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A Taxonomy of Nineties TV Reboots

Saved by the Bell isn't the only 90s show to come back from the dead lately.
  • Saved by the Bell joins a long list of 90s sitcoms to recently return in some form or fashion.
    Saved by the Bell joins a long list of 90s sitcoms to recently return in some form or fashion.

    The '90s are back! At least as far as TV is concerned. This week Peacock presents its reboot of Saved by the Bell, the Saturday morning NBC series about a California high school and the mobile-phone-toting blond kid who lorded over it with his mischief and romances. The revived Saved by the Bell brings back original cast members Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley, along with guest appearances by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffany Thiessen, and Lark Voorhies (sorry, Dustin Diamond) to preside over a whole new class at Bayside High (not to be confused with Saved by the Bell: The New Class).

    The new Saved by the Bell is only the latest '90s reboot to grace our TV screens in recent years. From sitcoms, to dramas, to beloved cartoons, all sorts of '90s faves have been brought back. Some pick up where they left off, some completely reimagine the series. Here's a quick guide to the various approaches producers have employed in reviving some of our favorite Clinton-era shows.

    Pure Continuations

    The line between reboot and reunion is pretty thin when it comes to the shows that just bring the band back together for another run. '90s sitcoms were heavily into this option as of just a few years ago, with a rebooted Murphy Brown that sought to take on the Trump era and a Mad About You season that aired on Spectrum and revisited Paul and Jamie far down the road. Often, the gag was seeing these very '90s characters encounter very 2010s issues (which was also the case with Will & Grace, although for our purposes here, that was a 2000s show) and watch the hilarity ensue. ABC's Roseanne reboot (which later morphed into The Conners) gets an asterisk next to it here, as it took some creative liberties in order to resurrect John Goodman's Dan Conner after he had been killed off in the original series' final season.

    The best case scenario for the pure continuation model thus far has been Showtime's revival of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The series returned, picking up its storyline where it had left off, and delivered a mind-boggling season that had critics crawling over themselves to put it on their top 10 lists.

    The Heavy Irony Route

    The great majority of these '90s reboots come from a place of deep nostalgia, and the Millennial or Gen-X audiences that these reboots are going for are often nostalgic for the things they loved when they were younger and less discerning. So what happens when the product people have been clamoring for is pretty bad? Well, you make that badness the point! It's time to get deeply ironic. Such was the case with Fuller House, which came back on Netflix with a full comprehension of how dumb, saccharine, and unsophisticated the original TGIF show was … and then leaned into it. The resulting series is an unhinged mutation of the Full House we remember. This seems to be the route that Peacock's Saved by the Bell is taking, zeroing in on all the meme-worthy SBTB jokes we've all made over the years and giving a big ol' wink to the audience as they're serve them up again with a younger cast.

    One unique spin on the ironic reboot was FOX's BH90210, which reunited the original cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 and had them play versions of themselves as they tried to get a 90210 reunion happening. The hall of mirrors that resulted was probably too strange to have ever caught on, but it was a fascinating and often fun experiment.

    The Next Generation

    As that header reminds us, the idea of a reboot establishing a new generation of characters to carry out the show's premise is nothing new. Star Trek handled the transition wonderfully. In most cases these days, the Next Gen reboots preserve some connective tissue from the original in order to bridge the gap for the newbies. This was true when Nickelodeon brought back its popular sketch show All That, with producer Kenan Thompson behind the scenes and stars Kel Mitchell and Lori Beth Denberg, among others, returning. This template was an Aughts phenomenon as well, with The CW reviving both 90210 and Melrose Place with young, sexy casts and bringing along the likes of Jennie Garth, Shannen Doherty, Laura Leighton, and Heather Locklear to link the shows back to their originals.

    The Genre Hoppers

    The degree of difficulty on this one is pretty high. It's not every show that can pull off the Mary Tyler Moore Show trick of spinning a sitcom off into a drama like Lou Grant. Technically, Netflix's The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn't a proper reboot of the ABC sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, relying more on its original comic book incarnation to tie it to the current Riverdale universe. But the upcoming Fresh Prince of Bel Air reimagining will see the show become more of a drama, based on writer/director Morgan Cooper's fan-made trailer. That series is expected on Peacock in 2021.

    More Diverse Reimaginings

    Certain reboot strategies have branched further away from the original shows' casts and instead taken the central concept and recast them with characters of different races or ethnic backgrounds. This was the case with Freeform's Party of Five reboot. The white Salinger clan of the original series — which starred Matthew Fox, Neve Campbell, and Scott Wolf — had lost their parents to a drunk driving accident, while the reboot moved the show from San Francisco to Los Angeles and had the Acosta children surviving on their own after their parents were taken away by ICE.

    Several in-the-works reboots are taking this route, including a revival of The Wonder Years centered on a black family in 1960s Alabama; a new version of Doogie Howser, M.D. called Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., set in Hawaii and centered around a 16-year-old girl; and a reboot of MTV's Daria centered on her oft-overlooked Black classmate Jodie.

    Ageless Animation

    Unlike live-action series, whose cast members age as the years go by, animated series can resume without anything looking all that different. Animaniacs are doing just that very thing on Hulu, although the sensibility of that show has been updated modern references. The Ducktales reboot for Disney+ changed the animation style and the voice actors, which it probably the most you can alter an animated series, though the characters and premise remained the same. The new Rugrats, due on Nickelodeon in 2021, has also modernized its animation style, although the original voice actors will return.

    The Quarantine Reunion

    Ah, the lowest form of the '90s show craze: the quarantine Zoom reunion. Lots of shows have done it. It gets a lot of promotion because the phrase "[Show] Reunion" works like gangbusters. It's inevitably disappointing, of course, since what we really want is more of the show we all loved. Still, it was great to see the cast of The Nanny together again and to know that the show still holds enough interest to demand the Zoom reunion treatment. Lord knows HBO Max will keep stoking the fires for that Friends reunion until it actually happens, and, hey, they just got The Fresh Prince of Bel Air cast back together again and that was pretty impressive, so maybe we're all getting better at this '90s thing after all.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Saved by the Bell, All That, Animaniacs, BH90210, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., Ducktales, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Fuller House, Murphy Brown, Party of Five (2020 series), Rugrats, Twin Peaks: The Return, The Wonder Years (2020), Revivals