Length: 10 x episodes (24-31 minutes each)
Frankly, the Saved by the Bell reboot should have been an absolute disaster. Source material that was daggy even by 1989 standards, much less now? Check. An obvious attempt to milk the current nostalgia trend by using much of the original cast? Affirmative. Adding a group of appealing fresh faces in a cynical ploy to woo younger audiences? Yes, indeed.
On paper, all of these elements should combine to create a train wreck of a show. Where the trains are full of dumpsters. All of which are on fire. And yet somehow, in defiance of all natural law, the Saved by the Bell reboot isn’t bad at all. There are times in fact when it’s actually… quite good?
We’re as shocked as you are, truly.
Saved by the Bell opens with a surprisingly elegant premise. Smug, sentient grin-machine, Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), is now Governor of California and predictably he’s bad at his job.
After cluelessly greenlighting a series of school closures he fecklessly transfers a number of students from those repurposed locations to his former alma mater, Bayside High. That means the achingly privileged students of Bayside - many of whom are the offspring of the original cast - will now have to deal with a dose of reality, in the form of lower-income students like Daisy Jiménez (Haskiri Velazquez), who functions as a sort of audience point of view character for the series.
The meat and potatoes of Saved by the Bell comes from the juxtaposition of the well-meaning but clueless, rich Bayside students and teachers with the more grounded, pragmatic lower income kids. There’s a moment where Daisy complains about not owning a tablet, and son-of-Zack, Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog), literally can’t wrap his head around the concept of “not having” anything.
Later, physical education teacher, A.C. Slater (played by an apparently ageless Mario Lopez) tries to condescendingly bond with standoffish new student, Devante Young (Dexter Darden), using a series of racial tropes and assumptions while not even knowing the kid’s name.
The tone sits somewhere between the meta comedy-infused reboot of 21 Jump Street (2012), but with a little more of the pathos and heart that can be found in Cobra Kai. And honestly, the script is actually pretty clever at times.
There’s a scene where school counsellor Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) says, “a woman can do everything a man can do, except enjoy the films of Todd Phillips”. That’s a quality zinger right there, and a huge surprise in the resurrection of a show that had even pre-teen Saturday morning audiences rolling their eyes and groaning.
That’s not to say everything works here, mind you. Daisy’s fourth wall-breaking asides to camera are just as obnoxious as Zack's were back in the day, and often detract rather than add to the story. Plus there’s an uneven sense of tone, with goofy sitcom shenanigans feeling out of place right next to the more incisive, clever observations on institutionalised privilege and well-meaning but misguided white guilt.
Still and all, this is a reboot of Saved by the Bell, a show that made Steve Urkel look like an edgy outsider. The fact it even knows about income inequality, features a racially diverse cast and has trans actor Josie Totah in a leading romantic role is nothing short of amazing.
Does that mean we’re grading the show on a curve? Perhaps, and if you’re in a demographic that has never seen the original your reaction may be one of mildly perplexed scorn.
If, however, you grew up guiltily humming the theme tune and had a crush on one or more of the cast, you’ll probably find yourself saying, “Saved by the Bell? It’s alright.”
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