Saved by the Bell (2020)

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Peacock;
Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Haskiri Velazquez, Mitchell Hoog, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Mario Lopez, Tiffani Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

Peacock’s revival of NBC’s long-running Saturday-morning sitcom “Saved by the Bell” has turned out to be a pleasant and often hilarious surprise. The show is a lot of fun, especially for fans of the original 1989-93 series, which is referenced frequently (“Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” not so much).

Decades after the reign of now-married Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), Bayside High remains mired in its own special little world of sitcom sensibilities. Among the faculty are legacy characters A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), who is now the football coach, and Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), who serves as the guidance counselor.

As if in acknowledgement of Funny or Die’s “Zack Morris Is Trash” YouTube videos, whose creator came onboard to help craft the season, the show presents the adult Zack as the smug but bumbling governor of California whose budget cuts result in the closure of several inner-city schools.

Some of the affected students, including Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) and Devante (Dexter Darden), end up being bussed into wealthier communities, including to Bayside, where Zack and Kelly’s son, Mac (Mitchell Hoog), now carries on his father’s tradition of aloof class troublemaker.

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The main thrust of the season is the culture clash that emerges between the privileged kids of Bayside and the scrappy newcomers who shake things up and give them an injection of self-reflection.

The premise aids in making the new “Saved by the Bell” a self-aware sequel that freely mocks just how dumb the original series was, while hitting all the right nostalgia notes to appeal to Gen X viewers who nonetheless consider it a generational touchstone.

Hence, for the eight episode, the season’s true “reunion” episode that finally brings Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie and, briefly, Lisa (Lark Voorhies), back together again for a Homecoming celebration (the less said about Screech, the better), the show swaps out its hip-hop arrangement of the classic theme song for the original version.

Their reflections of their history together, however, come across more like how they acted when they reunited in 2015 for a sketch on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The new show manages to capture the absurdist tone of the original series while giving it a 21st century upgrade, mostly by satirizing the tropes of Hollywood’s portrayal of high school. One episode, for instance, lampoons the practice of casting actors who are clearly too old to be playing students.

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The show also mines a lot of comedy from the Gen Z crowd being disconnected from anything resembling a sane reality, though eventually the series ends up completely embracing their social media inspired naivety.

The standout of the first season is the always-reliable-for-a-laugh John Michael Higgins as Mr. Toddman, Bayside’s new principal whose personal life is in shambles and is anything but the hip, cool educator he sees himself as.

Longtime fans will also marvel at the show’s clever production design, which seems to have taken the limited sets from the old days and made them the centerpiece of what feels like it could be an actual school building.

The first episode is available free to anyone. The remaining nine episodes of the first season require an upgrade to one of the service’s premium subscriptions.

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