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.

You Don’t Nomi

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/21/20;
RLJ;
Documentary:
$27.97 DVD, $28.97 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

In general there are two types of movies that might have documentaries made about them generations after their release — the all-time classics, and the notoriously bad ones that now enjoy a certain cult status.

The subject of You Don’t Nomi falls decidedly in the latter category — director Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 bomb Showgirls. The punny title derives from the name of the main character, Nomi Malone — the amped up stripper with attitude played by Elizabeth Berkley in an attempt to shed her straight-laced reputation playing “Jessie” on “Saved by the Bell.”

The highly absorbing documentary isn’t so much an examination of the making of the film as it is a critical re-evaluation of it after a generation of reflection. To wit, how a pair of the most in-demand filmmakers in Hollywood in the early 1990s — Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, could produce the film the Razzies declared the worst of the decade, and whether it was the critical community that got it wrong.

The documentary seems to come down on the side that the critical drubbing was fair, but misplaced. Any critic can rip apart a bad film; the talented ones can appreciate the art of true dreck.

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Director Jeffrey McHale cleverly juxtaposes some of the more outlandish scenes of Showgirls with similar scenes from other films spanning Verhoeven’s career, painting the portrait of a gifted satirist poking fun at his own audience for their desire for sex and violence. Showgirls, then, fits the Verhoeven milleu to a T — an over-the-top indictment of the culture of fame. After coming over from Europe, Verhoeven made a splash in Hollywood with popular sci-fi actioners such as 1987’s Robocop and 1990’s Total Recall, before veering into the realms of sex and noir with 1992’s Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Judging from the clips, the latter two are more in line with the sensibilities of Verhoeven’s European films.

Another segment hilariously shines the light on Berkley’s performance, tracing its roots back to her “Saved by the Bell” days and the infamous episode in which Jessie gets hooked on “caffeine” pills (since network censors at the time wouldn’t let a Saturday morning kids show depict characters using speed). Jessie, like Nomi, has an interest in dance, and one critic can’t help but see the constantly topless Nomi as something of an inversion of the budding feminist Jessie.

Another critic takes it a step further, and ties Jessie’s pill-popping days directly to the legacy of Nomi, claiming Showgirls is the completion of an all-time camp trilogy that includes 1967’s Valley of the Dolls (the dolls of the title being a euphemism for pills) and 1981’s Mommie Dearest.

Like Mommie Dearest and other cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Showgirls has become a staple of midnight showings and audience-participation screenings. One critic prominently featured in the movie is David Schmader, who has made such a career out of re-interpreting Showgirls as a camp classic that his recorded commentary appears on the actual Showgirls DVD and Blu-ray.

The film even spawned a parody stage musical, with the actress playing Nomi having cut her teeth as Jessie in an earlier “Saved by the Bell” stage farce.

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To his credit, Verhoeven always seemed to embrace the film’s campy reputation, becoming the first filmmaker to actually show up to accept a Golden Raspberry award (Showgirls won a then-record seven Razzies for the 1995 film year, including Worst Picture and Worst Director).

Showgirls still ranks as the highest-grossing ‘NC-17’-rated film, at just over $20 million, and its cult following has made it a top-seller for MGM on home video. But overt sexual content wasn’t apparently what Hollywood wanted from Verhoeven, who revisited the sci-fi genre with his next two films — 1997’s Starship Troopers and 2000’s Hollow Man — before returning to Europe.

Shout! Factory to Release ‘Saved by the Bell’ DVD Boxed Set

Shout! Factory Oct. 2 will release a 16-DVD boxed set of the complete collection of the original “Saved by the Bell” and the spinoffs featuring the original cast.

Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection will include all 86 episodes of NBC’s 1989-93 Saturday morning series about the adventures of a group of high schoolers, which starred Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley, Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond.

In addition, the set will include the 1988-89 Disney Channel precursor series  “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” as well as the 1993-94 series “Saved by the Bell: The College Years” and the TV movies Saved by the Bell Hawaiian Style (1992) and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas (1994), which wrapped up the saga of the original class.

The original series was subsequently followed by the 1993-2000 series “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” which featured a new cast and is not included in the new DVD collection.