Grade: B+
Entire family: No (3rd grade and up)
1988-94, 46.5 hours (118 episodes, 2 movies), Color
TV comedy
Shout! Factory
Not Rated (Would be PG because of some mature themes)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Episode guide booklet
Clip: Opening Credits
Amazon link

Saved by the Bell was only on the air for four seasons—five, counting Good Morning, Miss Bliss, an aborted Disney Channel series that NBC retooled to shift the focus from a popular teacher to a popular student and his friends. And six seasons, actually, if you count a short-lived sequel about the gang’s college years. But the show quickly became iconic. If you were a kid growing up in the late ‘80s and first half of the ‘90s and caught the show on Saturday mornings, these were your people.

Even before the cancellation, several Saved by the Bell novels were published featuring the TV cast in familiar plots, and over a four-year period fans devoured 21 of those books. Then in 2006 Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim started advertising that Saved by the Bell would begin re-airing on their network and spread the rumor that the series was back in production again. It was a hoax, but the public’s reaction was so spirited that three years later Jimmy Fallon decided to launch a petition campaign to coax the powers that be into creating a Saved by the Bell reunion show. There were parodies and various cast appearances, but a reunion show never materialized—unless you count The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon sketch that starred six of the eight actors from the series.

The point is, there’s an audience out there that fondly remembers the exploits of blond-haired mischief-maker Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), his nerdy friend “Screech” (Dustin Diamond), material girl Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), heartthrob A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), brainy feminist Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), and cheerleader Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) as they navigated the corridors of Bayside High School in Palisades, California.

That audience won’t be disappointed by this handsomely produced Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection from Shout! Factory. Included here is the original Good Morning, Miss Bliss, plus four seasons of Saved by the Bell, along with Saved by the Bell: The College Years and two movies: Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style (1992) and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas (1994), when Zack and Kelly finally tie the knot. The movies are presented complete as originally broadcast, not chopped up into installments as happened later in syndication.

This 16-disc collection is housed in four standard-size DVD keep cases that slide into a sturdy slipcase, with a 12-page booklet that gives the titles and air dates of every episode, along with a brief description and some fun facts. Example? It turns out that the actress who played the “older” ninth grader Zack bragged about being with all summer in the opener is none other than Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Watchmen).

The first season was set in John F. Kennedy Junior High in Indianapolis, Ind., with the focus on Miss Bliss (Hayley Mills)—a popular 6th grade teacher whose students always seemed to be dropping by her house (or in one episode, incredulously, moving in with her). She was like the cool mom substitute, and the kids were secondary to plots about her. Mills didn’t make the transition, but Dennis Haskins was retained as the principal Mr. Belding.

It’s when the series focus shifted to cooler California and Zack and his friends that it really took off—so much so that young people are still watching the show. My 16-year-old daughter had seen a bunch of episodes and acted like “why wouldn’t I have?” when I asked her. The plots involve dances, dance contests, dating, high school sports and clubs, class projects, pranks, crushes, good and bad teachers, pressure-filled tests, and summer jobs. But there are also episodes about malls, anti-drug campaigns, gender limitations, stepparents, environmental issues, drunk driving, teen pregnancy, and maxing out Dad’s credit card. And there are the occasionally goofy ones like someone getting hit by lightning and becoming suddenly clairvoyant, or Zack dressing up like a girl for a “date” to help Screech save face.

Saved by the Bell was a hit with the 6th through 12th grade crowd, but when the stars got older and progressed to college, maybe the fans just weren’t ready to grow up that quickly themselves, because new spinoff never caught on. Now, though, in retrospect and with the power of nostalgia, those college years and a nice package of bonus features (alas, no Tonight Show sketch) probably make this a must-add to Millennials’ Christmas lists.

Advertisements