Josie Totah Is the Secret Weapon of 'Saved by the Bell'
Thrillist talks to the 'Saved by the Bell' star about Season 2.
One of the biggest gems among the countless streaming TV shows that have debuted in the past couple of years is the Saved by the Bell reboot. What at first seemed like a crass attempt to capitalize on millennial nostalgia for Peacock's launch, revealed itself to be something far more wonderful and stranger than that. The new Saved by the Bell, developed by Tracey Wigfield, is like a reflective commentary on the original as well as a successor to 30 Rock, where Wigfield cut her teeth, complete with viciously funny insider gags. (There's a joke at the expense of Joss Whedon in the second season that's absolutely devastating. James Corden should also be scared.)
If the show has a secret weapon it's Josie Totah as the gloriously self-involved Lexi, a rich girl on her way to becoming slightly more vulnerable and less self-obsessed. Lexi wears dresses with eyeballs, and has her own reality show. She only wears heels because she has "Barbie feet" and will tip over if she doesn't. "Lexi is just like always on 10," Totah says. "She's psychotic."
For Season 2, which hit Peacock on November 24, Totah, a producer on the show, also entered the writers' room, breaking stories with the staffers, some of whom she has known since she was a teenager on Mindy Kaling's sitcom Champions. Totah came out as trans in a 2018 Time magazine story, and Saved by the Bell has always made it clear that Lexi is trans as well, and yet never defined her by her transness.
In the fifth episode of Season 2, written by Jen Chuck and Chris Schleicher, Lexi's friends express concern when there's a blatant act of transphobia at a nearby school. Lexi at first brushes it off, but then decides she's going to fix the world by writing a play, which has members of Bayside's LGBTQ group PRISM concerned. "Why does the pope get trampled by a cow in Act 2?" a fellow student asks. Lexi, wearing a cone bra and a Statue of Liberty headdress, has an easy answer: "The cow represents Harvey Milk and the pope represents Olivia Pope played by Kerry Washington who shares a last name with a notorious slaveholder George Washington. Read a book!" Eventually, Lexi realizes that she can accept the solidarity of PRISM, and that the club isn't a dreary version of AA for queer kids. They do have fun while trying to make real change.
"She is trans and we don't want to ignore that," Totah says. "Then we wouldn't be recognizing her, we would just be tokenizing her. She is also so many other things. This was just an episode to explore something that trans people deal with on a daily basis especially with the amount of traumatic things in our community. I'm glad that we got to comment on it in a way that is lighthearted. Episode 5 is a really funny episode in my opinion, and not just because I'm in most of it."
Totah relishes in the show's ruthlessness. When another student asks Lexi how she got her own office at Bayside, Lexi replies: "The same way Max Landis got his career. I asked my dad." If she had it her way, Totah would double down on the industry jokes. "If anything, I think we should go further," she says. "We hold back too hard." The in-jokes even extend to members of Saved by the Bell's own cast. Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, reprising her role from the original as Jessie Spano, does an extended homage to her notorious performance in Showgirls at a career fair. "All of the writers are always trying to come up with ways to poke fun at the OGs and obviously like their embarrassing lives," Totah says.
Lexi is modeled after a long line of hilarious and vapid heroines, among them 30 Rock's Jenna Maroney, Mean Girls' Regina George, and Schitt's Creek's Alexis Rose, but she's also filtered through Totah's own comedic idiosyncrasies. The next goal for Lexi? Expanding her family. "We really wanted Nicole Richie to play my step-grandmother," Totah says. "We're hoping to do that next season."