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The ‘Saved by the Bell’ Revival Reminds Us Of What We Loved And Gives Something New – Review

Saved by the Bell is back, but it has a whole new vibe. No longer the cutesy Saturday morning series the revival gives us a bunch of fresh new faces, jokes that pack a punch, and a dash of relevance to keep us engaged and entertained.

The series follows a new group of kids forced to attend Bayside High after Governor Zack Morris makes massive budget cuts from the California educational system. Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and Devante (Dexter Darden) find themselves amongst the bougie kids of Bayside, amongst them are Mac (Mitchell Hoog), Lexi (Josie Totah) and Jamie (Belmont Cameli). Mac is Zack and Kelly’s son and Jamie is Jessie’s son. The new students are paired with the current students in an effort to help them acclimate to their new school, and thus a new group of friends is formed and shenanigans ensue.

Saved by the Bell - Cast
Saved by the Bell — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (L-R) Mitchell Hoog as Mac Morris, Josie Totah as Lexi, Alycia Pascual-Pena as Aisha, Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy (Courtesy of Chris Haston/Peacock)

The one massive improvement made for this revival is placing Daisy, Aisha and Devante as leads. Mac, who would naturally be the lead since he is Zack’s son, takes a bit of a backseat as there is a considerable focus on celebrating the diverse ensemble. As fun as it is to watch a cocky blonde pretty boy flaunt his wealth and mischievous ways, we as a society have somewhat progressed. Thankfully, Daisy, Aisha, and Devante are exceptionally well written and fun to watch.

No singular character has all the attention because it is hard to miss just how explosively talented this ensemble is, especially Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy. She illuminates the screen with her bright and effervescent personality. She acts as the new Jessie Spano (to a degree) and is clearly influenced greatly by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Daisy is the antithesis to what Zack Morris was; she actually believes in doing the right thing. She is passionate about justice and equality, and is eager to bring that energy to her new school. She is the most at odds with everything Mac Morris and Bayside represent, but she does not allow a system set up to watch her fail to crush her.

However, Daisy is not the only one grounded by being actually relatable. Each character has a part of them reflected in the real world, which was definitely not the case with the original set of characters in the original series.

There is also Totah’s Lexi. As Daisy is the new Jessie, and Mac the new Zack, Lexi operates as the new Lisa Turtle. Not only does Lexi adopt Lisa’s fine fashion sensibilities, but also a whip-smart comedic personality. However, the series does aim to give the characters far more depth than the previous series, there is a touching yet not an overly dramatic acknowledgment of Totah being transgender. In another series, this would be a recurring comment or perhaps a joke, but Lexi is a fully realized person and the funniest in the ensemble.

Saved by the Bell — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy — (Courtesy of Casey Durkin/Peacock)

Saved by the Bell was originally a playful children’s fantasy, with characters that were hollow tropes of the type of kids one would find at high school. The revival, which still leans into some of the fantasy elements that made the OG show fun, is grounded by a more realistic approach to things and the jokes usually hit on the absurdity of the original in a fun and knowing way. Of course, the bright and colourful show still sometimes leans into unreal territory. However, between the moments of comedy there are a decent amount of heartfelt scenes.

The shift between absurd and realism never slows down the momentum of the show or take us out of the illusion. The writers of the series balance it all out by appreciating what came before and recognizing that certain changes were necessary in order to fit the world we are in today.

For instance, there is an effortless nod to the diversity of California that simply did not exist in the original series. Daisy and Aisha easily slip into Spanish in casual conversations which is reflective of the massive Latinx and Hispanic community in California (and it’s actually subtitled). Each character has an exterior life that highlights their individual strengths and weaknesses, and adds depths to their characters. No matter how bright, colourful, or absurd the show gets, there is always a hint of truth and realism weaved in.

Saved by the Bell — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (L-R) Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy, Alycia Pascual-Pena as Aisha — (Courtesy of Casey Durkin/Peacock)

The one downer to the new series sadly would have to be the incident that leads to the teens coming together to form the new gang of Bayside High, and that is Governor Zack Morris. From the top it is revealed that Zack hasn’t really evolved as a person, in fact, there seems to have been a considerable regression of the once-beloved character. Having him selfishly pursue being Governor and then risking the security and lives of thousands of kids in California because of his exuberant budget cuts seems like a Zack scheme on paper, but is so bad that it is utterly irredeemable. Zack Morris is trash, we all know this, but he wasn’t an abhorrent villain. Thankfully, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is still very charming as Zack and it’s great to see him reprise a role that has influenced so many. The decision can’t be undone now, and hopefully, there is somewhat of an attempt at redemption.

Despite the less than appealing start to the show, there is a lot to like about this new series. Namely, the new cast of characters and what each of them brings to the table. Velasquez, Pascual-Pena and Totah have an easy and lovely dynamic and each showcase the power of well written teenaged girls. Totah is a true standout with her exceptional comedic timing and fierce look. Hogg reminds us of what we liked about Zack Morris, but the trashiness is a tad bit sedated. Darden’s dry line delivery pairs nicely with Totah’s more lively approach. Finally, Cameli is just the right amount of ditsy and cute. Everyone has something to do and offer which helps differentiate this Saved by the Bell from the very Zack Morris-centric Saved by the Bell we were all used to.

Peacock has a real winner on their hands.

Saved by Bell premieres on Peacock on November 25, 2020.

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