yeah, I think that’s where some of your legal trouble has come from. In the end, it’s an attempt to justify some of the pretentiousness of the rest of the book, and falls completely flat.

My Thoughts

One Amazon reviewer made the claim that this book is basically Dustin Diamond pleading with you, the reader, to think he’s cool. I’m tempted to agree, but I think it’s more than that. Imagine you walked into a bar and saw a drunk Dustin Diamond. You decide you want to speak to this guy who was on one of your favorite shows as a kid, and you ask him what it was like to do Saved by the Bell. This book is the drunken ramblings that follow as Diamond talks shit about everything that comes to his mind.

It’s not a book, really. I’ve read plenty of great biographies and memoirs. This is not one of them. It really has no cohesive structure, and can’t even be said to be chronological considering he seems to write this stream of thought, complete with confusing and boring tangents as well as enough sexism to make me think Dustin Diamond was taking cues from Bill Cosby.

The entire book is about how the cool kids didn’t let Dustin Diamond play with their toys, and now he, a man in his thirties at the time, is pissed and wants to get back at them. It comes off as a pathetic attempt to cash in on his washed-up celebrity status.

What’s worse, the book doesn’t seem to have been edited or even proofread before publication. There are horrible line breaks where there should be none, random repeats of paragraphs, and misspellings all over the place. The book is of such low quality I’m honestly surprised it got published.

This book makes me hate Dustin Diamond. I don’t believe for a second he didn’t write this, and he’s just such an asshole. His high profile run-ins with the law since publication of Behind the Bell seem to confirm this. In any case, I have no sympathy for him and the consequences of publishing this piece of trash. He made his bed. Now he’s sleeping in it.

Who Shrunk Saturday Morning?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and soon Slater and Lisa find themselves sucked into the world of the Lite Bright, too.

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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.

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ALF sends them on their way along a Tron dance floor to find the Master Programmer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Soon they find their way to a bad eighties video, where there are signs pointing to, ironically, lots of NBC prime time shows, including ALFCheersNight CourtThe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

The New Class: The Ten Worst Episodes

Last year, I concluded my reviews of the original class by counting down the best and worst episodes from the three series featuring them. I knew, from the beginning, I wanted to give that sort of treatment for The New Class as well. The problem is there’s only two episodes from this series I actually like. “What’s the Problem?” from season three is actually a very well written episode and the highlight of the series for me, proving the writers could pull off very special episodes, while season seven’s “A Mall Shook Up” is just so ridiculous and over the top that I put it in the “so bad it’s good” category.

So, suffice it to say, there won’t be a top ten best episodes list for this series. If you want to know about the episodes I liked, go read the individual reviews. What may be an even more difficult challenge, though, is narrowing down the ten worst episodes of this god forsaken series, considering almost every episode is horrible and unwatchable. With that in mind, here are my picks for the ten worst episodes of The New Class!


Number 10: Season 1, Episode 3: “A Kicking Weasel”

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Overall, season one wasn’t terrible, especially compared to what came after, but this one grates on my nerves for some reason. It really feels like the writers don’t understand how football work and that field goals are a relatively minor part of the game, something even I, as a non-football fan, knows. Being able to kick the ball really high, in itself, would not have gotten Weasel on the football team, and it certainly wouldn’t have made him a star player.

That alone wouldn’t have been enough to get this episode on the list, but combine that with the fact the producers didn’t even bother to try to make Weasel look like he could kick the ball. Seriously, watch the attached video clip: he basically kicks the ball across the set, not at the angle shown.  A pretty lazy episode from  pretty lazy season of the show.

Number 9: Season 2, Episode 20: “Drinking 101”

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The New Class was at its worst when it was being preach and shit, and this episode is no exception. Alcohol is the devil’s brew, and don’t you forget it! It might make you brain dead like Tommy D and make you want to drive a snowmobile drunkenly and shit! Combine that with the horrible subplot about Mr. Belding spraining his ankle by tripping over some skis and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty horrible episode.

It certainly doesn’t help that Brian is the voice of reason in this episode. I swear, he makes me want to punch his face with every succeeding scene. The reason this isn’t higher on the list is because, unlike some of the other episodes on the list, this one actually does seem like it’s trying, even if it’s written by people who have probably never taken a drink in their lives.

Number 8: Season 7, Episode 9: “Party Animals”

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Speaking of drinking, let’s put another horrible anti-alcohol episode on this list. I swear, this episode is like a caricature of what the producers think teenagers are like drunk. Everyone peer pressures Katie into drinking when she doesn’t want to, and she ends up being an asshole to everyone. But it’s okay because she and Nicky promise they won’t ever drink again, not even when they go off to college, a promise I bet they broke within like five minutes of arrival.

The episode doesn’t even feel like it’s trying, and all consequences are shown off-screen. In the end, the only reasons given for not drinking are that underage drinking is illegal and you might act like a jerk. So I guess if you’re twenty-one and you know you’re not an angry or sarcastic drunk, it’s okay, which I’m sure is not the message Peter Engel was going for, but it is the message that came across. It’s like he has no idea why actual teenagers drink.

Number 7: Season 3, Episode 16: “Screech’s Millions”

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Every Screech-centric episode of the series was bad, but this one is just terrible. Screech thinks he’s won a $2 million lottery and, not knowing the value of money, decides he can afford to retire now in his early twenties. Of course, the predictable result is that Screech only got four out of five of the numbers but, in the meantime, the gang take advantage of him while Mr. Belding finally fires him, only to rehire him before the end because Screech is very sorry!

This episode just makes me question why Screech is trusted with anything, and was one of the early examples of him really abusing his authority and crossing boundaries with students. But the really unfortunate thing is that Mr. Belding set a precedent that, as long as you’re sorry for your incompetence, he’ll hire you back every time. Yeah, administrator of the year right there.

Number 6: Season 3, Episode 23: “No Smoking”

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Nobody wanted to see The New Class take on teen smoking, and this episode didn’t disappoint in its incompetence. Lindsay and Tommy D take up smoking and, in the end, the only consequences are their friends act like little assholes, Tommy D can’t play football, and Lindsay sets a dress on fire through her napalm-filled cigarette, getting fired. Apparently cigarettes ruin your life almost instantly.

What this episode taught me is that Peter Engel doesn’t understand why kids get started smoking, and, so, we get a mess of an episode giving reasons for smoking no kid I’ve ever met would give. The only redeeming value of this episode is that, while everyone’s a little asshole to Lindsay for smoking, no one gives a shit about Tommy D, leading me to believe they’d just as soon see him dead as well.

Number 5: Season 2, Episode 15: “A Perfect Lindsay”

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Lindsay sure was in some pretty bad very special episodes. In this one, she becomes anorexic in a matter of days to the point that she has to be checked into a treatment facility. What pissed me off about this one when I reviewed it was that they took a very serious issue that many teenagers in the show’s demographic actually face and turned it into a caricature.

Really, you don’t become anorexic in a week. It’s a long-term problem that calls for long-term solutions, and doesn’t happen just from skipping some meals for a few days. This one could have been good in the hands of a good writer, but, alas, the writers on this show aren’t good so they weren’t ever going to produce the sort of treatment of eating disorders teenagers need to see.

Number 4: Season 3, Episode 9: “Boundaries”

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When I reviewed “A Perfect Lindsay,” I was convinced that no other very special episode would piss me off more than it did. I was wrong. “Boundaries” is an episode that wants to talk about the very real problem of sexual assault on college campuses, but doesn’t have the guts to get beyond forced kissing. While forced kissing is technically sexual assault, there are much worse issues that could have been tackled in this episode and weren’t.

But that’s not why this episode pisses me off so. Forced kissing is often used as a comedic device within Peter Engel’s shows. But to use it as a comedic device within an episode about how forced kissing is sexual assault is hypocritical beyond believe. I just can’t believe that no one in the writers, cast, director, or producers spoke up and said, “Hey, aren’t we being just a little hypocritical here?” It just angers me beyond belief.

Number 3: Season 4, Episode 26: “Fire at the Max, Part 2”

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Most of the time, clip show episodes don’t qualify for these lists, but this one is a very special exception.  See, they burned down The Max, an iconic symbol of the Saved by the Bell franchise, in the first episode, set up a conflict with Ryan feeling responsible and with the owner deciding not to rebuild, and then concluded it with a god damned clip show episode centered on memories of The Max. Ryan’s conflict only gets a couple minutes of screen time and The Max is saved because everyone loves it so.

Even worse, they wasted a cameo from Slater, the last time an original series cast member other than Mr. Belding or Screech would appear, by having him show up just to introduce more clips. The writers of this episode just don’t seem to get that, while burning down The Max is not necessarily a bad idea for an episode, you have to conclude the story with the respect it deserves and not just end on a god damned clip show episode.

Number 2: Season 2, Episode 26: “Goodbye Bayside, Part 2”

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Perhaps the most pointless episode of the series, there’s really no reason for its existence other than to give a reason for Zack Morris, Slater, and Lisa to make cameos. The entire first half is almost a scene-by-scene rerun of the first part except that, because Mr. Belding is present this time, they figure out who the big bad capitalist was horny for. The second part is basically a lame excuse for the cameos except to establish that the woman the capitalist was horny for is Zack Morris’s aunt.

This episode could have easily been concluded in one part and, at the time, I thought it was the worst episode of the series. While it may have been up to that point, unfortunately,  there was one episode that ended up being worse. Much, much worse.

Number 1: Season 5, Episode 24: “Into the Woods”

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I knew from the first time watching this episode it was going to make this list. I also knew that it was going to go down as the worst episode unless there was a particularly bad episode in the final two seasons. Fortunately, there was not, but I still have the memory of this shitty episode stuck in my brain.

The entire wilderness survival arc was a bad idea from the beginning, but this episode just drug on and on and on. On top of it, Maria is completely insufferable this episode as she whines and complains about the outdoors and, for once, Screech is not the most annoying character of the episode, although his subplot about looking for a bird with Mr. Belding was pretty damned bad in itself.

In the end, I have no sympathy for anyone in this episode, and the events would have lead to a major lawsuit for Bayside as both Ryan and Maria’s parents sued the fuck out of them for letting two teenagers journey through the outdoors without adult supervision. Between that and the amount of money Screech has to be costing the school, it’s a wonder they can even afford to keep the lights on.


Well, there it is: my ranking of the ten worst episodes of The New Class! Feel free to disagree with me in the comments below, especially if you feel I left off an especially bad episode of this really terrible series. And tune in Monday for one final look back at The New Class before I try to forget I ever watched this series through years of intensive therapy!

Who’s Useless: A Ranking of The New Class’s Characters

A while back, I received an intriguing request in a comment: would I do a ranking of characters from The New Class in terms of best to worse? I decided back then that this would be one of my final articles on the show as it really will be the best way to look back on the many, many characters we’ve been exposed to on this show over the years.

I’m ranking from best to worse, so number one is my favorite while number seventeen is my least favorite. Also, I’m not including Mr. Belding or Screech on this list as I will be dealing with them at another time. So, without further adieu, here’s my ranking! Please, feel free to disagree with my reasoning in the comments!

1. Scott

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I’ve maintained since the beginning that Scott should have never been fired after the first season. I don’t know why on Earth you’d fire the only character who received any semblance of character development the first season, but they did, and the show suffered for it. Scott was witty, sneaky, and conniving. Towards the end of the season, he even starts developing a conscience for all the shit he does to try to steal Lindsay from Tommy D, and there’s even hints of possible growing feelings with Megan and Rachel. But, after only thirteen episodes, Scott was exiled without even a proper goodbye. What would The New Class have been like with more Scott episodes? I’d like to think it would be an improvement over the boring episodes we got near the end of the series and a huge improvement over his successor.

2. Maria

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Maria showed so much promise, especially in seasons three and four. She was at her best when she was single and acting as one of the leaders of the group. She was feisty, quick-witted, and not a direct replacement for Megan, and, though underused and underdeveloped in her early appearances, was always someone I looked forward to seeing on screen as Samantha Becker was one of the best actresses on the show. I can’t quite put her at number one because her character suffered so much during her relationships with Nicky and Tony, but, all in all, I like Maria and am glad she got to be on the show until the end, even if it meant she was in high school for five years.

3. Ryan

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If ever there was a character who could have saved this show for me after the abominable season two, it was Ryan. I commented early in his run that he was like Scott 2.0 for me, and I stand by that: it felt like the producers were trying to fix the screw up they made with Brian, and thought, “Why don’t we just get someone to play Scott again?” Ryan brought so much to the show, especially in season three, and made me feel like the show had a leading man again. Unfortunately, the longer he was on the show, the more his character suffered in the hands of incompetent writers who had no idea what to do with him other than have him date more girls. But I can forgive these flaws as Ryan brought something back to the show that was sorely missing for me during the final two seasons after his departure.

4. Megan

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Let me make this abundantly clear: Bianca Lawson was too good for this shit storm of a show, and good for her for abandoning it after only two seasons. Of all the characters with untapped potential, Megan probably ranks up there near the top as she really never achieves much on this show other than being a lust object for Weasel and Bobby. But it says something about the level of acting Lawson brought to this role that, despite the horrible underdevelopment of the character, she was the one I felt the most sad about leaving in the entire run of the show. We’ll never know what could have happened with her character in the hands of a competent writer, but it’s no surprise that Lawson has gone on to be, perhaps, the most successful former cast member after her run on this show.

5. Lindsay

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I never disliked Lindsay; I just always felt like she was a very poor woman’s Kelly Kapowski. But Lindsay existed for two reasons: to be a love interest for Scott and to date Tommy D. With both of those reasons gone by the end of season two, her character suffered as the writers realized they were going to have to do actual stuff with her now, and they never quite figured out how to develop her in the third season. But she was never a bad character; just chronically underused and underdeveloped.

6. Nicky

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Nicky could have been a much better character, but all he got for most of his existence was NEW YORK and the odd sport that was convienent to that week’s plot. Still, he wasn’t a terrible character, and he was a huge improvement over Tommy D, so I can’t rank him too far down. I just wish most of his personality hadn’t been derived from the girls he dated. If they’d drawn out the rivalry between Ryan and him, he could have been so much more interesting.

7. Rachel

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Despite being badly written and acted, I can’t hate Rachel too much. After all, she got some great moments in season three (along with, admitedly, some terrible ones). And that’s the problem with Rachel as a character: she was at her best when she was single. When she was dating someone, she was completely at the whim of whatever they were doing that week. Because she had some pretty terrible moments in season two, I can’t rank her any closer to the top.

8. Katie

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I just found Katie to be completely bland. Whatever personality she had was stolen from the plot of the week or based on her relationship with Nicky, and it was hard to be interested in her most weeks. Still, she’s not terrible and, other than usually being the one to be too preachy, she wasn’t usually a terrible character.

9. Eric

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Eric was definitely the best of the four characters fulfilling the former Screech role. Still, that doesn’t say much considering he was up against Weasel, Bobby, and R.J. The problem with Eric is he was at his best when they were letting him do his thing with music. He was at his worst when they were trying to make him athletic and shit. Still, Eric was often the most disposable of the characters, especially during seasons four and five, so I can’t really place him much higher.

10. Liz

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It might surprise some people I didn’t place Liz lower, and the reason is simple: she didn’t annoy the shit out of me like many in the bottom seven. Sure, she may have been dull as rocks and had next to no personality, but at least I didn’t cringe every time she was on screen. And, on this show, that’s a huge accomplishment in my book.

11. Weasel

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Okay, so let’s face it: Isaac Lidsky may have accomplished some amazing things in real life, but he couldn’t act to save his life and, as a replacement Screech, Weasel definitely feel flat. Weasel had all the characteristics of Screech from the original series, so there was never any guessing what he would do. Combine that with Lidsky’s poor acting and you get a recipe for my first entry in the bottom seven.

12. Tommy D

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It’s no secret to regular readers I hated Tommy D. How did they take a bland greaser character who hated sports from the first season and turn him into a stupid jock in seasons two and three? It was horrible. Combine that with the fact Tommy D really had no purpose on the show after he broke up with Lindsay and you’ll get that he was a terrible character all around. He could have been saved through a rivalry with Ryan, but the writers were anxious to resolve that and get him back to his idiotic status quo.

13. Bobby

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The writers didn’t seem to know what they were doing with Bobby. One minute he’d be the smooth, street wise character that would later find fruition in Eric. The next, they were trying to make him a geek in the vein of Screech and Weasel. The latter failed horribly, as did Megan’s supposed repulsion to him for no other reason than the script called for it. Which is sad, because I could have actually seen potential for Bobby, thus why he’s not further down on this list.

14. Vicki

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Vicky was probably the most original member of the first season cast, which is a sad indictment for the originality of this show. She’s obviously taking all the worst qualities from Alex of The College Years, and she seems to exist for no other reason than to act stupid and get horny for Scott. No episodes revolved around her, and she was the first character who made me want to punch the screen every time she came on.

15. R.J.

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R.J was barely a character. Sure, he had a couple (horrible) episodes center around him, but most of the time his sole purpose for existing was to serve as a pawn in some wacky scheme that Ryan or Screech were putting on. He was instantly forgettable when he left the show, and even the other characters didn’t give a shit about him when they mourned Lindsay and Tommy D’s departure but were completely silent about R.J. It makes me wonder if the writers even forgot he existed in between seasons.

16. Tony

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This may be my most controversial ranking on this list because I’m not putting Tony at the bottom. Sure, he was a horribly weak character and Tom Wade Huntington couldn’t act to save his life, but at least I could laugh at how ludicrous a character Tony was on occasion. Of course, most of the time he was just terrible and I questioned why he was even on the show except to give Maria something to do during the last two seasons, so, yeah, he deserves to be near the bottom.

17. Brian

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Have I mentioned before how much I hate Fake-Swiss Brian? If not, let me tell you: I hated him! If Vicki made me want to punch the screen every time she was on, Brian made me want to gouge my eyes and ears out. He has no redeeming value and existed solely for the purpose of sexing Rachel up.  Season two felt like the longest of the seven to me just because I had to see his stupid face week after week, and I was so relieved to see him depart, even if I had to be reminded he existed in a couple of later clip show episodes. Peter Engel claims he had no faith in the first season cast. If Brian was his way of making up for it, he sure had no fucking clue what makes a compelling, interesting, and likeable character, and created a one-dimensional guy whose sole purpose in life is to break up Rachel and her boyfriend. Really, after that he had no real purpose on the show other than to have a sister of the wrong accent to break up Tommy D and Lindsay. Good riddance to bad rubbish and let us never speak of him again.