Review: The Saved by the Bell Reboot Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be
4/5 Time Outs.
When Peacock announced a reboot of the classic 90s teen series Saved by the Bell, I admit I rolled my eyes. After all, Hollywood is positively saturated with reboots, retcons, and remakes that rarely hit the highs of the original content they’re based on. And let’s be honest: Saved by the Bell, while cheesy and popular, was never that good to begin with.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only is this reboot better than the original, but it’s a legitimately delightful new series. The reboot, created by Tracey Wigfield, features the same rapid-fire jokes and meta-humor that she honed on 30 Rock and Great News, coupled with plenty of self-deprecating humor from the stars of the original series. The result is a tongue-in-cheek homage that both mocks and celebrates Bayside High, delivering in-jokes for the adults who grew up with the series and engaging stories for its younger audience. It’s a winning combination that echoes the subversively delightful Brady Bunch movies of the ’90s.
The series opens with adult Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who through a series of wacky antics has been elected governor of California. After slashing $10 billion from the state’s education budget, low-income schools like Douglass High are being closed down. As a quick fix, Gov. Morris sends the displaced students to the rich preppy Bayside High, where his own son Mack Morris (Mitchell Hoog) rules the school.
These new students include Devante (Dexter Darden) a jock turned musical theater star, female quarterback Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena), and ambitious, hardworking Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), who has been given the Zack Morris ability to call time-outs mid-show. Much of the humor of the series comes from these transfer students adjusting to the Pleasantville-like absurdity of Bayside High, where love triangles and prank wars reign supreme and any issues are tidily solved in 22 minutes. It’s a clever conceit that allows the series to poke fun at the original while telling new stories.
Much of the original cast is back, with Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) returning as the well-educated school counselor, whose jock son Jamie (Belmont Cameli) is a student. And Mario Lopez is back as gym teacher A.C. Slater, whose inability to move on from his high school glory days makes him a running joke. Lopez and Berkley deliver sharp, funny performances that both celebrate their roles and unpack problematic tropes that the original series relied on. Joining them is the always hilarious John Michael Higgins as Principal Toddman.
While the transfer students open up conversations about race and class in the privileged Bayside High, they’re met with the returning students’ upbeat and inclusive positivity. Bitchy popular girl Lexi is trans and played by out trans actress Josie Totah. Lexi, the star of an I Am Jazz-like reality TV series about her transition, is a breakthrough for trans teen representation, but her character is allowed much more nuance and depth beyond her gender identity. And Totah’s scene-stealing performance occupies the ranks of self-aware mean girls like 30 Rock‘s Jane Krakowski or Great News‘s Nicole Richie.
With terrific cast chemistry and whip-smart writing, Saved by the Bell surpasses expectations to deliver a fresh, funny take on the tired teen sitcom with enough self-referential moments to delight even the most diehard fans of the original series.
(featured image: Casey Durkin/Peacock)
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