It's easy to look at the classic 1990s series Saved by the Bell from its camp and many times, tame high school hijinks, but one particular episode became a watershed moment for one of its stars in Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, who played Jessie Spano on the original series. The actress, who now stars in the sequel series for Peacock with her character having earned a doctorate since spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the infamous caffeine pill addiction episode that not only shined new light on the perfectionist student but also the Pointer Sisters song "I'm So Excited" in the season two episode "Jessie's Song".
Saved by the Bell "Jessie's Song" Recap
Berkley Lauren's Jessie is an academic overachiever who obsesses over her grades trying to get into Stanford University. In "Jessie's Song", Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) finds the girls Jessie, Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), and Lisa (Lark Voorhies) sing well together. When he tries to encourage the girls to embrace their talent for a music career, they shrug it off to say they're just doing it for fun. Driven by his own selfish greed, he sends his best friend and lackey Screech (Dustin Diamond) in disguise to the girls' locker room to record them in performance. When Zack gets news from his music producer friend, he gets an idea to shoot a music video. Initially disgusted by the intrusion, they go with his plan. The hardest sell was to Jessie who had a major test to study for. Between cramming and rehearsing, she became dependent on caffeine pills.
A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) notices her odd behavior and sees the pills warning her of the dangers of their addictive nature before Jessie tells him to mind his own business. After telling Zack of Jessie's problem, he shrugs it off too before noticing that Jessie's late for the girls' talent competition. He comes to her house and sees her passed out from exhaustion confirming Slater's concerns. As Zack tries to take the pills away, Jessie goes through a mental breakdown singing the chorus of the Pointer Sisters' song and breaking down in her best friend's arms. Berkley Lauren's laughed at the memes and appreciates its cultural impact, but hopes more give the episode the seriousness it deserved. "I remember at that time, our show dealt with a lot of lighter topics," she recalled. "You know, who has a crush on who or who would take who to dance. Once in a while, we'd deal with some emotionally-based issue as well, but this was the first time we dealt with something more." The actress noted at the time, Jessie was supposed to be hooked on LSD before censors approved caffeine instead. "But at the time, caffeine pills were the way to go — and the reason [the episode] got approved by the network."
Berkley Lauren knew at the time shooting the scene was something special. "I remember Mark-Paul and I were really looking forward to having a scene we could really go somewhere with — and we did! [It] really let us have the opportunity to emotionally go there," she said. "And what I mean by that is that the issues we go through at that age, while also dealing with teen angst, are extreme. Jessie was dealing with perfectionism. Many others struggle with overextending themselves and anxiety. Adults, from their perspective, can say, 'Oh, this won't last forever,' but kids many times can't see it that way." The actress created a teachable moment becoming an inspiration to little girls writing "Ask Elizabeth" as a self-help book, which reached the New York Times Bestseller list. "People laugh at some of Jessie's most vulnerable moments from that episode and make funny gifs and memes," Berkley Lauren continued. "Trust me, I'm the first person to laugh at it too, but let's not forget these are very real situations. I have a great sense of humor about it, especially if it's a wink or a nod to it. But those moments were rooted in something passionate and sometimes can feel over the top. It was fun and broad, but I think at the core, the reason why people are obsessed with that episode is that it must've struck some sort of chord. To see a character be vulnerable with her best friend who she felt safe with is what I remember the most. Mark-Paul and I, by that point in the shooting, had a real solid foundation. We were very close. It was something very unique to be able to look at him and know that I trusted him wherever we were going to go emotionally."
Saved by the Bell reunites most of the original student cast with Berkley Lauren, Lopez, Gosselaar, Thiessen, and Voorhies on the NBC Universal streamer Peacock. Created by Sam Bobrick, the sequel series comes courtesy of 30 Rock's Tracey Wigfield and also stars Haskiri Velazquez, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Josie Totah, Belmont Cameli, Mitchell Hoog, Dexter Darden, and John Michael Higgins. The series streams on November 25.