Tv Review: Saved By The Bell (2020) Season 1 Episode 1

saved by the bell s01e01 indexOf all the series that have been rebooted over the last decade I doubt many people would have predicted the return of Saved By The Bell, it was always seen as a very cheesy, very daft and often very bad teen sitcom that relied on lazy plotting, dodgy dialogue and some shockingly over the top performances. But this is 2020 where it appears anything can happen without it surprising people very much, and Saved By The Bell is back. But should it be? I’m really not sure, but perhaps it’s not the terrible idea many originally thought it might be.

Developed by 30 Rock writer and Great News creator Tracey Wigfield, she’s clearly very aware of what the show used to be like having hired Dashiell Driscoll, the creator of the Funny Or Die web series Zach Morris Is Trash, which illustrates just how awful Morris’s actions often were in the original series. It carries on that idea in the show too, with it opening with a campaign video for his character that serves as a handy introduction to what came before and where the character is now, with him having become the Governor only because of a scheme to get out of a seventy five dollar parking bill, which is clearly meant to mock the idiocy of the plotlines he had in the original series.

This is a strange mixture however, and I can’t help but have a feeling that it’s trying to have its cake and eat it. On one hand we’ve got the antics of the offspring of the original cast, with Jesse’s son Jamie (Belmont Cameli) and Zack and Kelly’s son Mac (Mitchell Hoog) both attending the school and getting up to daft adventures and treating the teachers like idiots, but there’s a second plot strand involving the students of Douglas High, which due to Zack’s terrible financial budgeting has closed down and all the students from that school have had to join Bayside. The Douglas High students feel like they’re from a completely different show too, a far more realistic and believable affair.

It’s a very intentional decision to mix both styles, while we also get to catch up with most of the original cast from the series with AC Slater (Mario Lopez) the school gym teacher, Jesse’s a guidance councillor, Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is the governor and Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen) is his wife, and only Lisa, Screech and Mr Belding are missing, with the former due to appear soon and Wigfield has said that Screech may well turn up in a later season. As it’s on the Peacock streaming service the running time is extended and the episode lasts for 31 minutes, but even despite having an extra 11 minutes more than a standard network sitcom it feels overstuffed, like they’ve packed too much in to the episode as they introduce (and re-introduce) a great many characters.

Among the new characters are Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña), Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) and Devante (Dexter Darden) from Douglas High, who when they join Bayside are conveniently “Buddy Up’d” with Mac, Jamie and Mac’s frenemy Lexi (Josie Totah). Adding to the overstuffed feeling is the fact that everyone’s got their own plotline with Daisy, Mac and Lexi wanting to run for class president, Aisha plans on joining the football team, Devante wants to avoid being in Slater’s football team and instead tries out for a school musical, while Zac and Lexi are scheming against each other in the hope of getting a cherished parking space, and AC Slater and Jesse are trying to connect with the kids, but none are engaging or that exciting.

There are a good few funny lines and moment in the episode and the dialogue is often strong. Funniest among this debut episode are scenes where the new Principal, Mr Toddman makes some amusing comments about how little he’s respected and how he can’t even get a chair without “Little Bitch” carved in to it, and Jesse jokes that she has no control over her son and that’s illustrated by the fact that he’s called his dog “Porno”. There’s also a fun bit with Zack commenting early on in a very meta moment that school is “A time for kids to evade Maths homework and torment their principal with no consequences”, and some of Aisha and Daisy’s observations about how different their lives are compared to the rich and pampered Bayside students hit home too, and it plays around with the class differences in an interesting enough way.

Some times the jokes are dodgy though, Jamie is asked why he’s reading a book upside down and he quips “I’m reading about Australia”, it’s something that could have come out of the original series and this is not a good thing. The same goes for a bit where Principal Toddman talks about the students not listening to him, and of course they aren’t and have already left the room before he notices, and it also applies to Mac’s all round cheesiness too, we’re meant to think he’s a twat, but that doesn’t actually mean his antics are that funny. Curiously there’s also a bit of fourth wall breaking too, with Daisy suddenly asking the camera “What did that blonde fool just say to me?”, it’s an odd decision in an already odd show, and it didn’t work for me.

It’s all a bit of a hodgepodge oddity then, at times very funny, at times a bit embarrassing. It definitely could do with a few less characters and those from the original cast really don’t need as much screen time as they get, and the slightly saccharine moments toward the end is also a bit much, especially as Devante sings The Greatest Love Of All over a montage of footage of our characters. But it does show promise, there’s enough funny lines here to suggest that it could be a good show, if they’re just a bit more prudent when it comes to editing down the running time and cutting some of the cheesier elements.

★★★

Alex Finch.
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