Scott D. Pierce: ‘Saved by the Bell’ is back, and it’s kind of weird
(Photo courtesy of Peacock) Dexter Darden as DeVante, Aisha Alycia Pascual-Pena as Aisha, John Michael Higgins as Principal Toddman, Elizabeth Berkley as Jessie, Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy, Mario Lopez as Slater, Belmont Cameli as Jamie, Mitchell Hoog as Mac and Josie Totah as Lexi in “Saved by the Bell.”
The latest revival of “Saved by the Bell” is kind of strange. But then, so was the original, Saturday-morning show about a bunch of squeaky-clean kids in an affluent, squeaky-clean high school.
“Bayside is sort of this bubble,” said executive producer Tracey Wigfield, “where it’s a bunch of kind of weird, clueless kids who never have any real problems.”
Kids of that sort are definitely back in this sequel, which starts streaming Wednesday on NBCUniversal’s Peacock. But they’re joined by kids from the other side of the tracks, sort of. And by a few members of the original, 1989-93 cast.
Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is the governor of California, an office he ran for to get out of a parking ticket. He’s cut billions from the state’s education budget, and that forces a high school in a less-advantaged area to shut down — and the students are bused to affluent Bayside High. They’re fish out of water in a school that seemingly hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years.
Wigfield — who won an Emmy for “30 Rock” and has also written and produced “The Mindy Project” and “Great News” — took this approach to the “SBTB” revival: “It’s about the kids from this other school coming into this weird Bayside bubble and being, like, ‘Hey, this place is really strange.’ And responding to it as though they’re walking into this original show in the ’90s.”
Zack and his wife, Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), appear briefly, and there are cameos by a few other familiar faces. Two original cast members are regulars — Slater (Mario Lopez) is the football coach, and Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley) is the guidance counselor. And there’s a certain nostalgia that will appeal to older folks who grew up watching “Saved by the Bell.”
But that wears off pretty quickly as the focus shifts to the new generation of students — including Zack and Kelly’s son, Mac (Mitchell Hoog), who’s as smarmy as his father, and Jessie’s son Jamie (Belmont Cameli), who’s not exactly bright.
But there’s a female character at the center of the narrative this time. Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), a smart teenager who hasn’t grown up with all the advantages enjoyed by Baysiders, is the one who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience — just the way Zack did in the original.
The character who really pops is mean girl Lexi (Josie Totah), who steals every scene she’s in. A character like this would never have been in the original series — she’s trans, and that’s not a major plot point.
(Photo courtesy og NBC) Tiffani Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond, Mario Lopez, Lark Voorhies and Elizabeth Berkley starred in "Saved by the Bell."
Wigfield and her team of writers are trying to pay homage to the original series and poke fun at it at the same time. It’s the most meta of the various incarnations of “SBTB,” which works at times and doesn’t at others. What they’re trying to do is laugh with fans of the original show, not laugh at them.
“We’re all in on the same inside joke,” Wigfield said. “We all love ‘Saved by the Bell.’”
The show has had an outsized presence in pop culture, what with its 86 episodes running endlessly in syndication and on cable for three decades.
“It was just always, always on. And I watched it every single day after school,” Wigfield said. Mind you, she was just 6 when the show premiered and 10 when the final episode aired.
She wouldn’t have been interested in rebooting another show, but this “felt so exciting because fifth grade me loved this show” — even though she acknowledges that it “was really weird.”
“It was a very sanitized, safe version of high school, which I think was part of the appeal to me. But it was also really kind of cartoony and wacky,” Wigfield said. “We’re just starting at 100 miles an hour of craziness. And it was just so fun for me and the staff to go back, watch all the old episodes and kind of think about them through a 2020 lens.”