Adam is SO EXCITED, SO… SCARED of the massive Saved by the Bell Box Set recently released by Shout Factory. Join him as he spends some quality time with Slater, Jessie, Lisa, Screech, Kelly and of course Zach Morris (who may be trash). Buckle up for the flashback review of all time.
The Show(s)/TV Movie(s)
Good Morning Ms. Bliss aka Saved By The Bell: The Junior High Years
The most interesting aspect of the Pilot + 13 episodes of Good Morning Ms. Bliss is Haley Mills as a teacher of the title, Ms. Bliss. It’s truly fascinating in the way that a former child actor hasn’t the slightest clue as to what a real teacher is like. Even for early 1990’s standards, this is pretty vanilla. Think of this as a milder version Head of the Class which is already mild sitcom, to begin with. Nothing in it shows the promise or fun of what would become Saved by the Bell.
Saved by the Bell
It’s hard to imagine that there are only 86 episodes of the entire series. Anyone who grew up in the 80’s, 90’s knows the premise for this classic kids Sitcom. The ever-scheming Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) along with his friends Screech (Dustin Diamond), Slater (Mario Lopez), Lisa (Lark Voorhies), Jesse (Elizabeth Berkley), and Kelly (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) go through the ups and downs at Bayside High School. Often times the scheming Zack would come up with some ill-advised way of getting ahead be it in school, with money, or with his forever paramour Kelly. This would lead to a series of screw up and Zack always finding his moral compass with the help of his friends.
What The Brady Bunch was to Gen X-ers, Saved by the Bell was to Gen-Y and Millennials. That is to say that it’s the ultimate comfort food. Innocuous entertainment designed to ingested as often and as long as one would want with the same result; blissfully nice happy beginnings, middles, and endings. With the rare exception, being their “Special” episodes, the worst thing that typically happens is Screech’s unwanted advances to Lisa.
Closing in on thirty years of life for Saved by the Bell, it still remains an utterly charming and goofy (both in equal measure). There is something to the series’ specific mixture of cast, crew, and writing. It all works in some strange alchemy that even now it feels superior to most Modern Youth orientated Sitcoms. There is something comforting in this alternate reality much like Pleasantville nothing bad happens, or the extent of the bad is the occasional addiction to caffeine pills.
What people will delight in is just how many lessons learned albeit from the cheesiest of story conventions are embedded throughout the series. The advent of the web series Zack Morris is Trash has shown, via some very clever editing and actual storylines, that Zack is a troubling figure amongst his friends. Which, to be perfectly honest he is, but considering that Zack is a privileged white male living in an affluent coastal town (modeled after The Pacific Palisades) its no wonder he can be trash sometimes. The strength in the show is that Zack is a normal teenager going through and learning from different voices that the shit he pulls sometimes is just wrong.
Those voices in Zack’s ears are often Jesse, Kelly, and Slater. It is unfortunate that Jesse’s character has become a Pop culture punchline because as a character she is the standout of the series. A strong female character that values her education, and equality over boys and parties, Jesse is one of the few characters that has transcended the era and could be placed into a current series and not have much of a problem. For this reviewer, Jesse was the anchor and oftentimes the emotional core and conscious of the series with her strength and opinionated voice being the one that always (except a few times) shot down Zack’s schemes.
Save By the Bell may not be the show you remember, time often has that effect on something nostalgic but there is something to be gleaned from the series. Three decades on, it is still a delightful, cheery, cheesy, altogether fun TV show. In an era where shows like The Cosby Show are being taken away from us because of terrible men doing terrible things, it’s a relief to have something like Saved by the Bell. Something that one can watch without reservation. With the exception of the whole Dustin Diamond thing.
Saved by the Bell: The College Years
Like many shows after it, and a few before it, Saved By the Bell made the natural transition to College life. Like those other shows, many a cast was dropped from their ranks. With Elizabeth Berkley a year or two away from Showgirls, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen graduating to Beverly Hills 90210, and Lark Voorhies doing whatever she was doing, this was an all-guy affair. The results are not as good as you would like them to be.
The series thankfully has Thiessen joining the cast after the pilot but The College Years is a rocky 19 episodes. It isn’t a surprise that the show only lasted one season. The biggest issue with this Prime Time show is that it tried to have it both ways. Trying to toe the line between kids show and a true Prime Time sitcom that could court an older audience (e.g. the audience that grew up with Zack and Co.). This approach simply doesn’t work.
Episodes from finding your heritage, dating your professor, to impersonating your professor have earnest messages wrapped in a pseudo-message at the end. It doesn’t work time and time again. One had wished they would have just evolved into a mature sitcom without the kid-friendly attitude.
Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style
A strange one-off taking place between the Junior and Senior years of Saved by the Bell. It’s not the one-off that makes this one so strange but the A and B Romances of this TV movie. The setup is classic TV-Movie for a TV Sitcom. The gang goes to Hawaii for the summer to enjoy the resort that Kelly’s Grandpa Harry (Dean Jones) owns. Much to their chagrin the resort is in danger of closing because of a brand new Hotel Resort is forcing them out of business. Kelly and the gang wanting to help volunteer to help Harry out by becoming resort employees. Wackiness ensues.
By “wackiness” I mean a bit of lawbreaking by impersonating the other Hotel’s Employees, breaking and entering. Those types of minor felonies. But the most troubling aspect of the movie is how willing they are to allow both Kelly and Zack (who are not 18 at this point) to get involved with much older people. Brian (Dan Gauthier) is a lawyer and at a minimum 25 years old. Andrea (Rena Sofer) is a Hotel clerk and single mother is by expositional dialog is 23 years old. These two willingly get involved with characters who are kids. The proceedings are very creepy and most will find it almost shocking that these subplots got past censors in 1994.
The ultimate problem with the TV Movie is that it lacks no real consequence to the series writ large. None of this comes back into play the final scene. That and the disconcerting amount of law-breaking that is done in the name of subplots including the relationships being started by adults with teenagers.
Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas
Where Hawaiian Style was a misfire, Wedding in Las Vegas is the winner. The perfect send off for the cast of Saved by the Bell, minus one exception. Picking up a few days after the final episode of The College Years Zack and Kelly are getting married. Not because it was fated in the stars but because the script dictates it. At the risk of alienating their parents, because they haven’t finished college, the guys and the girls decide to make it a shotgun wedding Vegas style.
The biggest issue with the finale is the lack of Jesse. This couldn’t be helped as Berkley had finally made her way onto bigger better things in Showgirls. When she does show up it is only for a fleeting moment but is enough to invalidate the entire TV Movie is you are a huge Jesse Spano fan.
Part of the success is going back to formula. Rather than the experiment of The College Years, they went back to goofy charming fun. The drama at the center of the film feels like the original series with Zack getting the gang into some seriously stupid decisions. By playing to their audience and resetting characters and motivations to more Prime Era Saved By the Bell they are able to bring that charm back. Add in Gilbert Gottfried into the mix at his full Gilbert Gottfried-ness and you have a winner and a fitting end to a series that lasted longer than many would have ever expected.
The DVDs are sourced from the same transfers from the mid-2000’s. They’re nothing spectacular but any sort of Hi-Def Remaster would cost a fortune and would not bare any sort of major uptick. Please remember that during its entire run, yes its entire run, Save By the Bell and all of its iterations were cheaply made Multi-Camera Sitcom, filmed in front of a live studio audience. With all that said, the transfers are solid.
They include the following:
- Past Times At Bayside High: Making Saved By The Bell
- Bayside’s Greatest Hits: The Music Of Saved By The Bell
- Saturday Morning: From Toons To Teens
- It’s Alright: Back To The Bell
- The First Of Its Class: From Sit-Com To Icon
- Audio Commentaries
- Photo Galleries
There are 10 audio commentaries spread across the series all but The College Years and the TV Movies. They feature Show Runner Peter Engel, Pop Culture historian Russell Dyball, Podcast host Tara Wibrew, Actors Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins (Mr. Belding), Lark Voorhies, DVD Producer Henry Weintraub. The commentaries do run the gamut of all the famous episodes. How they did not get Elizabeth Berkley to do the commentary on Jessie’s Song is beyond me. Minor issue aside, these commentaries are fantastic. The ones by Dyball and Wibrew, in particular, are fantastic as they do give relevance and context for the episodes they discuss, plus they’re a lot of fun. All together there’s some great stuff to be weened out of the 3 ½ hours of commentaries.
Past Times At Bayside High: Making Saved By The Bell is a great in-depth 52-minute making-of documentary. The behind-the-scenes crew does show up to talk in detail about the entire series from the issues with Good Morning Ms. Bliss to the popularity of Saved By the Bell to The College Years. There is a great amount of honesty about what did and did not work on the show, the creators pointing rightfully at the late Brandon Tartikoff’s pushing for a Live Action Sitcom as the champion of the show. The only gripe is that only Lark Voorhies and Ed Alonzo (who played Max) show up from the cast.
Bayside’s Greatest Hits: The Music Of Saved By The Bell is a 5-minute featurette about the theme song. Featuring Composer and Song Writers Scott Gale and Rich Eames, they discuss the creation of the title songs and songs in the series. Gale discusses how he wrote the theme song’s lyrics the day after his wife.
Saturday Morning: From Toons To Teens is a 10-minutes archival featurette that’s an overview of how SBTB was the first live action show. Much of the content is covered in the new documentary but it does have former NBC President Warren Littlefield discussing the impact Brandon Tartikoff had on the series.
It’s Alright: Back To The Bell is another archival 17-minute featurette that discusses another evolution of the show. From the beginnings to the changing of the cast to the special guest and the “special episodes” and how episodes like the Caffeine Pills “I’m so excited” were developed.
The First Of Its Class: From Sit-Com To Icon is a 15-minutes featurette that discusses the phenomenon of Saved by the Bell with the fans of the show including some cameo appearances by Dustin Diamond and Lark Voorhies.
Rounding out the special features is a Photo Gallery.
The Final Thought
Save By the Bell: The Complete Collection lives up to the series’ with gathering the ENTIRE of three Series and two TV Movies. Add in the great special features this one is a no-brainer. Recommended!!!!