Sunday, September 22, 2019


This new sitcom sounds promising: “When the governor of California gets into hot water for closing too many low-income high schools, he proposes they send the affected students to the highest performing schools in the state. The influx of new students gives the over privileged kids a much needed and hilarious dose of reality.” 

However, this description misses details I have removed: the governor’s name is “Zack Morris,” and the high-performing school named is “Bayside High.” So, after the original show, “The New Class,” “The College Years,” “Hawaiian Style” and the original prototype, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” 2020 will herald the sixth version of the “Saved By The Bell” franchise, with original high school students Jesse Spano and A.C. Slater, still played by Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez, now portrayed as parents. Mark-Paul Gosselaar didn’t know the show was happening, so may not appear as Zack, while Dennis Haskins presumably has his phone on permanent standby to reprise his role as Mr. Belding. It’s also missing other notable names like Dustin Diamond, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Lark Voorhies and Raphael-Bob Waksberg. (The last one never appeared in the show, and is actually the creator of “BoJack Horseman.”)

It took a while to realise why this news came to me as being both predictable and depressing. Because the original “Saved By The Bell” now seems a thick slab of unironic Nineties kiddie schmaltz with attitude, a world untouched by the irony and cynicism that later characterised the decade, trying to bring it back feels like a cynical – as I hoped to make clear at the start, the new version’s concept could stand on its own, without the nostalgic decals.

“Saved By The Bell” itself began in 1989 as an attempt to try something new, reworking a failed Disney Channel sitcom, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” into a more hip show focusing on the students, and placing it, as the sole live-action scripted show, among the Saturday morning cartoons playing to younger children on NBC. (The original show has been repeated as “Saved By The Bell: The Junior High Years,” although using the iconic, boisterous theme tune to introduce Disney stalwart Hayley Mills is really jarring.) 

By 1992, NBC had ditched the rest of the cartoons to target the teenage audience, with similar shows like “California Dreams,” “Hang Time,” “City Guys” and “One World.” This successful template has also served to displace cartoons at Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. NBC had its Must See TV on Thursday nights, led by “Friends,” “Frasier,” “Seinfeld” and “Will & Grace,” while “Saved By the Bell” led “TNBC” on Saturday mornings. Meanwhile, “Blossom,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” were found on Monday nights, and cartoons were found, well, elsewhere.  NBC reached a high-water mark in the 1990s with their shows, defining comedy on television to this day, especially if trying to revive “Friends” is your end goal in life.

Along with yet another version of “Battlestar Galactica,” and with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on securing the online rights to “The Office” and other shows, it feels like NBC’s new “Peacock” streaming service, and its new version of “Saved By The Bell,” is trying to capture the childhood of its target audience. It is only missing “Seinfeld,” which will be going to Netflix, which remade “Full House,” and started the recent trend in reviving old shows. 

I got through two episodes of the new “Will & Grace” before realising the moment in time that it captured between 1998 and 2006 – that particular presentation of gay people on TV that was new at the time – has moved on, leaving the new version to catch up to avoid a culture clash. All revivals appear to be based on that same premise, from “Murphy Brown” to “Roseanne,” which ultimately had to leave its star behind to become “The Conners.” 

I would talk about the one new drama series I did see will be launched on “Peacock,” except it is “Brave New World,” based on the Aldous Huxley novel. Too much money is being spent to risk staking even some of it on something new.

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