Saved by the Bell, Screech & Making Amends for Punch-Down Culture

When it came to representation, Saved by the Bell became a point of empathy for its respective eras. Yeah, it was hardly a bold first step for diversity with four whites, a Latino, and one African-American to lead the main cast during its original 90s run. But it helped break down social structures of high school to an extent. One who was representing nerds and their social awkwardness even if it's confined to stereotypes was Dustin Diamond, who played Samuel "Screech" Powers. While Screech became an endearing member of the gang, a ton of it was paved at his expense and by extension, the actor himself.

Saved by the Bell: Screech Actor Dustin Diamond Passes at 44
Dustin Diamond as Samuel "Screech" Powers in Saved by the Bell (1989). Image courtesy of NBC Universal

Screech falls within the typical "sad clown" category where he's so eager to please and put himself out there, he often gets manipulated to work that much harder for the approval of others, particularly his best friend Zack Morris, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. After all the scheming, manipulating, and guilt-tripping throughout the original run of Saved by the Bell, it never really felt like Zack was ever that grateful for the things he did for him and that was even on display during the second season premiere of the Peacock reboot.

Saved by the Bell: Mario Lopez Supports Dustin Diamond's Cancer Fight
Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack Morris, Dustin Diamond as Screech, and Mario Lopez as AC Slater in Saved by the Bell. Image courtesy of NBCU

It became a point of contention executive producer Franco Bario and current showrunner and EP Tracey Wigfield had to address how to pay their respects to the late Diamond and his character given how much the original series punched down on the character often being the butt of the joke. The scene placed at the end of the episode had Zack, Slater (Mario Lopez), Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), and Lisa (Lark Voorhies) meet at their favorite hangout The Max, where each delivered their own respective eulogies (picking memories that didn't hurt Screech) along with tribute burgers Max (Ed Alonzo) created to mark the occasion as the five all toasted their burgers at the center like glasses.

Saved by the Bell: Peacock Announces Season Two Date, Trailer, Images
Lark Voorhies, Elizabeth Berkley, Mario Lopez, Tiffani Thiessen, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Saved by the Bell (2021). Photo by Trae Patton/Peacock

Personally, it felt like they treated the character and the actor like the 400 lb gorilla in the room. At the very least from what I've seen, it's more about the new kids than the adults but it would feel so much more if Zack tried to make amends for all the terrible things he did to him in the past. Maybe discover a journal of his "thoughts" and turn his experiences into something socially positive like a memorial or a scholarship. Screech meant far more than just a burger. I really hope they do more than just the one-off scene because Diamond gave over 200 episodes of himself, living and breathing the franchise.

Saved by the Bell Problematic Recurring Arc

Why am I pushing for more than what is presented here? Because as much as an agent for social change and representation Saved by the Bell is now, it needs to make amends on being a part of the culture that maligned nerd culture. The recurring arc where he pursued Lisa definitely did not age well since he had problems taking "No" for an answer to the point where there was a dedicated episode that finally dealt with the rejection rather than treating it as a joke. If it weren't for the magic of television, Lisa wouldn't be anywhere near as cordial with Screech as she became his friend. This was also an issue on the ABC/CBS sitcom Family Matters to a far worse degree with Steve Urkel's pursuit of Laura Winslow.

While the rest of the cast went on to have normal-ish lives, Diamond infamously had that chip on his shoulder as certain fans had problems distinguishing the actor from the role as such with what happens to many popular and/or polarizing characters. Make no mistake, his transgressions are his own, but there's a level of blame to go around when it comes to having a part in creating that culture especially when the humor is paved in toxicity. While his tell-all book didn't endear himself to his fellow castmates, what do you expect from someone who's been through what he has? Diamond's gone now and it didn't seem like he had as many friends in the business as imagined. The only one who really stepped up in his final months publicly was Lopez. That in and of itself is depressing on a whole other level. While SBTB fans will always have the series to stream or watch on DVD, let's celebrate its legacy of the characters we love, and let's try to learn from Diamond's example. Let what happened to Screech become an agent of change and a teachable moment. Just be aware. If something is wrong, ask them and don't take them for granted. Season two premieres on November 24 on Peacock.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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