But that adulation hasn’t automatically extended to the SBTB universe’s expansion efforts. “Saved by the Bell: The College Years?” We couldn’t transfer quickly enough from that snooze fest. And “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” never matched the magic of its namesake.
One has to ask: Why keep coming back to Bayside if every revival doesn’t hold up to the original? Maybe the first iteration just can’t be topped.
Or can it?
On Peacock’s new “Saved by the Bell” reboot, which streams Wednesday, a funnier and more culturally relevant reimagining of Bayside High will make even the most die-hard SBTB fans take notice.
Many will probably give the series a try because of well-advertised appearances by the original cast: Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack Morris; Tiffani Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski, who is Zack’s wife; Elizabeth Berkley as Jessie Spano; and Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater are all set to return, with a confirmed cameo appearance later this season from Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle.
On the reboot, Zack is now the governor of California who landed the job with a very on-brand scheme. Gov. Z stumbles through fiscal mistake after mistake until he has obliterated the education budget, forcing less-fortunate students across California to transfer to wealthier schools — like Bayside — when their own are shut down.
Even though the show wouldn’t be the same without Gosselaar returning, he’s not around too much the first few episodes (only three episodes were made available for this review). Part of the shock is how well the show clicks without him. While Zack and Kelly may have always been the draw back in the day, SBTB’s other couple, Jessie and Slater, are the Bellers pulling full-time duty on this show.
They’re no longer a thing, but both work at Bayside, Jessie as a counselor and Slater as a — what else? — gym teacher. Jessie’s own son attends the school and Slater still calls her “mama,” so yes, it is awkward.
If there is one complaint here at New Bayside, it’s the lack of Mr. Belding, the original principal, as played by Dennis Haskins. Yes, of course he would realistically be retired by now, but the thought of his worst student becoming the governor of California, destroying the education budget and then sending his son to torment him, well, it’s delicious. Haskins already returned for “The New Class,” though, so perhaps that was enough for him.
But John Michael Higgins fills in just fine as Principal Ronald Toddman.
However, the key ingredient to what makes this new series work isn’t the majority of the original cast reassembling like the Avengers, but the standout cast of young newcomers that work so well together you barely notice when the OG Baysiders aren’t around.
The heir to the Zack Morris throne? His son, Mac Morris (duh), played air-headedly well by Mitchell Hoog, who, when we first meet him, is sliding down a school handrail wearing a sweater so expensive he looks like Chris Evans’s stunt double in “Knives Out.” Mac takes being pampered and privileged to the extreme. He is the peak representation of the Bayside rich kids who are too oblivious to realize not everyone has it like them. A Zack clone? Yes. Bleach blond and funny? Yes. Heroically biracial? No.
Jesse’s aforementioned son, Jamie (Belmont Cameli), is tall just like her, and … that’s about it. Whereas Jesse was the brains of her crew, Jamie is a jock and not particularly bright, which leads us to a matter of paternity: Where is Daddy? Does Slater have an “I am your father moment” down the line? (Sorry, Just fell down an SBTB wormhole.)
Lexi (Josie Totah) is the most popular girl in school, and openly transgender. Totah plays the token rich cheerleader ready to defend the honor of every Kardashian, and is at her funniest when she’s trying to be serious. DeVante (Dexter Darden) is a gentle giant who does his best not to be noticed, and while he has no interest in being the new Black kid at school, he’s intrigued by the potential rebirth a change in scenery offers. Because he towers over his classmates, everyone thinks he’s destined for greatness on the football field, but he’s got a hidden talent that shows his star shining brightest elsewhere.
What really makes this new “Saved by the Bell” show next level, though, are its two main protagonists, the Latina dynamic duo of Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) and Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña). These two real-life native New Yorkers (Velazquez is Puerto Rican and Dominican, Pascual-Peña is Dominican) shine bright in Bayside’s Hollywood lights as best friends forced into the Bayside life after their old school closes.
Two Latinas of color — and some much needed Afro-Latina representation — in starring roles in a teen comedy stands out against the whitewashing Univision and Telemundo have been broadcasting as Latina representation in their entertainment for decades. Having these chicas take center stage in a new SBTB world matters. And it is exciting to think of those who will see themselves in these characters.
Here in this new streaming world, Velazquez and Pascual-Peña show us what we’ve been missing with their outstanding chemistry and comedic chops, switching back-and-forth between English and Spanish with a flare that is undeniable. And the fact that Velazquez is given SBTB’s only superpower — the timeout that freezes space and time and allows her to speak to the viewing audience — as well as the legendarily large cellphone … well, move over, Miles Morales.
Velazquez, Pascual-Peña and Darden come together, bonding with the occasional eyeroll that comes from the mental exercise of being new kids of color at an affluent White school. Those who’ve been there will tap their fist to their heart a couple of times for those moments.
The show has many lighter moments, of course, including the use of curse words (“oooooo,” says the nonexistent studio audience), deep-cut cameos (Mr. Dewey as the math teacher!), and an updated version of the classic theme song (Lil Yachty’s got you), so don’t worry about history being completely rewritten.
This new class gets a passing grade.
Saved by the Bell (10 episodes) streams Wednesday on Peacock.