As a kid there were a handful of shows that prepared me for my future, one of the most prominent was “Saved by the Bell.” I know I’m not alone in this as countless t-shirts and Jimmy Fallon’s quest to reunite the cast drew public attention. When the show came to Netflix this past summer, I enjoyed a joyful trip down memory lane. At the end however, I felt an itch to marathon through the lone season of the college years, more specifically the pilot.
The pilot set the tone for a different series from its predecessor and much more interesting than what the show became. It focused strictly on the franchises’ male core. This is clear from beginning as the intro of the pilot was extremely male-centric and set the series up the same way since it only used the clips of the guys goofing off. Click the photo below to see what I mean.
The original Bayside years were very similar in that the female character’s purpose was mainly to serve as the guys’ foil. They make them better boyfriends, offer a female perspective or some other way to move their original trajectory off their usually selfish motives. With all the lessons those guys learned, it’s amazing everything stays the same once they are in college which, along with Las Vegas, is one of the few atmospheres that allows for this behavior. Therein lies one of the bigger reasons why the show failed, college shenanigans are larger than in high school, as is also the difference between shows on Saturday mornings and those on prime time.
This is why College is inherently more fun than high school and this show should have reflected that. However, viewers are much more nostalgic for the high school years which are better for all the characters, except for one Samuel Powers. Screech, who could only date the likes of Violet Beauregard in high school, has no trouble meeting an attractive computer science major at his first college party and a few days later, go out with two attractive suite mates.
Post-pilot, Screech goes from Zach’s latchkey friend in high school to joining the most popular fraternity on campus, winning the fancies of a professional tennis player and has the opportunity to study abroad on a cruise ship. I can’t help but wonder if this influenced Judd Apatow when he worked on “Undeclared.” College is the last chance for genuine change in a contained ecosystem and its that opportunity that gives Screech has the most compelling character trajectory across the “Bell” franchise. These interesting developments were all put on hold as the show became “Zach Loves Kelly,” that was marked when Theissen joined the cast and replaced “Smart Guy” alum, Essence Atkins.
For the sake of the show, the change was probably for the best. Atkins’ character wasn’t interesting by any means, and she didn’t have a hook like Leslie (Zack’s original love interest) or Alex (the crazy theater major) and the show wasn’t built for female characters to thrive. The problem with the focus on Zack and Kelly’s relationship was that it caused him to become the most boring guy in any dorm, the one who is still hung up on their high school girlfriend. In the meantime, the other guys had extremely interesting freshman year whether they joined the aforementioned fraternity or dated a theater girl.
With hindsight being 20/20, it’s a shame this show didn’t last longer than it’s first season, but it’s not surprising. Along with Kelly’s inclusion, Mike Rodgers never proved a foil for Zack’s shenanigans in the same way as Mr. Belding and the addition of the Dean McMann was too little too late. However the pilot promised a show that was far more honest and interesting than it had any right to be.