How the Saved by the Bell revival saved the original show's reputation
The moral case for how to save the reputation of an old show.
A reputation is something very difficult to maintain. No matter how good it might be in the short term, over the long term, there's no telling how things will change. The world moves on, what people think is important evolves and shifts even for people with the best of intentions. It's one of the reasons why reboots and revivals will happen from time to time. Making money may be the motivations of the studios that own the rights, but often it returns creatively because people are dealing with similar issues and ideas that can be revisited and revived in older, established content.
Saved by the Bell is an iconic TV show. Pretty much everyone in the 90s who watched the show loved it at the time and many of them still do. The story of Zack, Slater, Kelly, Lisa, Jessie and Screech was so much fun on so many levels. They were the kind of people most people wanted to be. Most people didn't have the kind of high school experience that they did. It's the aspirational nature of the characters which made them so great. Zack had the kind of life everyone wanted.
His relationship with Kelly was iconic and beautiful on so many levels. They obviously had their issues but in the end they loved each other. It's why their relationship was a major part of The College Years and the TV movies that came after it. They made falling in love seem easy. Again, they were aspirational in their day. But it wasn't just them who were people to look up to. Every character has some reason to want to be them.
Slater was the kind of athlete that many people wanted to be. He seemed to be good at everything, even if he obviously struggled with a lot of different issues around it. Jessie was the kind of activist people wanted to be. She was trying to change things for the better and did whatever she could to affect the way things were done. Lisa was the kind of entrepreneurial forward thinking person people wanted to be. She didn't let anything hold her back from achieving the things she wanted. Even Screech, despite his obvious nerd status and inability to talk to women, was the kind of geek fellow real world geeks wanted to be. He was a genius and could do so many great things. Nerds everywhere wanted to be like him and have the friends he had.
Before there was a Friends, there was Friends Forever. The friendship between them was fantastic. Yes they fought and had problems. Being such different people, they disagreed about a lot, but in the end they always came together for what they all believed in. What they believed in more than anything was their friendship. It's why they had a whole song dedicated to it in that one episode. The episode itself was all about how great their relationship was. There's a reason why it's the episode so many fans of the show remember.
Over the years however, the show hasn't necessarily aged well. Many of the storylines were overly simplistic and presented reductionist solutions to complicated ideas. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the various schemes and projects that Zack engaged in. He got away with a lot of things that if the world wasn't aspirational, it would've landed him in jail many times over. What he got away with was completely insane. There was even an entire web series on YouTube dedicated to the insanity that Zack engaged in, Zack Morris is Trash.
The benefits of the web series though is that it triggered a nostalgic love for the show and brought in a whole new generation of fans. So much so that they developed a reboot for it. Many 90s shows have gotten a reboot lately, and most of them have had pretty mixed results. Fans of the original Charmed for instance have been split on the reboot. Some enjoy the new show for what it is despite its lack of connection to the original. Others have completely rejected it because of how different it is. Striking an appropriate balance is one of the biggest problems any attempt at a return has.
What is great about the Saved by the Bell reboot is that it manages to strike the right balance. They acknowledge the insanity of the original and all the problems it has, while still being relevant to a new generation. Like the original, it deals with social and political issues of the day but it doesn't give the simplistic answers the originals did. Some problems are wrapped up in 30 minutes but they often have a bigger point to make or are part of a bigger narrative.
No doubt there are those who would disagree. In the currently divisive times, it would be hard to find anything that would please everyone all the time. But the show comes incredibly close.
Apparently people agree enough to have the show get a second season. It will be interesting to see how they move forward into the future. Since the show was originally filmed and aired, the world has become radically different. They even acknowledge this in the very final scene of the first season. Being able to maintain the balance is crucial.
The first season successfully saved the reputation of the original. That's a difficult thing to do, particularly in such a highly critical culture where everyone has an opinion. But the creators managed it despite all the odds being against them. In many ways a lot like the original show's main characters did.
Make sure to check it out in the United States on Peacock.