We've seen many sitcom reboots in recent years and, while it's always fun to watch our old TV favorites again, most shows can't seem to grow past the nostalgia to give us anything new. While nostalgia is a key ingredient to reboots, it's not something that can sustain a series on its own; you need a blend of new and old, character growth, and an awareness that things are different now than they were 30 years ago. We are so pleased to report that Peacock's Saved by the Bell reboot might be the best attempt at reviving a sitcom we've seen.
Things at Bayside High haven't changed too much; the kids are carefree, privileged, and getting up to the same ridiculous shenanigans the original students took part in. However, everything starts to change when Douglass High, a deeply under-funded school filled with kids of color, gets shut down and forces new kids to attend Bayside. All of a sudden, a diverse group of students are getting front-row seats to the wackiest display of teen privilege in California.
In the show's first episode, new student Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) arrives on her first day of Bayside with hopes of being the new sophomore class president. Daisy talks to the camera a la Zack Morris, but instead of winning the audience over with charm and schemes, she breaks the fourth wall to call out the privileged students' nonsense and poke fun at the silly behavior that fueled the original show. However, the jabs at the late '80s/early '90s classic aren't mean-spirited; they're well-earned, thoughtful, and laugh-out-loud funny.
What makes the episode so compelling is its focus on Daisy and her struggle to succeed in a new school that's deeply rooted in systemic racism. She has to be innovative and figure out how to make campaign posters without spending any money, and when she arrives at school the day after working tirelessly, Zack Morris' clone of a son Mac (Mitchell Hoog) has covered half the school in his own professionally made posters. The other half has been taken up by posters of Lexi (Josie Totah), the popular head cheerleader who exudes confidence and glamour.
When they see Daisy's handmade posters, Mac and Lexi are shocked to learn she "doesn't have a poster guy" and inform her she needed to reserve wall space on the Bayside app. However, Daisy can't afford a smartphone and therefore doesn't have access. While it's presented in a light-hearted, teen-sitcom manner, the lesson is clear: rich white kids have infinitely less work to do to "earn" their seat at the table.
In addition to the compelling new stories and whip-smart jokes, we must praise the reboot for the aforementioned key ingredient: nostalgia. In truth, this show could probably thrive on its own without the original Saved by the Bell stars, but that would only leave the appeal to younger audiences. The excellent use of A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) and Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) is what's going to keep fans of the original engaged and earn the show a well-rounded audience.
Slater has a lot of realizations over the course of the first episode and, even though he's a bit of a dopey coach, he's the perfect bridge between the old and new generations. It's a delight to watch him interact with Jessie again, who serves as a Bayside counselor. Jessie may be married to someone else, but we're already rooting for a resurgence in their romance.
The rest of the cast is rounded out nicely with great work by the students played by Dexter Darden, Belmont Cameli, and Alycia Pascual-Pena. John Michael Higgins portraying the school's principal has us declaring, "Belding who?" and the brief appearances we've seen so far from by Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani Thiessen have us jonesing for more cameos from the original series.
Between the focus on social awareness and solid writing, the Saved by the Bell reboot has a real chance to have the longevity of the original series. By showcasing kids of color, casting a transgender actress as the school's most popular girl, and teaching important lessons through light-hearted fun, the new Saved by the Bell has the potential to positively impact younger audiences. By incorporating little details like Zack's classic portable phone and Slater saying "mamma," this show is also a winner for original fans. Based on the first few episodes, the new Saved by the Bell is absolutely worth a Peacock subscription.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Saved by the Bell premieres on Peacock on November 25th.