"Understanding Saved by the Bell meant you understood what was supposed to define the ultra-simplistic, hyper-stereotypical high school experience - you never learned anything, and you weren't supposed to."
- Chuck Klosterman, "Being Zack Morris"
(Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, 2004)
I never had the relationship with the show that Klosterman and others have described. It's become a familiar enough aspect of a certain broad 80s/90s nostalgia, though, where people pick up details about it through pop culture osmosis even if they never intended to.
So, you probably don't need an overview, but here's one anyway, with some more help from Mr. Klosterman: "Saved by the Bell followed the lives of six kids at a California high school called Bayside: Zack Morris - good looking blond kid with the ability to talk directly to the camera like Ferris Bueller, possessed a cellphone years before that was common, something of an Eddie Haskell/James Spader type."
Also possessed the ability to stop time, used sparingly.
|Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack, and Tiffani Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski, the ingenue next door.|
At first, there was a love triangle between Kelly, Zack, and our next character, A.C. Slater, "good-looking ethnic fellow, star wrestler, nemesis of Zack - except in episodes where they're inexplicably best friends."
But before too long, he became involved with Jessie Spano, "sexy, overachieving feminist."
|Elisabeth Berkeley (Showgirls) and Mario Lopez (The Chica Show)|
|Rounding out the cast: Lisa (Lark Vorhees) and Screech (Dustin Diamond)|
"Screech was an uber-geeky Zack sycophant; Lisa, a wildly unlikable rich girl and unrequited love interest of Screech."
|"Architecturally, the school was comprised of one multipurpose classroom, one square hallway, a very small locker room, and a diner owned by a magician."|
And then there's Mr. Belding, played by recent real-world college grad Dennis Haskins, "a principal of the John Hughes variety; there is no glass ceiling to his stupidity."
|"Mr. Belding differs from the prototypical TV principal in that he tended to be completely transfixed by the school's most fashionable students."|
|"He really wanted Zack to like him, and Belding and Morris would often join forces on harebrained schemes."|
Just a little more then on to Proms, I promise. As mentioned here: "If you were to compare the show to Glee, most of the protagonists in Saved by the Bell would be depicted as the enemies. While Glee's cast at least tries to embody the high school outcast mold, the Saved by Bell gang represent the ruling class in almost a tyrannical way. Keep a counter running every time Slater threatens a nerd or when Zack extorts money from a geek and you couldn’t ask for a better pair of villains on Glee today."
If these two episodes are any indication, this is certainly true. I actually found this anti-Glee aspect almost endearing in 2015. Eff off, nerds.
|Season 2, Episode 1 (1990)|
Starting off the season with the prom episode was a bold move, perhaps unprecedented in the history of TV. (I hope someone said that on set at least once - We're making history, people!) It makes little sense from a school-calendar/new-fall-TV perspective, but this is a show where the fantastical (Zack's time-stopping, Screech's robot that he has for a little while, the discovery of oil underneath the football goalposts, etc.) is par for the course.
This episode is where the reformulation of the original love triangle mentioned above truly begins. Although Slater begins the episode competing with Zack for Kelly's affection, he ends it by going to the prom with Jessie. The shape of things to come. He impresses her with his deft manipulation of a nerd (earlier fat-shamed by Zack) guarding the last few slices of cake:
Meanwhile, Screech continues his pursuit of Lisa. He gives her a box of worms upon whom he's pasted tiny paper ears. When this fails to win her over, he makes her an offer - go to the movies with him Friday night and if she doesn't have the time of her life, he'll leave her alone forever. She agrees but brings the whole gang as insurance. Turns out, though, she loves the movie so much she doesn't shut up throughout it, and Screech "breaks up" with her.
|Her enthusiastic (if superficial) embrace of zombie culture was ahead of its time.|
|The heart of the episode though, is Kelly and Zack.|
|Things start off with Kelly agonizing over which of the two she should go to prom with in a dream sequence moderated by "Geraldo Screech."|
|Although her dream self picks Slater (make of this what you will), she decides on Zack.|
This is where things turned an interesting corner for me. After she makes this decision, her Dad reveals that he's lost his job. She offers to return the money he gave her the week before to buy a prom dress. He tries to refuse, then he agrees. Thanks, sweetie, you're the best.
Zack skips prom to stage a personal just-Zack-and-Kelly prom (with the help of the Dad, who I thought would be returning the money but nope) outside her window. The episode ends with a chaste kiss and lots of aww. Do they bang? Unknown. I haven't watched enough of the show to know how explicit they are about the characters' sex lives. But let's assume everyone eventually bangs. Except Mr. Belding.
|Season 4, Episode 17 (1994)|
This is basically the same deal as the above with minor tweaks. This time around, Screech promises not to ask Lisa to the prom, but she ends up asking him after seeing him get rejected by everyone else.
|It's possible she does this as a kindness, but it seemed more about making a statement about the reach of her power.|
|Meanwhile, Zack keeps almost asking girls to go to the prom, then failing to do so at the last minute.|
A brief digression: for most of Season 4, Zack is dating new student Tori (Leanna Creel). She joined the cast when Elizabeth Berkley and Tiffani Thiessen refused to sign their contracts. They "returned" for the prom and graduation episodes, which were filmed before they left the series. So - and this wasn't the case for me but from what I read - if you were watching the show, they were gone for most of the season, then they're back as if nothing has changed and Tori's nowhere to be seen nor mentioned again (something Funny Or Die tackled after Jimmy Fallon reunited the cast on his show).
|And Zack's back to chasing Kelly.|
|This involves sabotaging her pre-existing date with fellow student Matt.|
|Guys thumbs-up-ing one another always makes me chuckle.|
When Kelly finds out about this, she gives Zack the cold shoulder, but he's able to win her back to his side during the big square dance at the prom.
Meanwhile, Slater and Jessie accidentally lock themselves in the boiler room.
|Wonders never cease - the opportunity acts as a catalyst for their love glands.|
Like a Shakespearean comedy (with square dancing), all's well that ends well, and every Jack gets his Jane.
I opted not to look at the New Class prom episodes. If anyone out there has a hankering to do so, though, I'll gladly give it a read.
|and both were|
|The man in the chair for over 81 Saved by the Bell episodes and 91 of Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Staggering. His imdb is rather tumbleweedsy after that, though his son runs a talent and entertainment company.|