6 Lessons ‘Saved by the Bell’ Taught Me (Without Meaning To)

| August 29, 2014
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A big thank you is due to whomever keeps green-lighting all these splendiferously kitsch telefilms on Lifetime. The MacArthur-worthy minds that brought you Anna Nicole, Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret and the entire incest opus that is Flowers in the Attic have now gifted us with The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story. Yes, readers; that Saturday morning hit that defined the non-grunge, bubblegum side of the ’90s and made cellular phones the size of bricks popular is now getting a completely necessary behind-the-scenes treatment. So what if none of the actors look like the actors they’re playing and who cares if this is in no way approved of or endorsed by the creators of the original show. They recreated the Max in all its geometric, Memphis design glory and that’s all the counts.

Before we head back to Bayside High, let’s take a time-out and look back on some of the lessons Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen) A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Jessie Spano (Nomi Malone, I mean, Elizabeth Berkeley), Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) and Screech Powers (Dustin Diamond) taught a generation of millennials in after-school syndication. Sure, there were always official messages the show endorsed (don’t drink and drive, don’t smoke pot, don’t let Screech ever write a book about the show), but the subtext of Saved by the Bell was always so much more attuned to what kids really needed to hear to survive high school.

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The Prom (Season 2, Episode 1)

Plot: It’s prom time at Bayside. Yes, apparently Bayside sophomores get to go to prom, which is held in the fall! Zack gets his dream-come-true when Kelly chooses him over Slater as a date, but his heart is shattered when she suddenly backs out. You see, Kelly’s dad is some kind of weapons dealer and, with “peace being declared,” business is down! Kelly forks over the money she was going to use on a dress and tells Zack prom is off. When Zack finally finds out why, he makes a prom for two and squires Kelly away to a dreamy crepe-papered picnic bench. Meanwhile, all the Moonlighting-type verbal foreplay between Jessie and Slater comes to a head at the big dance. Surprise: They’re attracted to each other.

Intended Lesson: It is better to give than receive? No, wait… how about love don’t cost a thing?

Real Lesson: Zack and Kelly’s counter-prom was way more private and a thousand times more romantic than actual prom. If Kelly was ever going to let Zack skip a few bases, that would have been the night. The lesson here is clearly that, if you ditch prom for an alternative venue, you’ll get to spend way more unsupervised time together and who knows what will happen. Also, poor girls are apparently easily impressed, since it doesn’t look like Zack put that much effort into the set-up.

Busted!

Busted!

The Fake I.D.’s (Season 3, Episode 9)

Plot: Zack and Kelly have broken up because…Tiffani Amber Theissen wanted to expand her good-girl range before playing resident tramp Valerie on 90210? It’s not exactly clear. To get over Kelly, Zack gets Screech to make fake IDs for the guys so they can sneak into the Attic, an 18+ club. Once inside, Zack meets a college girl and spots Kelly’s new college boyfriend cheating on her. When Zack warns Kelly, she doesn’t believe him. The episode ends in a boys vs. girls under-age off at The Attic and Zack’s mom raids the place because these kids are not 18!

Intended Lesson: A true friend is the one who tells you the news you don’t want to hear. And also, we assume: don’t use a fake ID.

Real Lesson: Here’s a lesson all high schoolers should have taken to heart. When it came time for the cool kids to get fake IDs, where did they turn? To the other cool kids? Wrong. They picked the biggest geek in school. Nerds often have superpowers they are willing to use for cool kids that don’t bully them. The lesson here is clear: never pick on the seemingly uncool smart kid; if you’re nice to them, they’ll help you get into clubs. Lesson 2 is for the Screeches of the world: learn how to do useful stuff for popular kids and they’ll let you hang out with them.

Jessie’s Song (Season 2, Episode 9)

Plot: Type-A queen bee Jessie Spano wants to have it all: a perfect 4.0, intellectual fulfillment as the show’s token third-wave feminist, and now, a musical extracurricular for those college applications in the form of her new girl group Hot Sundae. But there’s so much studying, so much rehearsal needed and so many Camille Paglia articles on women in media to read! The solution? Caffeine pills, duh (this was apparently before kids made a habit of selling their Ritalin at finals time). Because this is Saved by the Bell, Jessie becomes a hopeless addict, who is eventually saved, not by the expected bell, but by childhood pal Zack who soothes the Pointer Sister out of her with memories of sneaking off to E.T. as disobedient children.

Intended Lesson: There are a couple here. Just say no! and Don’t over-commit! are easily the top two.

Real Lesson: Jessie’s out-of-control meltdown makes any drug scenes in Sid & Nancy look freakishly underplayed by comparison. The real lesson behind the lesson though is that Elizabeth Berkeley had a flair for camp that would eventually be realized in her career-defining role as Nomi Malone in Showgirls. Jessie’s manic song and dance routine heralded fantastic things to come.

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:-(

The Bayside Triangle (Season 4, Episode 5)

Plot: When walking hormone Zack decides to help Lisa put on a fashion show, it’s only a matter of time before he ends up making out with her. Screech’s heart is broken when he sees his supposed best friend locking lips with his forever crush. He then publicly humiliates the pair as emcee of Lisa’s fashion show in a weird foreshadowing of Dustin Diamond’s eventual memoir.

Intended Lesson: Bros before hos?

Real lesson: Screech always hated Zack…like Dustin Diamond hates everyone on the show who went on to continue to have a career.

School Song (Season 4, Episode 24)

Plot: Graduation is just around the corner, but, before they go, the six friends compete to see who can compose the new school anthem. Because Zack is Zack, he sabotages all his friends (remind me why they still hang out with him; is it because he has a cell phone?) and his composition “Cool School” makes it to the finals. But at last, after four years of his antics, the gang fights back and sabotages him. All is resolved at the end with Zack’s friends yet again forgiving their buddy’s psychopathic tendencies because that’s what friends are for.

Intended Lesson: Cheaters never prosper.

Real Lesson: You can only push people so far before they fight back. It took four seasons, but Bayside eventually stood up to the reign of terror that was Zack Morris, even neutralizing his ability to freeze time. Also, how natural was Jessie in the role of the saboteur in this episode? Yet more proof that the high school valedictorian runs away to become the stair-pushing dancer in Showgirls. Even if you can’t entirely prove SBTB and Showgirls are part of the same universe, you also can’t entirely rule it out.

Rockumentary (Season 3, Episode 22)

Plot: In a VH1: Behind the Music type episode (which we hope inspires the tone of the upcoming telefilm), Casey Kasem tells the story of the gang’s garage band “The Zack Attack” and the eventual rise, fall, and rise of the six friends as they shoot to fame. Naturally, there’s some kind of misunderstanding and they go their separate ways in anger before eventually reuniting to sing their hit “Friends Forever” at a big benefit concert at Bayside. Then Zack wakes up. Years later, we’re gifted with this classic bit on Jimmy Fallon.

Intended Lesson: Friendsssss for evvvvvvaaaaaaahhh.

Real Lesson: Once you get famous, ditch your dead weight friends, who have stuck with you during your rise. Don’t worry, if you ever have a crisis, they’ll always come back. That’s sort of the overall lesson of the series: No matter how poorly Zack treats his friends, they’re all terrible codependents and will always return for his abuse. One can only hope the real “behind the scenes” story on Lifetime is half as juicy.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story airs this Monday, September 1, 2014 on Lifetime. 

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About the Author ()

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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