Mandatory TV Battles: Classic ‘Saved by the Bell’ vs. Peacock’s New ‘Saved by the Bell’
Things have changed a lot in the 27 years since the original Saved by the Bell went off the air. Zack Morris’ miraculous talent for manipulating time offered no insight into the retrospective ignorance of Saved by the Bell. Societal pitfalls did not exist in or around Bayside High in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Zack and his friends fully embraced “ignorance is bliss.” Don’t get us wrong; for those who grew up watching the show, its depiction of friendship and first loves is nostalgic. Screech still makes us chuckle. However, Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot roasts the original by (attempting to) balance old and new. So, is it better? Worse? In this edition of Mandatory TV Battles, we pit the classic Saved by the Bell against Peacock’s remix.
Cover Photo: NBC/Peacock
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The Better Cast
The casting of Peacock’s Saved by the Bell is much more diverse than the original show. The lead time-stopper, Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), and Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) are BIPOC from low-income schools, and Lexi (Josie Totah) is a transgender cheerleader. The teenagers depicted in this reboot feel real—which should not go unappreciated (especially considering the original’s disconnect).
The flagship series’ main crew, Jessica Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), and Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), are also back in supporting roles. The latter is not the focus of the new show (nor should they be). That said, while these new kids are more interesting and independent, their ensemble lacks the chemistry of the old gang. Obviously, this could change as the show develops but the original cast remains more iconic. Plus, there’s no Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins) or Screech (Dustin Diamond). Even if the decision not to bring back Diamond was probably a good call.
The Better Belding
Principal Belding is one of the most beloved aspects of Saved by the Bell. The new principal, Ronald Toddman (John Michael Higgins), is nice and all but he often comes off as oblivious, serving next to no purpose. The reboot lacks the charm (for lack of a better word) of watching Belding deal with Bayside’s scheming sociopath who would do anything to satisfy one of his selfish whims (or just get out of taking a test).
Zack Morris vs. Governor Zack Morris
The original Zack was a dick. He objectified girls, including Ms. Kapowski, and somehow ends up with the best love interests. Regardless, fans loved him all the same. Gosselaar’s return in the new Saved by the Bell certainly isn’t as welcome as Lopez’s (who is strangely one of its best parts)—what’s with the bleached hair?
Zack is now the governor of California, having capitalized on a scheme to get out of paying a parking ticket. He’s married to his “smoking-hot wife” Kelly and has a son named Mac (Mitchell Hoog)—Bayside’s resident satirization of everything the original Zack would be today. The events of Peacock’s Saved by the Bell are put in motion when Zack decides to cut $10 billion dollars from the state’s education budget, prompting many low-income schools to close. This Zack is incompetent and super unlikable. The original Zack (aka Mr. Cool) is a deplorably dated character. However, he was still a "good" guy who cared deeply about his friends. The deconstruction of his character may be progressive but it just isn't as funny as it should be.
The Better Bayside
Saved by the Bell keeps Bayside Bayside—it’s a fantastical place anyone would want to attend. Except for those who aren’t rich and white. Basically. The introduction of underprivileged kids pulls the curtain on Bayside’s sense of normality; not everyone has an iPad for their paperless high school. A diverse Bayside more accurately reflects the world we live in. The show’s characters, elements of activism, and plot lines only further what will inevitably be a better Bayside.
What qualified as a plotline back in the day? Caffeine pill addictions, love triangles, and passing Screech off as an alien? It’s safe to say things were pretty juvenile in the classic Saved by the Bell. The reboot, intended for the whole family, explores much heavier territory. Its entire premise deals with class and privilege—Daisy and Aisha clashing with Bayside’s charter-school culture. In addition to Daisy’s desire to run for school president (without the social or financial clout), Aisha wants to join the football team (something that gym teacher and coach Slater has reservations about), and Devante (Dexter Darden) would rather sing his heart out than play sports. The new Saved by the Bell not only has culturally-relevant plot lines but the potential to be truly moving. Even if the writing comes off as contrived/condescending. Ex. “Don’t have? What is that?”
The original Saved by the Bell was obsessed with pairing up its cast whereas the new one is scarcely interested in hookups at all so far. From the epic love story of Zack and Kelly to Jessie and Slater, the romances of Saved by the Bell kept people tuning in even when it was ridiculous. The remix sees Lexi harbor a secret crush for Mac but the most interesting “relationship” is still Slater and Jessie, a counselor at Bayside where her son Jamie attends. The pair aren’t linked in the same way as in the original (Slater recognizes his toxic masculinity), but are basically just working together as friends. That said, this approach is refreshing. Still, given how big a role romance played in the original Saved by the Bell, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give it a point for that.
The original Saved by the Bell was so cheesy, those who are lactose intolerant can’t watch it to this day. The reboot tries to go full Deadpool. It’s self-aware and goofy—which both works and doesn’t. Peacock’s Saved by the Bell calls out the original’s bullshit by satirizing its characters and critiquing nostalgia. However, the show’s irreverence risks being so pessimistic that it trivializes real-world topics—references and commentary are so frequent and heavy-handed that the hand might as well be a sledgehammer. Mac, Lexi, and the privileged kids of Bayside are so clueless it becomes annoying to watch. Characters like Slater and the Douglas contingent spend enough time educating them that it starts to feel like the show is boasting about how “woke” it is. There are moments when this approach is necessary—people often cling to the simple pop culture of their childhood, ignoring its blind spots—Peacock’s Saved by the Bell means well. So, where the original is oblivious and therefore ridiculous and the new one is so self-aware it becomes ridiculous (and not the intended brand).
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At this point, the original Saved by the Bell might be enough of a critique in and of itself. With everything going on in the world, fans of the original should recognize its irony. Those fans probably won’t love Peacock’s Saved by the Bell due to it feeling like overcompensation for the original’s lack of “woke.” Regarding the balance of old and new, this Saved by the Bell is no Cobra Kai—its tonal shift is less elegant, the equivalent of laughing at your own joke. While it’s hard to compare these two very different shows, the original Saved by the Bell wins this one simply for being classic.
Overall Winner: Classic
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