Why Your Classic Children's Television Program Sucks: Saved By The Bell

Time for another look at the awful children's programming you're forced to endure before you can finally kick the kids out of the TV room to watch sports for eight hours. Previous installments in this series can be found here.

The Show

Saved by the Bell

The Theme Song

Ittttt’s all right
‘Cause I’m saved by the…
Ittttt’s all right
'Cause I’m saved by the…
Ittttt’s all right
Cause I’m saved by the BELL!

The Mythology

Saved by the Bell (1989-1993) is about a C-list Ferris Bueller named Zack Morris who spends 20 hours a day hanging out with his schoolyard friends at a restaurant that looks like what a 50-year-old set designer who has lost the will to live would imagine a teenage hangout looking like. Zack and his friends also hang out with their completely ineffective principal, Mr. Belding, a lot. Who hangs out with the school principal that much? These kids are fucking nerds. If my kids were hanging out with the principal all the time, I would notify the authorities. That guy’s a diddler.

Episode Format

Zack cooks up a zany scheme to raise money for the school fair/dance/gumball rally, and gets his friends to join in the effort; everyone follows Zack’s lead, because he’s so kewl and hip and with-it. Does said zany scheme succeed? You know it does. Will Mr. Belding grudgingly accept its success? You know he will. Meanwhile, you the viewer are waiting the whole episode to see if Kelly will show up in a tight skirt, and when she does, it’s pants-party time.

This is the standard SBTB (yes, people abbreviate it) format, unless we’re talking about a special episode, like the notorious caffeine pill fiasco, which people still talk about (or at least link to) today, because shitty acting never stops being funny, apparently!

SBTB, like the equally shitty Beverly Hills 90210, was one of those shows that tossed in the occasional TEEN ISSUE so that producers could talk about how the show really speaks to what’s going on with kids today. Addiction and proper condom usage is the stuff that matters to my generation, folks.

Characters

Zack: Blond. Wears all the cool early-'90s clothing that I wished I could have pulled off, but definitely could not have: sport coats with T-shirts, white high-tops, baja shirts, the button-down shirt that’s all the way open to reveal a graphic T-shirt… that last one is a quality early-'90s look. You kids all wanted to be Zack, and you know it. He was the popular kid, and he got to hook up with Kelly. The fucker. Oh, how I hate him. I spent most of middle school smearing boogers under my desk and licking girly Bud Light posters. Meanwhile, this guy got to live it up. I hope his best years are behind him and he works the fryer at a Tilted Kilt now.

Jessie: Stereotypical nerdy-girl nerd whose rabid desire to overachieve causes her undue stress. This is a typical stock character in all teen and kiddie programming. OMG I’M WELL OFF AND YOU COULD PLAY PING PONG ON MY TIGHT ABS, BUT WHAT IF I’M ONLY IN THE TOP THREE PERCENT AT HARVARD AND NOT THE TOP TWO?! Meanwhile, a toddler in Albania just had to eat dinner out of a bucket. It’s okay, teens of the world. Saved by the Bell writers know what kind of strain you’re under.

Slater: Laid-back, muscle-y bro-dude jock who serves as Zack’s right-hand man. According to Wikipedia, “He becomes the school's star athlete, excelling as a wrestler and the quarterback of the football team. He is on the basketball team in one episode, even though the basketball season coincides with the wrestling season.” This is a glaring continuity error, and the writers for this show ought to be ashamed of themselves, which shouldn’t be hard for them, since they already had to slum it writing for this show.

Lisa: Superficial Cher Horowitz type who only cares about clothes and hot new trends and shit. Proof that teens were horrible people even before the advent of smart phones. If Lisa had gone to my school, I would have grabbed an X-ACTO knife and etched LISA IS A STUCK-UP BITCH on the bathroom-stall partition. Bitter fat kids like me used to do shit like that.

(Note: Both Slater and Lisa were racially diverse characters whose minority status was rarely made into a big thing on the show. They were just kids, you know? And I dare say that makes Saved by the Bell the most important show that has ever aired in history.)

Screech: Insufferable moron whose idiocy provides a hefty dose of mandatory comic relief. Screech does nothing funny at all, and yet you can rest assured that every time he speaks, it will be followed by a raging cacophony of laugh-track-itude. They exhausted every last track on the effects CD for this show—you have heard every possible permutation of guffaw, chuckle, snicker, bellow, chortle, giggle, and snort thanks to Saved by the Bell. Consider yourself enriched.

Screech was played by Dustin Diamond, who has spent the last two decades both living off of this role and resenting the fact that he has had to live off of this role. Imagine being the guy who played Screech and praying that anyone you meet will be impressed by this fact, when deep in your heart, you know they won’t be.

Mr. Belding: Pederast.

Best Episode

The one where they went to the beach, because Kelly wore a bikini. I’m no fool.

Worst Episode

Any episode where Kelly didn’t wear something provocative. I’m no fool.

Pros

See "Best Episode." Also, if you were 10 years old back in the day, and you were too old for cartoons but too young for real sitcoms, you could watch this. Way to stay confined exclusively to your own corporate-manufactured pop-culture demographic.

Cons

Saved by the Bell has its own Wikia. It has had countless reunion movies and spinoffs and specials. There's even a Lifetime movie about the show coming down the pike. It's a show that holds a special place in the hearts of many people my age. I am not one of these people. Saved by the Bell was fucking terrible. It wasn't funny. It wasn't well acted. It wasn't well written. It wasn't even well shot. It was a shitty placeholder sitcom designed to keep you in the TV room an extra hour before heading out to softball practice. Maybe you're the type of asshole who thinks anything shitty is unintentionally hilarious. If that's your game, why don't you park yourself at an intersection and wait for an old lady to get run down.

But the worst thing about SBTB, apart from that acronym, is that it has had a significant and completely unjustified impact on television comedy. Every single awful Disney Channel sitcom that my children watch owes a debt to whatever cloven-hoofed red hate-demon created this show. All of the hallmarks are there: phony set design, no parents to be found anywhere, stock characters, kids with endless wardrobe choices, and a fucking laugh track raining down anytime someone so much as shrugs. All of that is the fault of Saved by the Bell. You should not be remembering it fondly. You should not love it simply because it happened to be there when you were hitting puberty. You should be cursing it out loud for being the test prototype for assembly-line comedy-like TV product.

In his book A Few Seconds of Panic, author Stefan Fatsis spends a lot of time with then-Broncos punter Todd Sauerbrun, who had virtually every episode of the show memorized, and still watched it. Who the fuck would sit down and watch a whole episode of this show NOW? Get it together, Sauerbrun. Go see Europe or something. Watching Saved by the Bell is a deliberate choice to sit in life's waiting room. It was less a show than a future repository for Seth MacFarlane jokes, and you can remember it fondly while still remembering that it sucked. Fully and unequivocally.


Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at drew@deadspin.com. You can also order Drew's book, "Someone Could Get Hurt," through his homepage.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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