As I’ve made clear enough many times on this blog, I’ve always been absolutely infatuated with Saved By The Bell. It could be my overall affinity for teen culture or my inner yearning to live the dramatic teenage high school lifestyle over and over again instead of growing up, but my love for NBC’s unlikely hit kids comedy hasn’t subsided.
Recently, the network that brought you every abusive male stereotype and beautiful teenage girl’s bout with bulimorexia took it upon itself to transform Dustin “Screech Powers” Diamond’s controversial tell-all about his life on the set of Saved by the Bell into an unauthorized biopic TV movie.
As with Camp Cucamonga, the inherent charms of made-for-TV movies cannot be overstated. When I first learned of this venture, I was instantly excited. The idea that young actors and passable lookalikes would be playing the supposedly real-life versions of some of my favorite sitcom celebrities was a fact that filled me with great inner joy.
I gave my full attention to this piece of artful filmmaking and let my fantasy football draft play second fiddle in order catch the initial airing of The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story on Lifetime. This turned out to be a great decision on my part and I was treated to 120 minutes of some delightfully cheesy, campy, and idiotic acting and writing.
The main flaws of the film have to do with Screech being a whiny nerd baby and the fact that nothing terribly scandalous happens behind the scenes, but its minor imperfections are massively overshadowed by 5 things that it got totally right:
Caffeine Pill Freakout Re-Enactment
One of the best and most memorable moments in Saved by the Bell history is captured perfectly in the film as the actress who portrays Jessie Spano performs her famous scene in a closed-door reading.
All of the other actors and actresses are totally into the scene and impressed with her delivery, but Screech instead decides to burst out laughing and belittle her struggles with addiction by pointing out “they’re just caffeine pills. It’s not like she’s addicted to heroin.” The looks on his peers’ faces and their reaction to his tasteless humor made me burst out laughing.
Bad karma starts early for the Screechman.
Mention of “Buddy Bands”
Another hilarious scene is when Screech is trying to convey to the audience how alienated and alone he felt being the geeky kid on a show full of beautiful people. He takes a quintessentially 80s-looking teenage girl onto the set of the show and tries to woo her with some asinine compliment, but she completely ignores his advances and instead asks if he can introduce her to Mark-Paul. Friendzone: the struggle is real.
The reason I included this scene was because they mention the “Buddy Band” episode and it brings back many fine memories of A.C. Slater looking seductively into the camera, flanked by Jessie and Kelly in leotards and leg warmers.
I commend the writers of this film wholeheartedly for giving nods to two cult favorite moments from the vast catalogue of Saved by the Bell lore.
Screech’s Dance With Blackmail
When Screech is at his lowest in the film, he kicks a trashcan out of frustration and is introduced to the seemingly-friendly, but obviously sinister Eric the Extra. Eric is an asian dude with a 6:1 fade flat top hair cut who carries around an engraved flask full of warm California vodka. After making fun of Screech for taking out his frustrations on a wastebin, they eventually become friends.
One of the more memorable scenes is when Screech and Eric the Extra go to the movies and Screech is heckled by some guy in line for being a geek. Screech punches the guy out, which obviously never happened in real life, and leaves him lying on the street in a pile of blood.
Later in the movie, Eric the Extra shows that his friendship with Screech is only for his own employment opportunities. He gets Screech drunk and in trouble at a fan signing and then videotapes Screech smoking a joint and tries to blackmail the young actor into getting him a spot on Saved by the Bell by threatening to release the tape to news outlets.
I want to hang out with Eric the Extra.
Zack’s Dirtbike Rampage
A totally odd and random scene involves Zack purchasing a dirtbike and riding it dangerously around the NBC lot and trying to scare Slater. Slater chastises him for not considering the “no dangerous activities” clause in their contract, but Zack rebutts like a true badass by flippantly remarking “I don’t read contracts. That’s what lawyers are for.”
No wonder he’s the star of the show.
The Price of Fame
Slater Signs Belly Buttons
When Saved by the Bell finally starts to get the recognition it deserves from audiences and critics alike, the cast is bombarded by a Beatles-level fan frenzy at the studio. During the ensuing chaos, two bodacious babes lift their shirt and ask Slater to sign their belly buttons and he is pretty enthusiastic about obliging.
I’m glad Mario Lopez’s womanizing started at such a young age. He even listed it as a qualification on his resume when he went for the job at Extra.
Zack Gets His Shirt Ripped
Zack isn’t free of the frenetic fanfare either, though, as his jacket is stolen and his shirt is completely torn in half by the busy fingers of some female well-wishers. I can’t say I blame them, though, who the fuck isn’t interested in seeing Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s nipples?
Pink Title Screens
One minor aspect of the film that I really dug were the pink title screens denoting the years from 1988 through the 90s. Something about their hollow, neon glow fit the context of Saved by the Bell and its cast member’s dirty laundry perfectly. I know they looked cheap, but I appreciate little thematic touches like that so fuck you.
From the Bangles to Cameo’s heartfelt “Word Up,” the Unauthorized Saved by the Bell story sports a great soundtrack that fits the time period and punctuates its dramatic moments. Anyone complaining about the cheap, rushed nature of the rest of the film can blame the massive soundtrack budgets. I’m sure about 80% of the money for this film went to securing the copyrights for all of the music. In my eyes, it was well worth it.
As we come to a close, I’ll leave everyone with the most heartwrenching moment in Saved by the Bell’s history, the graduation song. It still makes me misty-eyed every time I hear it and I can’t help but wish I lived in Bayside and could hang out at the Max and drunk drive Mrs. Turtle’s new car. Here’s to the memories.