Everyone remembers their high school years, for better or for worse. There are plenty of shows which explore the dynamics of high school life either for drama (“Thirteen Reasons Why”, Pretty Little Liars”) or for comedy (“Hannah Montana”, “Lizzie McGuire”). Then there’s the high school comedies which over idealize high school life to an extent, which is where “Saved by the Bell” comes in. It originally aired under the title of “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”, in 1989, starring Hayley Mills as the titular teacher who was in charge of a group of middle schoolers.
After it got cancelled after merely one season, they decided that the concept would make for more comedic potential if the focus was not on the teacher, but the students. And thus, “Saved by the Bell” was born! For those of us who watched it as preteens, this is probably what we thought high school was going to be like, before being faced with the reality later on.
Running from 1989 to 1993 on the National Broadcasting Channel (NBC), the show followed the exploits of six high school students in the fictional Bayside High School in California.There was Zack (Mark Paul Gosselaar), the leader of the gang who almost always got himself and his pals into scraps, but typically always got out of them thanks to his charm, Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), the sweet cheerleader who was Zack’s dream girl, Slater (Mario Lopez), the jock who often butts heads with Zack, Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), outspoken feminist overachiever who had an on again/ off again relationship with Slater, Lisa (Lark Voorhies), a ditsy, sassy fashionista, and Screech (Dustin Diamond), an excitable nerd whom the rest of the group only tolerated because he was friends with Zack. Rounding out the cast was the bumbling principal Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins), who is perhaps known for his disininctive catchphrase “Hey hey hey hey! What is going on here”?, and was in many ways a seventh member of the core group.
“Saved by the Bell” primarily deals with the misadventures they get up to in Bayside High School . There were plots ranging on the ridiculous (Zack makes a bet with Slater over who can kiss a girl the longest) to the genuinely touching (Zack deciding not to go to prom after his girlfriend Kelly can’t afford to attend, and then spending a romantic night together.
However, “Saved by the Bell” also wasn’t afraid to get serious from time to time by addressing serious issues, such as drink driving, peer pressure and drug use. In perhaps the most infamous episode, “Jessie’s Song”, Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills, of all things, to exceed at school and focus on her new music group, “Hot Sundaes” . This was apparently supposed to be speed, but when the network executives protested against such a thing being depicted on a kids’ morning TV show, caffeine pills were subbed in instead. Eventually, the pressure is too much for Jessie, which eventually culminates in her well known breakdown in front of Zack, with her singing / exclaiming “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so… scared”. Naturally, everything gets sorted out , with Jessie receiving counselling, and in true sitcom style, the problem was never mentioned again.
If there was one thing that bothered me about the show as a whole was the seemingly incessant use of the laugh track after almost any line. I have never been a fan of laugh tracks in general, and prefer if none are used, as the audience are able to pick out funny jokes for themselves.
“Saved by the Bell” rates as a 3 out of 5 stars. While it doesn’t exactly hold up today, it does offer some interesting “lessons at the end of the day” that kids can translate in their own lives. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of kid friendly teen shows.