Saved by the Bell is the latest classic sitcom to get the updated sequel treatment. The difference mainly from its 90s counterpart is how it will blend the former student cast in leadership roles with the latest up-and-coming crop. The cast and crew spoke with Variety about what the 2020 incarnation will be about, what themes from the original it retains, and how the series adapts to contemporary programming while retaining its family demographic. 30 Rock's Tracey Wigfield acts as executive producer and showrunner for the sequel series originally created by Sam Bobrick.
"This show isn't, nor did it want to be, the Euphoria version of Saved by the Bell. I don't think anyone wants to see Slater sending dick pics," Wigfield said. When the series was originally conceived, it was called Good Morning, Miss Bliss and focused on star Hayley Mills as the title character with a balance between faculty and student cast members for the Disney Channel in 1987. When the series went to NBC, it was later rebranded as Saved by the Bell with its shift now focusing on Mark-Paul Gosselaar's Zack Morris, the blond student always looking for shortcuts. Also retained were Lark Voorhies, Dustin Diamond, and Dennis Haskins as students Lisa Turtle and Samuel "Screech" Powers, and Principal Richard Belding, respectively. The cast added three new students in Mario Lopez's A.C. Slater, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren's Jessie Spano, and Tiffani Thiessen's Kelly Kapowski.
The new series puts Lopez and Berkley's characters to lead the adult cast with Slater as the head football coach and Dr. Spano acting as a school counselor. There's also a new principal in Ronald Toddman played by John Michael Higgins. There's a new crop of six students featured with Haskiri Velazquez, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Josie Totah, Mitchell Hoog, Belmont Cameli, and Dexter Darden. While the original series all are engrained at Bayside High, the sequel involves half of the students as transfers to the more affluent Bayside. "Part of the reason I was such a fan of the [original] show was because I was in third grade and didn't know what sex was, so I was like, 'That seems like a nice amount of romance: people sometimes kiss in cars, but nothing else happens and nothing scary happens," Wigfield says. Hoog plays Mac Morris, the son of Zack – the Governor of California in the new series. Like father, like son, Mac takes after his old man in his scheming ways. "It's because of how he was raised: with an amount of privilege that's unhealthy," Hoog said. "I was given everything that I want immediately. It never had a wait time. I think that's a very dangerous thing, which makes me just blind and ignorant."
Unlike the previous series, the new Saved by the Bell shifts from Morris as the focus. "I tried to think about the show through a 2020 lens and how people watch the show now and what draws people to the show now," Wigfield said. When comparing the new to older casts, there's multiple elements she takes from each. "Lexi (Totah) is a little bit like Zack Morris, too. For Jessie's son (Jamie, played by Cameli), although he looks kind of like Slater and is the jock, there was something funny to me that he was more the Kelly Kapowski on the show — that his archetype was the very emotional dumb-dumb. He walks around wearing half a shirt and it's girls fighting over him."
As Daisy (Velazquez), Davante (Darden), and Aisha (Pasual-Peña) acclimate to their new school, Saved by the Bell will also have the kind of representation it didn't have before. "We are specifically from the Latinx community and we're not accustomed to seeing stories around us, and the fact that we're able to spearhead this show as two Latina women means the world and hopefully will empower our community," says Pascual-Peña of herself and Velazquez. However, within the show, Aisha is "met with misogyny and people underestimating her for being a woman when it comes to her wanting to play football and then she ends up overcoming every obstacle that's put in her way." Darden also talked about how Davante was also met with stereotypes due to appearances. "I went through that in my own personal life with basketball and then transferring into the arts," he says, noting that his character, too, wants to express an artistic side. "I hope it opens up the realm for people to understand that you can be multi-faceted."
When it comes to the former students, Lopez admits Slater's largely remained unchained going from being captain of the football team to being its head coach. "He's stuck in his era, his glory days back in his day; [he] wears the same clothes, listens to the same music," he said. For Berkley Lauren, Jessie's decision to be at Bayside is due to her son but is also struggling in her marriage. "I wanted to remain true to the fact that Jessie was a bit ahead of her time: she was a feminist, she was an activist and she had these very clear visions for herself when she was so young. So I wanted to make sure that when we reconnected with her we understood what she actually has accomplished. So we made sure her backstory in the 25-year break was filled with rich things she did succeed at: she did TED Talks, she has a Ph.D., she's a best-selling author of parenting books, she probably was in politics," she continues. "But what I also liked, just like in the original, was even though she seemingly had it all together, we also saw some breaking moments in the past and no matter how much we all grow, there's still seeds of who we were as kids even in us as grownups. Her personal life is a bit of a mess and she is that perfectionist she always was [and] is a bit imbalanced."
As a creative decision, Wigfield decided to give Velazquez's overachiever Daisy the ability Zack had in the original, the "time-out" fourth-wall breaks. "When I was thinking about this show and what would be fun about it, I was a little bit inspired by those Brady Bunch movies; there's something interesting about having characters in present-day who are a little bit stuck in the old show — but those characters can't be the center of the show because they're lunatics," she said. "You need a straight man coming in and being like, 'Why are you weird?'" Velazquez notes the biggest strength of the series is its empathy. "Saved by the Bell does tell stories that no matter where you come from, what background, there's a place for you," she said. The series streams on the NBC Universal streamer Peacock on November 25. Here's a comparison between the old credits and the new. What do you think?