The 'Saved by the Bell' Reboot Is Better Than It Has Any Right to Be
With new leads and some familiar faces, the early '90s sitcom gets a makeover for modern times.
On paper, a Saved by the Bell reboot sounds like a terrible idea. As a nation, we've already suffered through multiple seasons of Fuller House; haven't we tested our limits of '90s sitcom nostalgia? Well, consider me as surprised as anyone that the Saved by the Bell reboot, that's dropped on Peacock, is not just okay—it's actually pretty great.
Executive producer Tracey Wigfield, a veteran of 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, has pulled off a minor miracle with the new Saved by the Bell. The series winks at the ridiculousness of its predecessor without being overly meta, and nods to earlier plot points without rehashing the past. On top of that, it has a winning cast of new young people who make you forget all about Screech and can deliver Wigfield and her writers' high-wire jokes all on their own.
Admittedly, I was never really a devotee of Saved by the Bell, given that it mostly aired when I was a little too young to be watching TV. That said, I have spent many a night watching "Zack Morris Is Trash," a very amusing Funny or Die YouTube series narrated and created by writer Dashiell Driscoll, which boils down classic Saved by the Bell episodes into their essence to explain why golden boy Zack Morris, played by Mark-Paul Gosselar, is a genuinely horrible person. (A sample episode title: "The Time Zack Morris Fat-Shamed A Girl Who Won Him In A Charity Auction.")
Wigfield actually hired Driscoll to write on her version of SBTB, which reveals where her head is: She's reverent of the original without being unwilling to call it out on its dated bullshit. The premise of her version is basically that Zack Morris really is trash: Zack is now governor of California and cut $10 billion, bailing out the fossil fuel industry. In order to save face, he decides to send the kids who attended the schools he shut down to schools in high-income area codes. One of those fancy institutions is, of course, Bayside High where Zack sends his son Mac (Mitchell Hoog) and where Zack's former pals Slater (Mario Lopez) and Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley) work as the gym teacher and guidance counselor, respectively.
The fourth wall-breaking protagonist is not Zack's progeny, but Daisy (the wonderful Haskiri Velazquez), one of the newcomers at Bayside, who is baffled by the world of privilege she encounters and all of the microaggressions that come with it. She's joined at the hip by her best friend Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who plays on the football team and puts the dudes to shame. They fall in with a crowd that includes Mac, who has inherited his dad's lack of work ethic and love of schemes; Jessie's son Jamie (Belmont Cameli), a dopey sweetie pie who is coddled by his helicopter mom; and Lexi (Josie Totah), a queen bee who has been the star of her own reality show about coming out as trans. (Totah is also a producer on the series, a title she fought for so she could accurately represent her character's gender identity.) Lexi reigns over the drama scene, of which Bayside transfer Devante (Dexter Darden) reluctantly becomes a part when he decides to audition for the school musical based on his love of singing.
In this Saved by the Bell, the writers treat Bayside like a warped rich kid playground, acknowledging how bizarre the customs are, like going to eat at The Max on a daily basis and engaging in prank wars. To Daisy, this is nonsense, and she makes it her mission to make the school a more equitable place.
But the series doesn't just get its laughs from the fish-out-of-water situation. Its gags are wide ranging and frequently hilarious. There's a Euphoria parody in the seventh episode that had me screaming. Totah is an absolute punchline machine as the well-connected, recovering mean girl Lexi, who comes off as a direct descendant of Jenna Maroney. (When convincing Devante to use her acting coach: "Dax is a Hollywood legend. Do you know Justin Long? That's Dax's landlord.") But Totah is not alone: All the young actors are great, which can highlight the awkwardness of some of their elders' line deliveries, but it barely distracts when you're having this much fun.
So, I never thought I'd be doing this, but I'm recommending a return to Bayside. I've nearly blasted through the whole series and I'm already mad there aren't more episodes. Against all odds, the Saved by the Bell reboot was actually a worthwhile endeavor. Who would have thought?
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