‘Saved by the Bell’ Is Back And Better Than Ever – Review
The Bayside gang is back, and better than ever!
After a fun season one, Peacock has seen the light and has given us our much deserved second season of Saved by the Bell. It is sophomore year, and the kids and teachers of Bayside are gearing up to compete in the Southern California School Spirit Competition. Bayside is eager to beat their greatest rival Valley, but before they can do that, they need to overcome another worthy rival, their feelings.
Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) is eager to return to normal after a year away from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) is sent spiralling after football, the one good thing from freshman year, gets shut down. Lexi (Josie Totah) and Jamie (Belmont Cameli) navigate a relationship that has been predominantly had via the internet and texting. Meanwhile, the two are forced to deal with issues beyond their control in their personal lives. Devante (Dexter Darden) starts a new relationship with a rich Bayside student, Nadia (Mariah Iman Wilson). And Mac (Mitchell Hoog) is up to no good trying to escape the large shadow his father casts. Meanwhile, the adults and previous Bayside-gang commiserate on their feelings as each enters a new phase in their adult lives, which include; seeking new careers, divorce, therapy, and existentialism.
Season two of Saved by the Bell is sharper and more astute than the previous season. The jokes come in fast and furious, with so much of the comedy perfectly tailored to each character. The writing overall is witty, smart, clever, self-deprecating, raw, and most importantly, great. Developed by Tracey Wigfield, the series is an endearing love letter to the wacky and off-kilter original series, but it is also an honest critique of the show and its legacy. While the original show skirted around major issues that pertain to teens and was casually racist and sexist at times, this iteration subverts it and has a very honest and earnest approach to tackle important topics without sacrificing humour. Ultimately, what helps Saved by the Bell stand apart from its predecessors is the characters. It is just astounding how much we get from these protagonists in a half-hour comedy. Our characters are given greater depth and nuance as they navigate personal struggles and triumphs.
Once again this ensemble cast goes above and beyond. They are utterly delightful. Velazquez is a vibrant leading lady as she plays Daisy, who is as ambitious as ever. Daisy is challenged in new ways that help her grow as a person and also accept that “perfection” is not everything. Totah is pure excellence as her comedic timing and her sharp tongue are once again on full display. Lexi’s character growth from season one is carried over onto this season, and as we pull back on the layers, Lexi becomes infinitely more interesting and complex. Pascual-Pena shines as Aisha who is faced with new problems that challenge her super-competitive nature and her sense of self when football is taken away. However, Aisha isn’t integrated into the season’s central plot as well as I would have liked, she and Devante exist outside of the plot’s periphery. Darden’s Devante has much of his character arc following his ever-changing relationship with money and wealth as he attends such a privileged school, but his relationship with his girlfriend doesn’t have any other defining qualities besides the wealth gap between them. Furthermore, Aisha is given a new love interest, and while the plot is very sweet and nuanced, it isn’t given much room.
Funnily enough, the one character that is lacking a central presence but seems to be ubiquitous to the story is Hoog’s, Mac Morris. The best thing this show has done is strip the central Morris of his leading man status on the show. With Mac not sucking up so much air in the room, it gives ample space and time for the other characters to be more than just surface-level tokens. Although he is restrained, Mac is challenged in ways that Zack never was and Hoog takes to these moments very well, highlighting a range that wasn’t particularly evident in season one.
While Mac acts as the bridge between the old show and the new one, it turns out that he isn’t entirely needed for that as the old gang is very much present throughout the show. Elizabeth Berkley’s Jessie Spano and Mario Lopez’s A.C. Slater are joined by Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Zack Morris and Tiffani Thiessen’s Kelly Kaposwski as they navigate the hardships of being adults. Lark Voorhies’ Lisa Turtle makes a quick appearance and a tribute is paid to Dustin Diamond’s Screech that will most certainly get fans of the OG show very emotional. There is a ton of attention given to these characters, which is all well and good but just doesn’t feel right. We get a very nuanced and funny story that has the adults rediscovering themselves, which involves reaching out for help for mental health struggles, taking a chance at a new career after having a family, and trusting in the bond between parents and children when hard situations arise.
This is all very interesting and important as these storylines give these characters depth that they never had in the prior TV series. However, the adults take up valuable time and space away from the kids who should be the focal point, and as much as the adults mean to the Saved by the Bell franchise, they are not what we are here for. Season three can keep them as active participants on the show, but the kids need to be prioritized – namely Aisha and DeVante, and their respective romantic partners. Also, Abraham Rodriguez’s Spencer because he is just so adorable and funny and the best approximation to Screech that the show has.
All in all, the show is a hit. It is a fun recreation of the dizzyingly colourful and strange OG series. With a central plot driving the 10-episode season, the writers of the show can create situations that don’t feel too far-fetched or outside of the realm of possibility. Should you still suspend disbelief? Yes, but the writing is worth it. With a clear goal, the writers provide a ton of humour and great character moments as they head towards it. They have tapped into what makes this iteration so compelling, and it isn’t just all schemes and shenanigans.