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Peacock's Saved by the Bell reboot is funnier and more ambitious than the original show ever was

  • "The original Saved by the Bell was high school from the vantage point of elementary- and middle-schoolers," says Inkoo Kang. "(Showrunner Tracey) Wigfield’s reinterpretation — with its heavy debts to 30 Rock and the dearly departed Great News (which she created) — seems to be made for Jessie Spanos for all ages: bleeding hearts who don’t mind that their sitcoms skew a tad more toward preachiness than jokes." Kang adds: "The new Saved by the Bell — Peacock’s reboot of the corny Saturday-morning phenom — could be the brainchild of Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren), the 1989-1993 series’ idealistic, serious-minded teen feminist. The reboot is funnier than the original show ever was, but it’s also a far more earnest and socially conscious (some will definitely say 'woke') affair, tackling educational inequality, bias against students of color and the ways in which willful blindness toward racial and economic privilege have pernicious downstream effects on some of the most vulnerable members of society. It’s what the old Saved by the Bell never was: ambitious."


    • Saved by the Bell uses fast-paced humor to highlight the inequities in the public school system and the stubborn hypocrisy of the privileged: "That objective fits in perfectly with its broader mission: to constantly make fun of the lack of real-world perspective in the original series," says Jen Chaney. "When the Douglas students arrive at Bayside, they are truly baffled by the abundance of perks and the elitism of their peers...In a way, the Bayside students are not just stuck in their bubbles of entitlement, they’re also stuck in a moment in time, and that’s actually an illuminating point to make in a show like this. TV reboots exist because so many Americans are nostalgic for the past. But being nostalgic for the past often translates into a belief that the “good old days” were better, a seemingly harmless idea that becomes dangerous when it hardens into a mindset that stands in the way of social progress. In its subtext, at the least, Saved by the Bell is saying that life 30 years ago, on a TV show and maybe in general, was more ridiculous and constraining than you remember. While it can be fun to look back, maybe it’s also time to let the children of 2020, the ones with no reverence for what Bayside represents, lead the way."
    • The reboot improves on the beloved, goofy original with a self-aware spin and a modern sensibility: "Revivals and reboots are a genre unto themselves, split into the gritty ones, the straight-up continuations, the spinoff-in-reboots’-clothing, the various next generations," says Margaret Lyons. "This new Saved by the Bell slots in next to Cobra Kai as a self-aware, self-satirizing but ultimately wholesome revival hoping to overcome the obscurity of its streaming platform with the fame and lingering good will toward its returning stars. It works! The new Saved by the Bell... is quick and funny, and it achieves a tricky blend of staying true enough to its source material while adapting to the standards of the day."
    • Saved by the Bell is surprisingly one of the year's best shows: "Unlike Netflix’s Full House sequel, Fuller House, which continued in the spirit of the original, Saved by the Bell is both a revival and a reboot, aimed at the now-grown kids who used to watch it — just about the age of Tracey Wigfield, 37, the 30 Rock and Mindy Project vet who developed the new series," says Robert Lloyd. "(Though, generally speaking, it is still safe for children. The language is mild, no one is having sex and the only drug joke is about caffeine pills.) The happy upshot of this is that, although there are plenty of references laid on for the fans, including that caffeine joke — I have done my research — you needn’t have watched the old shows to understand or enjoy the new one. Indeed, I have only good things to say about it. At once ironic and sincere, mocking and affectionate (as one might be, looking back on one’s own youth), it starts out well and just gets better."
    • Saved by the Bell is better than it has any right to be: "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," says Esther Zuckerman. "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."
    • What really makes the reboot next level are its two main protagonists, the Latina dynamic duo of Haskiri Velazquez's Daisy and Alycia Pascual-Peña's Aisha: "These two real-life native New Yorkers (Velazquez is Puerto Rican and Dominican, Pascual-Peña is Dominican) shine bright in Bayside’s Hollywood lights as best friends forced into the Bayside life after their old school closes," says David Betancourt. "Two Latinas of color — and some much needed Afro-Latina representation — in starring roles in a teen comedy stands out against the whitewashing Univision and Telemundo have been broadcasting as Latina representation in their entertainment for decades. Having these chicas take center stage in a new SBTB world matters. And it is exciting to think of those who will see themselves in these characters. Here in this new streaming world, Velazquez and Pascual-Peña show us what we’ve been missing with their outstanding chemistry and comedic chops, switching back-and-forth between English and Spanish with a flare that is undeniable. And the fact that Velazquez is given SBTB’s only superpower — the timeout that freezes space and time and allows her to speak to the viewing audience — as well as the legendarily large cellphone … well, move over, Miles Morales."
    • The new Saved by the Bell very much wants to have it both ways in both recreating and commenting on the original series: "The whole Galaxy Quest/Princess Bride idea of satirizing a thing while simultaneously recreating it is very tricky to pull off. When it works, few forms of entertainment are more satisfying," says Alan Sepinwall. "When it doesn’t, the results are ungainly. The grand unified field theory behind what Wigfield’s attempting makes more sense than, say, the weird blend of sitcom antics, soap plot-twists, and faux documentary realism of the short-lived BH90210, but it doesn’t quite hang together."
    • It’s nearly impossible to articulate just how impressive the high wire act is that showrunner Tracey Wigfield is walking here: "Not only has she managed, in the series’ short Season 1 run, to split the difference between a love letter to and send-up of (creator Scott) Bobrick’s beloved original, but she’s also succeeded at updating the show’s vibe to hew more closely to the politically progressive, wryly self-aware tone endemic to contemporary Teen TV," says Alexis Gunderson. "The switch from multi- to single-camera format goes a long way in making both those goals easier—tone, comedic or otherwise, is so much more malleable in a single-cam set-up—but even more useful is the fact that Wigfield and her team (who, critically, appear to be mostly female and non-white) have chosen to treat the inherent frivolity of the original series with absolute seriousness. Which is to say: In the 90s, Zack Morris (Gosselaar) could get away with treating high school like the joke he did because he was Zack Morris. In 2020, though, it takes the series’ new fourth-wall-breaking narrator Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) all of two seconds to exasperatedly commiserate with the audience over the extremely obvious fact that the only way Mack Morris (Mitchell Hoog) can get away with doing the same is by being a rich white dude, who’s the son of a richer, somehow whiter dude, whose rich white dudeness paved the way for him to fail straight up into being (a terrible) Governor of California."
    • Saved by the Bell has some interesting ideas but falls into a predictable rhythm: "About every third joke lands, and that’s a generous estimate, even with Daisy’s constant record-scratching breakages of the fourth wall quickly wearing on the audience’s goodwill," says Charles Bramesco. "Name-drops of timely musical acts like Migos or Post Malone often take the place of actual humor, symptomatic of a laziness that creates a sort of resentment for how good the occasional zingers can be. The insight that the good ol’ days were not so good for everybody staves off the aura of pointlessness that usually hovers over softball IP-repurposing such as this. But that’s a hurdle the show set for itself, and once cleared, it gives way to more pedestrian issues for a TV series’ basic functioning. The relative praise of 'for a Saved by the Bell reboot, it’s pretty good!' has been fairly earned. Still, a show about the subtle patronization of lowered expectations shouldn’t be aspiring to little more than exactly that."
    • Saved by the Bell addresses Screech's absence with a nod to the original series
    • Is Saved by the Bell: The New Class considered canon on the Peacock revival?
    • Mitchell Hoog, who plays Zack Morris' son, avoided watching the original "because I didn't want to copy anything that Mark did"
    • How Zack Morris Is Trash creator Dashiell Driscoll ended up writing for the Saved by the Bell reboot
    • How Saved by the Bell's production designer re-created the original Bayside High: “Trying to mimic someone else’s work (Ken Johnson designed the original) isn’t as easy as it seems, so the challenge there for me was to actually get it right and then to put my touches on it,” says production designer Joseph Lucky.
    • Lark Voorhies expects Dustin Diamond to reprise his Screech role: “Dustin Diamond, I think the almighty dollar rules on that," she says. "He wants to be paid and respected, we’d love to have him back on set,” she says. “He’s going through his adult issues and all of this but I am sure he’ll be back. I’m sure the perfect contract for him and he’d be back.”
    • Elizabeth Berkley wanted to make sure Jessie Spano wasn't defined by her most famous scene: “It was something that I was really passionate about and protective of,” she says. “I was invested in who she became as a woman.”
    • How Josie Totah ended up playing a behind-the-scenes role as a producer making her character trans: "When I was approached to do the show, I was obviously so shocked and pleased that someone would even come to me and offer me a job like this because that had never happened," says Totah. "So first and foremost, it was like, 'Is this real? I’m so excited. Yes, yes, yes!' And then the more we got to talking about the character and her storyline, specifically her gender identity, it became clear to me that if I was going to do the show, I needed to have more stake in it. If we were going to explore her gender identity, there had to be going representation behind the camera or in our writers’ room or on our producing team. And I was so grateful that Universal and (showrunner) Tracey Wigfield really championed me and allowed me to be a producer on this project because I didn’t feel comfortable doing a show that explored my character’s gender identity if representation didn’t exist. I didn’t feel it was right, I didn’t feel like the story would be told authentically, and I would have had to have stakes in my character’s story in order to do it. I had said no initially because I didn’t think that was a possibility — and also because I was thinking about staying in school because I had already been out of school for so long — and it was hard for me to do because it was such an amazing opportunity. But then once Tracey came to me with the producer credit and with this obviously incredibly opportunity, I was like, 'Sorry school, I must go to the stage!' So that was my journey to that."
    • How will Saved by the Bell address the pandemic?: "We had everything written before (the pandemic)," says Wigfield of ending Season 2 with a nod to coronavirus. "I had a baby on Feb. 28, and we had all our scripts written in advance of that, which thank god because of what happened. But then when we knew we were coming back, we reassembled a Zoom room just for a couple of weeks and there was a little rewriting that had to happen because of the protocols. We couldn’t shoot in the real (Douglas) school anymore, and just making some stories simpler. That was not my joke; that was another writer, Josh Siegal’s joke that I thought was really funny, not only because it speaks to Daisy’s journey throughout the season where she’s always fighting these giant obstacles. But not knowing at all if there’s a second season and what a second season would be about or what high school looks like next year, it just felt like a joke worth telling because life for high school students is so terrible. It was so hard before and now it’s so much harder."
    • Wigfield wanted to avoid being like BH90210 and referencing the actors' post-Saved by the Bell careers -- though she made an exception for Franklin & Bash: "I enjoyed (BH90210) because I knew a lot about what (the cast) had been up to after the show, but it was a little bit inside in a way that I wanted to avoid,” Wigfield says. “It felt hard to understand, or hard to find a way in if, say, you didn’t know that Gabrielle Carteris is the president of the Screen Actors Guild, which most people do not know…We have a lot of winky stuff."
    • Wigfield found inspiration in the 21 Jump Street and Brady Bunch revivals: "People think it’s going to be Fuller House. It’s actually closer in tone to any of the other shows I’ve worked on," says Wigfield." It’s a comedy for adults — a high school show, but a Mean Girls kind of high school more than a Saved by the Bell one...A couple of years ago, back when they did those Saved by the Max pop-up restaurants, I was trying to think of movie ideas. And I thought, 'I wonder if you could do a 21 Jump Street kind of thing using the IP of Saved by the Bell?' It seems like there’s still such an interest in the show. And I always loved those Brady Bunch movies from the ’90s. They’re funny, and they really appeal to people who loved making fun of The Brady Bunch. It felt like there was a similar opportunity here."
    • Wigfield recalls liking Saved by the Bell as a kid because of its "fantastical Entourage-for-fifth-graders quality": "It came out in ’89, so I must have been in third grade or something. But because the show ran every day on every channel, it felt like, I watched the show a ton. It was on after school, and I would watch it every day. I was really into the original," she says, adding: "It had a fantastical Entourage-for-fifth-graders quality, where these kids are attractive and popular and nothing that bad ever happens to them. It was the thing that I really loved when I was quite young and then continued watching and enjoying, partially — not to make fun of it, but I think much in the same way my parents enjoyed The Brady Bunch, where you’re watching it because it’s a little ridiculous. I remember watching it and being like, 'I love this.' And then seeing an episode of 90210 and being like, 'I don’t love this.' It was really scary."
    • Wigfield wanted to strike a balance between the new and old casts: “As a viewer, if I was tuning into a Saved by the Bell (revival), I’d be pretty bummed not to see any of the original cast, not get to know what’s going on with all of them now, and not see little inside jokes and Easter eggs," she says. “That being said, it really was a balance we in the writers room had to walk to make sure that we were spending enough time with this new cast and really investing in them, and we were creating a show that could really stand on its own if you had never seen the original Saved by the Bell. This could still be a comedy that anyone would want to watch. That was very important, and then we thought of the OG cast and the nostalgia as kind of the icing on top.”

    TOPICS: Saved by the Bell, Peacock, Dustin Diamond, Elizabeth Berkley , Lark Voorhies, Mitchell Hoog, Tracey Wigfield