Anthony's Film Review
Saved by the Bell
(TV Series, 1989-1993)
A high school sitcom whose real strength is the memorable cast of characters...
Saved by the Bell may be a sitcom, but I didn't watch the show for the humor. Yes, it was taped in front of a live studio audience, with plenty of laughter at certain points, but it made no difference for me. And it's not like a satire of high school. The characters on the show may do a couple of funny things, but every time I watched an episode, I could not help but notice how the actors and actresses are playing their roles fairly straight.
That's what hit me. The real appeal of Saved by the Bell is the characters. They have distinct personalities that immediately stand out to us, and they interact with each other in interesting ways. They are people the audience can identify with. And when you have them in situations very much like those in real-life high school, the connection between the actors and the audience becomes solid.
The first half of the cast includes three guys at Bayside High School. Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is the cool guy who focuses much of his time on goofing off and getting away with it. A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) is the muscular of the three guys. Samuel "Screech" Powers is the scrawny high-pitched geek who could still hang out with Zack and Slater. As for the other half, there are three ladies. Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Amber-Thiessen) is Zack's love interest. Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkeley) is the intellectual who is the political activist type. Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) is Screech's love interest who doesn't feel the same in return.
Like any show set in school, the episodes mainly focus on "extracurricular" activities that celebrate friendship, socializing, and anything else besides studying. The characters are put into situations related to dating, school events, other characters in school, and much more. As a result, I can recall plenty of interesting episodes: Zack discovering his Native American heritage, Jessie's rough brother visiting from New York and causing much trouble, Zack scheming to win a radio contest by making sure he's the tenth caller, Zack having a crush on the school nurse, oil drilling at Bayside, Slater and Screech humiliated by being set up to make out with each other at a costume party, Slater overprotecting his sister as she is dating Zack, and a beauty contest where Jessie refuses to wear a bathing suit.
Now, I have not forgotten the last main character of the show: Principal Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins). What's nice about Mr. Belding is how he is not portrayed stereotypically as a hateful school administrator. He does get involved a lot when Zack breaks the rules and he is firm as a principal. At the same time, Belding does not seem to get tired of this frequent troublemaker. He seems to treat him as a human being like anyone else, almost like a father to a son. So Mr. Belding is really more like the principal that everyone loves to have, not the principal that everyone has and wants to hate.
The show only lasted about four years, but for its somewhat realistic portrayal of life in high school, it had to. Towards the final episode, there is the sad feeling that such a great thing has to end, no different from the senior year of high school. And the last episode, not surprisingly about the gang graduating from Bayside High, is a touching closure to this original and successful show for the teen audience. I'm sure the cast of Saved by the Bell look upon these years as wonderful times, just as they may be doing so with their real-life yearbooks.
For more information about Saved by the Bell, visit the Internet Movie Database.