Saved by the Bell is an “Alright” Teen Sitcom

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.

Get Ready for a “Totally Awesome” Parody Experience!

Greetings and salutations, everyone! I’ve been watching some movies in the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to post reviews to this blogs as of late. Today’s movie will be VH1’s  satire on 80’s teen flicks, “Totally Awesome” (2006). It takes all the cliches and jokes supplied by 80’s teen movies, and lightheartedly makes fun of them for being dated and conventional. Think of it an “80’s”fied verson of “Not Another Teen movie. I’d like to thank “Moreland” from the blog “Jane Austen runs my Life” for suggesting and recommending this movie.

The idea behind “Totally Awesome” is that there was an old teen movie from the 80’s that has never been shown or released to a contemporary audience – until now, that is!   The tale follows siblings Charlie (Mikey Day)  and Lori (Dominque Swain), who have newly arrived in California from Pittsburgh. Charlie finds out that he’s ranked low on the class “popularity list”. He hopes to land the affections of popular but shallow Kimberly (Brittany Daniel) and show up typical cocky cool jock Kip (Joey Kern) in an upcoming decathlon. He enlists the help of smooth talking Darnell (Tracy Morgan), who tries the “Soul Man” approach, which involves impersonating the mannerisms and look of a black man, borrowing the plot of the controversial C. Thomas Howell movie, and effeminate next door neighbour Mr Yamagashi (James Hong)  who helps him train for the decathlon, “Karate Kid” style of course. But will he see that the right girl has been under his nose all along, in the form of his best friend Billie (Nicki Clyne)?

Meanwhile, Lori finds herself reenacting the plot of “Footloose” when she discovers that  dancing has been outlawed in her new town ever since the last people who danced in the town had their feet literally come loose when they kicked off their Sunday shoes. Lori decides to take action to restore dancing to the town. Enter Gabriel (Chris Kattan), a 35 year old former dance instructor turned destitute janitor, who steps in to show her some sweet dance moves, among other things!

As you may imagine in a frothy parody movie, “Totally Awesome”  is chock full of funny moments. In fact, I thought that the homage to “Soul Man” was actually kind of funny, despite  having utterly loathed that movie, primarily because of how racially insulting it was perceived as, even when it was first released back in 1986. However, as “Totally Awesome” is fully aware of how ridiculous that whole plot was, it dedicates its time to showing how that would play out in a more self aware environment.

I loved guessing the movies that were being parodied in certain scenes. The most obvious were probably “Dirty Dancing”, “Footloose” and “The Karate Kid”, but there are also shout outs to the likes of “Secret Admirer”, “Risky Business” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”, and even “Teen Wolf”. I would have liked to have seen some John Hughes movies get the spoof treatment, but many were already covered in “Not Another Teen Movie”.

I was also surprised by how funny I found Tracy Morgan’s  role in this movie. Usually, his brand of humour can be fairly hit or miss to me, as seen in his show, “30 Rock”. His role is limited to to the standard “black best friend/ sidekick archetype, but he did make me chuckle from time to time. His fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum, Chris Kattan, is also on top form here, as his character gets some genuinely funny moments in.

“Totally Awesome” earns a total of 3 and a half out of five stars, as it’s a fun flick  to check out if you a fan of spoof movies that aren’t meant to be questioned or taken too seriously, then this movie just might be up your street! Also, feel free to check out the website “Jane Austen Runs my Life”. Until next time!

Molly Ringwald’s Baby Blues in “For Keeps”?

In the late 1980’s, there were a crop of “baby pictures” released, which entailed the main characters looking after an infant. These included “Three Men and a Baby” (1987), “Baby Boom” (1987) ,”Look Who’s Talking” (1989) and today’s topic, “For Keeps”? (1988). It is notable for starring 80’s favourite, Molly Ringwald, in her last leading role. Famous for her collaborations  with director – writer John Hughes in the “Brat Pack” movies, she eventually decided to sever ties with Hughes out of fear of becoming typecast, and wishing to pursue more adult film roles.

Ringwald plays Darcy, a high school senior who dreams of becoming a journalist. She is very much in love with her boyfriend, Stan (Randall Batinkoff). That gets tested when a weekend of sex leads to Darcy becoming pregnant. This prompts Darcy and Stan to have to face the consequences of their actions, and grow up beyond their years. Both of them face pressures from their parents regarding what to do about the baby. Darcy’s single mother Donna (Miriam Flynn) wants Darcy to get an abortion, while Stan’s devoutly Catholic parents (Kenneth Mars and Conchata Ferrell) urge them to go through with adopting the baby.

Ultimately, the young couple decide to keep their baby, and so drop out of high school and get married, but find that the responsibilities of young parenthood clash strongly with their ambitions for their future. Will they manage to tackle their newfound roles, or will they crumble under the pressure?

“For Keeps” had the best of intentions, but the production of this movie ultimately proved to be quite a troubled one. Ringwald mentioned that she originally signed on for the project to alert teenage girls about the realities of becoming parents at an early age. She would later go on to star in the ABC Family (now Freeform) series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”, where she portrayed the mother of a pregnant teenager (Shailene Woodley), for much the same reason.

They also wished to showcase a successful instance of teenage  marriages, and that not all of them end badly. The film’s director, John G. Avildsen, who was known for directing such classics as “Rocky” (1976) and “The Karate Kid” (1984)clashed with Ringwald . Ringwald and Avildsen had differing perspectives on how to address the issue of teen pregnancy, and the script reportedly had to be altered numerous times. Ringwald envisioned the project as a “funny, cautionary tale, whereas Avilsden had “an engaging love story” in mind.

To the movie’s credit, it did address some of the drawbacks of pregnancy, such as financial difficulties and postpartum depression, as Darcy and Stan move to a small apartment, and Darcy struggles to give daughter Thea (short for Theodosia!) the support and care she requires. However, this is presented in an over the top, melodramatic manner, that it can be tricky to care about their problems when they are constantly fighting in an overzealous fashion. It has been acknowledged that Ringwald hoped that this movie would pave the way for more mature projects, and judging from her overacting in some scenes, it is rather apparent. That being addressed, her scenes with Batinkoff come off as touching and emotive. Batinkoff didn’t go on to any major roles after “For Keeps”, but he gives a mature, nuanced performance for the most part.

While “For Keeps” didn’t exactly catapult the careers of anyone involved, it is notable for having an up and coming Pauly Shore in a minor role as one of Stan’s friends. The ending ends on a positive note, but it seemed like everything was tied up a little too hastily and tidily.

I’d recommend this movie if you’re a fan of Ringwald and her earlier work, or enjoy coming of age stories. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of “For Keeps”, I didn’t despise it, either, as there were some moments that were done well, yet some others (such as a toppling Christmas tree) seemed to be thrown in just to illicit some slapstick and laughs into the gravitas. In summation, “For Keeps” earns 3 out of 5 stars.

 

A “Wonderful” Love Triangle Movie

Hello everyone!  It’s back to the 80’s reviews, and what better movie to kick off with than “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987), directed by Howard Deutch. It has the old familiar set up of the hero being caught between two contrasting choices of girls. Roger Ebert probably summed up the concept best in his review, “it is not about whether the hero will get the girl, it is whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?”

Eric Stolz stars as Keith Nelson, an artsy teenage mechanic from a working class background. His best friend is a tomboyish drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and his dad Cliff (John Ashton), puts pressure on him to attend college, and get the education he never did, while Keith would much rather paint instead. He has a crush on the beautiful, seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). In a refreshing take on the normal procedure, Amanda comes from the same modest background as Watts and Keith, but as she hangs out with the “popular” crowd, this makes her “rich by association”.

After Amanda breaks up with her caddish boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), Keith wastes no time in asking her out. She accepts his offer, primarily out of spite for Hardy.  This eventually leads to Amanda being shunned by her snooty friends for daring to date outside the “in” crowd. Meanwhile, Watts has some issues of her own, as she has developed unrequited feelings for her best friend…

If you feel that the story that I’ve summarized sounds a little familiar, it’s because it was based the movie “Pretty in Pink” (1986), which preceded this movie by one year. It was not only directed by Howard Deutch, but was scripted by the king of 80’s teen movies, John Hughes. It’s worth noting that the stories are eeriely similar to each other. While “Pink” is about Molly Ringwald trying to choose between a smooth rich guy Andrew McCarthy and quirky best friend Jon Cryer, “Wonderful”  has essentially the exact same premise with the genders reversed.

When Hughes produced “Pretty in Pink”, his original intention was to have Molly Ringwald end up with Jon Cryer’s lovable goofball Duckie. However, the test audience for that film weren’t receptive to that ending, taking it as a sign that the rich and the poor social classes didn’t belong together. The ending was then changed to the one we all know, in which Ringwald ends up with McCarthy’s. It’s funny to note that had “Pink” ended up the way that Hughes originally envisioned it, it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t have “Wonderful”.

If I had to pick between “Pink” and “Wonderful” as being the better film, I’d ultimately have to choose the latter movie, as the supporting characters are more fleshed out and entertaining in my opinion. In “Wonderful”, we have  Duncan(Elias Koteas), a skinhead delinquent pal of Keith’s,who steals many of his scenes,  Laura (Maddie Corman), his annoying younger sister, and Ashton as the open-minded parent who just wants the best for his son.

As for the main trio of Stolz, Masterson and Thompson, they all pull off their respective roles with aplomb. Stolz is appealing as the man in the middle, Thompson pulls off the typical popular girl role with freshness, and Masterson shines as the friend who pines away from afar.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” rates as 4 stars our of a 5 star rating. Although it’s predictable and slow moving in parts, it ultimately captures the decisions of high school, and retains the typical Hughes charm that come from his teen movies. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was the last teen movie Hughes was involved in, before he decided to try his hand at making more adult themed pictures. Nevertheless, “Wonderful” ensures that Hughes’ teen movie period went out with not a fizzle, but with a bang.

If you enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out the movie, “Pretty in Pink”, or you can read my review of the film here! Until next time!

Living on the Edge of Seventeen

First of all, let me just say “Happy 2017”! I apologise for putting this blog on hiatus for the past number of weeks. Surprising perhaps no one,I have spent most of that break watching plenty of 80’s movies to be the subjects of my future reviews of all things 80’s. My latest post is a little different, however, as it is based in the recently released movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), which is the directorial debut from screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig. I was especially anticipating this movie because the leading role was played by Hailee Steinfeld, who I’ve admired as an actress since I saw her Oscar Nominated turn in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of the classic 1969 western movie, “True Grit” at the tender age of 13.

The plot concerns Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, moody 17 year old girl who is trying to cope after the tragic  loss of her father just a few years prior. She feels overlooked by her frazzled mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) in favour of her “golden boy” brother, Darian (Blake Jenner).  She seeks solace in her best (not to mention, only) friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). At least until Darian and Krista hit it off and start dating, which instigates in Nadine abruptly putting an end to their friendship.

Feeling adrift and as alienated as ever, Nadine regularly vents her woes to her perpetually disgruntled teacher, Mr. Bruner (an always excellent Woody Harrelson), who is almost always reliable to respond to Nadine’s theatrics with some deadpan remarks of his own. On the romance front, Nadine harbours a crush on hunky bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert), and tries to pluck up the courage to actually, you know, talk to him. Meanwhile, she strikes up a friendship with cute film nerd, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who just might be able to show her that things are not nearly as bad as she makes them appear…

First things first, I really adored this movie. It manages to take a genre that would otherwise seem tired and overdone (in this case, high school), and breath a new lease of life into it. Being only a few years removed from high school myself, all of the teenage characters behaved and acted as real people their age would, and not simply a scriptwriter’s “idea” of how they “should” act.

This is most prominently shown with Nadine herself. On the outset, she’s a tough protagonist to root for. Yes, she’s a drama queen, overly impulsive, and extremely rude at some points to the people she’s supposedly close to, such as her family, her best friend and her teacher. But she’s a teenager, and many of her reactions at that age are understandable. It helps to make her feel more authentic as a result.

The supporting cast are also commendable in their roles. I had only ever seen Blake Jenner portray the “nice guy jock” in “Glee” prior to watching this movie. As a result, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by the depths that Darian’s character took throughout the course of the movie. Because Nadine’s the protagonist, and the majority of the film is from her perspective, we’re not privy to other characters’ viewpoints until Nadine herself is made aware of them. Darian isn’t merely a smug jerk, nor is Krista being selfish by putting her boyfriend ahead of her best friend. They all have more going on with them than it initially appeared.

The highlight of the movie for me was any scene with Erwin. I always love nerdy characters in movies, and Erwin is no exception. He’s a sweet, well-adjusted guy, and is refreshingly not a stereotype , but much like Nadine, a real character. I was pretty surprised when I looked Hayden Szeto up online, and discovered that he’s 31 years old, yet Erwin can’t be no more than 16 or 17. However, this does does not take away from his otherwise solid performance.

In summation, I rate “The Edge of Seventeen” four and a half out of five stars. It’s one of the best high school movies that I’ve had the chance of viewing in quite a while, and I highly recommend watching it. Even though Nadine can be quite grating at times, once you get past that slight, the film works very well. It’s also topped off with a satisfying conclusion, which nicely ties up Nadine’s story arc.

I hope that you enjoyed this non  80’s movie review. As always, please feel free to suggest some more “Flix of the 80’s” .