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Please Don't Ascribe High-Minded Reasons for the Freakish Lasting Power of 'Saved by the Bell'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2020 |


Saved by the Bell is not good. It was never good. It will never be good. The trailer for the reboot of Saved by the Bell on Peacock suggests that this new iteration will be just as bad. It stars Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley, who reprise their roles as the parents of a kid in the new generation of Saved by the Bell students. John Michael Higgins plays the principal, and here’s the somewhat offensive fish-out-of-water premise: “A group of California low-income high school students are transferred to Pacific Palisades’ wealthy Bayside High, following a program by California Governor Zack Morris.”

Here’s the trailer, which includes a new Zack Morris type (IMDB credits him as Mac Morris). Also, Ed Alonzo returns as the owner of the Maxx, and Berkley makes a hyperactive nod toward the show’s most famous episode. It looks bad, but no worse than the original.

I have listened to the first couple of episodes of the Saved by the Bell Rewatch Pod co-hosted by Mark-Paul Gosselaar (honestly, don’t bother; it’s not very good), and it’s funny how they talk about the staying power of the show, and attribute it to talent or alchemy or great writing or whatever, because — save for the weird alchemy — none of those are the reason Saved by the Bell has been so successful over the years. It’s beloved for just the opposite reason: Because it is bad, but in the exact right way.

I would argue that Saved by the Bell and Brady Bunch are the perfects examples of turn-off-your-brain shows. In fact, it’s exactly what made them so beloved. They were the after-school-lie-on-the-couch-and-just-stop-thinking shows. They are revered because they did not challenge our thinking. They asked nothing of us. We could watch them over and over and over, because the stories did not matter. The jokes did not matter. All that mattered was that they were attractive people speaking a simple-to-understand language with a grin on their faces, and we could watch them while eating snacks (how many people actually associate Saved by the Bell with a particular snack?) Saved by the Bell managed to be a dumb show, but not so dumb that it calls attention to its dumbness, because that would have required us to think. And we didn’t want to think, which is exactly why we watched Saved by the Bell. It was like pouring a glass wine on your brain. For half an hour, they allowed us to go completely slack-jawed — it was a brief, televisual lobotomy.

I miss watching those kinds of shows, but also, don’t attribute their success to talent or hard work (although, the people behind the show very well could have been talented and hard working). Do not ascribe any high-mindedness to the success of Saved by the Bell. It was successful for one reason: It could reach into our heads and turn off the switch.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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