Posted in: NBC, Review, streaming, TV, YouTube | Tagged: Alycia Pascual-Pena, Belmont Cameli, bleeding cool, cable, Dexter Darden, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Haskiri Velazquez, John Michael Higgins, Josie Totah, mario lopez, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mitchell Hoog, Saved by the Bell, streaming, television, Tracey Wigfield, tv
Saved by the Bell Balances Ensemble Feel, Fully-Developed Characters
To say the new Saved by the Bell is different is an understatement. It knows how to hold on to its nostalgia, but at the same time, it leaves enough room to let the new seeds grow. Never once did I feel it had to step out of its predecessor's shadow. The sequel series begins with original series star Mark-Paul Gosselaar in a voiceover, short-and-sweet about how his Zack Morris became the governor of California. It showed he never really changed from his scheming ways, but now that he went from being a lawyer to now having to serve a term running the State, he finds himself in another mess he has to fix with education budget cuts. His solution on the fly, relocate displaced students to better-funded schools like his alma mater at Bayside High.
From there, we get introduced to the three transfer students in Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), her best friend Aisha (Alycia Pascual Pena), and Davante (Dexter Darden). With the abrupt closing of their school, they try to acclimate to their new surroundings. The overachieving Daisy finds herself incredulous at the blond-haired Mac (Mitchell Hoog), who's a chip off the old block with his governor-father taking similar shortcuts in life. The athletic Aisha sets to prove herself as the starting quarterback of the all-boys football team much to the initial uneasiness of the more traditional head coach A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) desperately looking to win.
Meanwhile, Devante coyly fights off Slater's attempts to recruit him to the football team and the stereotype given his frame and instead joins the theater club. Speaking of theater club, which is head by cheerleader Lexi (Josie Totah), she's also best friends with Mac. They developed a kind of a friendly brother-sister type rivalry at times, but it's also weird her calling him "preppy" since it was the nickname Slater gave Zack on the original series. Lexi fits all the alpha-girl type stereotypes without going full Mean Girls. The final dynamic is Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli), who plays the "big dumb jock" role and in touch with his feelings, which is the byproduct of the rearing by his mother Dr. Jessica Spano (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren). Somehow, her competitive academic obsession didn't rub off on him and instead, he became the poster boy for participation trophies. She's also developed a knack for overly coddling him.
The depth of the characters works for what they are because the series' strength is empathy. The only character who has the "timeout" feature is Daisy, but she's not the focus of the series the way Zack was before and that's refreshing. All of the adult characters from Slater, Jessie, and even Principal Ronald Toddman (John Michael Higgins) enhance the student cast. Toddman may not be Belding, but he certainly grows on you. What worked for Saved by the Bell in the 90s doesn't necessarily always work in 2020, but because of quality writing, directing, and a competent showrunner like Tracey Wigfield, it adapted well because they developed whole characters overcoming stereotypes. This is a nostalgia sequel done right. I'm looking forward to future seasons. Now if they can only change that infernal cover of the theme, we'd be set. Saved by the Bell streams on November 25 on Peacock.