Cutting Through The Aquanet Fog: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

by Marie Lodi

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Image courtesy of Lifetime

Saved by the Bell was a Saturday morning gem for those of us who grew up in the nineties. Watching Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Co. participate in ridiculous, over-the-top hijinks became a happy routine for tween me. Saved by the Bell prompted two spinoffs, Saved by the Bell: The College Years and Saved by the Bell: The New Class, yet none were as successful/awesome as the OG (but yes, I did watch them all.) Now as an adult, the series invokes an unparalleled sense of wistful nostalgia.

Twenty-five years later, SBTB is still a gem in a Saturday-morning-show-nostalgia-crown. Newer fans who were too young to experience SBTB during its original run are still familiar with Jessie Spano’s (Elizabeth Berkley) infamous caffeine pill freakout episode, perhaps via gifs reblogged over and over again on Tumblr. There’s a podcast dedicated to deconstructing every single episode hosted by comedian April Richardson. The characters’ outfits are worshipped to this day. There’s even a theory that Bayside High was all just a St. Elsewhere-like dream.

Now Lifetime, the bearer of all that is sacred in scandalously dramatic reenactments, has added a true gift to the SBTB canon: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story.

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Photo by Sergei Backlakov // Copyright 2014

When I heard that Dustin “Screech Powers” Diamond was an executive producer, I couldn’t help but throw a side-eye. After all, his post-Screech life was filled with his own inventions. There was the fake sex tape (he used a stunt dique), a fabricated tell-all (it was written by a ghostwriter who had vague information), and possibly the worst offense, a very real stint as a host of The Gathering of the Juggalos. Is this a man we can trust to provide an accurate behind-the-scenes testament to one of our most cherished television shows? Probs not.

When word of the movie spread to the rest of the cast, it didn’t receive any cosigns or blessings. Mark-Paul called Dustin negative, while his Franklin and Bash costar, Breckin Meyer, straight up called him a dick.

Upon hearing Meyer’s insults, Dustin threw some sass by saying that the people of the world will remember who Screech is way more than they will remember Breckin’s loveable stoner character, Travis, in Clueless. Ooh, a snarky battle between 90s teenage underdogs!

Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins, thinks it’s all bullshit, Mario “A.C. Absolutely Charming Slater” Lopez agreed with his fans who called Dustin bitter, Elizabeth isn’t curious about it, and Lark “Lisa Turtle” Voorhies subtweeted to us all:

Lark Voorhies Twitter

That said, if something is described with a sexy word like “unauthorized,” you know there’s got to be a little bit of truth to it. It can’t all be lies! If we cut through the thick Aquanet fog, there must be some deep dark secrets hiding behind Kelly Kapowski’s feathered chola bangs.

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Photo by Sergei Backlakov // Copyright 2014

“For all of us, it was getting harder to live in the squeaky clean of Bayside High,” said Dustin’s narration right after he one-two punched a heckler he encountered while he was standing in line to see Hudson Hawk. Some of the movie’s dirt included Mark and Lark falling for each other at first sight then secretly holding pinkies during the cast’s initial boardroom meeting, a love triangle between Mark, Lark, and Tiffani-Amber, Mario hooking up with fans on set, and Dustin turning to alcohol and weed, which led to an eventual blackmail by an extra wearing a sleeveless vest.

A percentage of this has to be legit. It’s already hard being a normal teen. Imagine working on a popular television show during those crucial teenage years where both boners and emotions are on high alert at all times. Of course tensions were as tight as AC Slater’s acid-washed jeans.

During the twentieth reunion, Mark told People Magazine that the cast all dated each other and even called it “incestuous.” There definitely was some frenching going on in those dressing rooms. Perhaps some of these tidbits will be confirmed when Mario Lopez’s new memoir, Just Between Us, comes out later this month.

In LOM (Lifetime Original Movie) world, we are used to getting down and dirty with escandalo. The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story does not disappoint: the part where Dustin screamed to his father that he “at least got laid!!!” during a meet and greet tour, Mark-Paul getting angry at his mom for only giving him twenty bucks a week for allowance. (“I’m making thousands!”)
 Other viewers might be surprised to learn that Mark-Paul was part Indonesian and had to dye his hair blonde, but I’ve known of his ethnicity for years; I keep an ongoing tab of my fellow half-Asians.

The series had a reputation for being void of continuity, and the movie wrapped up some questions I’ve had for decades. For instance, there was the time when Kelly and Jessie suddenly disappeared from the show, and a leather jacket-wearing tough broad named Tori took their place. I think we all hated Tori, didn’t we? The random switcharoo was the result of Tiffani-Amber and Elizabeth deciding not to renew their contracts and instead audition for other roles, though they did return for the graduation episode. One of those other roles for Elizabeth Berkley included Nomi Malone from the cult classic film, Showgirls. She also went on to write an advice book for teens called Ask Elizabeth, of which I have an autographed copy.

The two actresses were also the ones who lobbied for more serious-toned storylines. Saved by the Bell was considered a wholesome, family-friendly show; its heavier episodes dealt with issues such as drug use, the aforementioned pill addiction episode, and homelessness, but it never delved into the kinds of themes reserved for primetime shows like Beverly Hills, 90210. Strangely enough, the movie claimed Jennie Garth was passed on for the Kelly Kapowski role, only to become another famous Kelly (Taylor) on 90210.

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Photo by Sergei Backlakov // Copyright 2014

Some things that I thought the movie was missing: muscles on the actor who played Mario Lopez, more hairspray in Kelly’s bangs (HER HAIR WAS TOO FLAT), a reenactment of the Hot Sundae scene, and AC Slater’s majestic solo dance at The Max:

It’s possible The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was Dustin Diamond’s attempt at extending an olive branch. Or maybe this is his way of finally embracing The Ghost of Screech’s past instead of trying to fight it. But then again, maybe I’m just being a little too positive and this is just a less “severe” way to make up for his monetary failures and get more scrilla.

In an ideal world, this movie will be a harbinger of more behind-the-scenes type dramatizations of our favorite nineties-era shows. I’m crossing my fingers for an unauthorized The All-New Mickey Mouse Club movie (which was the one with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, etc), an unauthorized Kids Incorporated, California Dreams, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Sister Sister, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Family Matters…the list could go on. I am, as Jessie Spano would say, so excited.

Marie Lodi is the president of a pizza club in LA. She is also a staff writer and the resident style advice columnist at Rookie. Richard Simmons once said she moved like a stripper. Read more of her stuff at agentlover.com and follow her everywhere @agentlover.