There is nothing that I associate more with childhood than Saved By The Bell. I don’t have any memories of episodes tied to specific moments; instead, Saved By the Bell was the accompanying soundtrack to half of my childhood. I do remember the first episode of Saved By the Bell I ever saw: it was Episode 2, The Lisa Card, and I remember it having aired in prime-time as opposed to Saturday morning. I remember seeing the Miss Bliss episodes fairly early as well, remember watching first run episodes on Saturday mornings, and certainly remember watching four episodes a day in reruns between WGN and TBS. What I didn’t remember until I put it on Hulu the other night was the degree of shitty character Zack Morris and AC Slater were. I knew they were shitty, I just didn’t realize the magnitude of shitty until seeing it through the lens of a 38 year old man.
Two things: I know Zack Morris is Trash is a thing on the Internet. I’ve never watched it but I know it exists and what the gist of it is, and I’m not trying to replicate that here. The other thing is that I know looking at nostalgic favorites from the critical viewpoint of 2019 is a popular thing to do, but that isn’t really the modus operandi of this website. Any look back at popular culture from 25-40 years ago is going to reveal grossness given the progress we’ve made as a society, and while I think it’s important to recognize things that are not okay and shouldn’t have been okay to begin with, I am trying to focus on why I loved the things that meant a lot to me, as opposed to looking for reasons not to love them anymore.
Given the above, I was unprepared for how immediate and visceral my disgust for Slater and Zack’s actions would be on re-watch, and how much it affected me. I loved Saved By the Bell. Loved it. Now I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll be able to appreciate on any level again. The first episode I put on was the Season 4 debut, “The Fight.” The A plot isn’t complicated: New girl starts attending Bayside. Both Zack and Slater claim her. They blow up at each other, get into several fights. She tells them both that they ruined her first week in a new school and to fuck off. Everything about Zack and Slater’s actions is toxic, and while they’re supposed to look like assholes, nothing they do is out of character with how they usually act when they’re not supposed to look like assholes. The only difference here is that they get into a physical fight, which is the moment where the viewer is supposed to recognize what jerks they’re being. The fact that both Zack and Slater assume that the new girl’s affections belong to them? Taken as a given. The fact that their selfishness ruined a new student’s introduction to the school? Wouldn’t have even been noted had she not vocalized it. The important thing isn’t that Zack and Slater screwed up the beginning of this girl’s senior year, the important thing is that best buds Zack and Slater got into a fistfight! They nearly ruined their friendship over a girl! Can you believe it?
What really sucks about “The Fight” is that it has a very strong B plot, in which Lisa unknowingly asks a Freshman to the Senior kickoff dance, which then becomes a lesson in not worrying about what other people think. It’s a good lesson, and the kind of lesson that made Saved By the Bell a valuable show for pre-teens and teenagers in the early 1990s.
This was an episode I remembered but never thought about much. I’m just glad I didn’t watch one that had actually meant something to me, and now I don’t think I can. I don’t want to hate Saved By the Bell. I know that while all of the episodes don’t feature Zack and Slater practically throwing a woman over their shoulder and taking her back to the cave, nearly every one features Zack conning somebody, or Slater being a sexist, or Zack conning somebody while being a sexist, and I don’t need to see it.
I want Saved By the Bell to remain important to me. If in order for that to be the case it means I can never watch it again, so be it. I guess I don’t really need to. Four times a day during high school was plenty.
How do you feel about Saved By the Bell? Is there anything you loved as a child that has since been ruined for you? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.