These days, the Saved by the Bell reboot on Peacock has just about everyone talking. While the revived classic has received mixed reviews, it has certainly given us all something to look forward to during Covid times!
Additionally, the reboot has encouraged many to take a trip down memory lane, binging all of the original episodes. However, that trip hasn't been pleasant for all of us. Who knew our Saturday mornings at Bayside were contaminated by anti-feminist notions, blatant bullying, and casual sexism? And that's just the tip of the iceberg!
Here's why watching Saved by the Bell as an adult doesn't sit right:
Zack's Perverted Hijinx
Zack may have been the hottest guy at Bayside, but a lot of what he did was borderline criminal. When it comes to his perverted hijinx, Zack exploited his female classmates over and over again to make a quick buck.
For example, in an episode titled "Model Students," Zack gets Screech to secretly photograph the girl's swim team while they're practicing. Keep in mind these girls are all in high school and are underage. Zack then uses the photos to make a Girls of Bayside swimsuit calendar, which he sells to other students. Talk about making a child molester's dream come true! That's not the first or last time Zack exploits his female friends in a get rich quick scheme though.
In the episode titled "Video Yearbook," Zack uncharacteristically volunteers to work on the school's video yearbook. His true intentions become clear when he takes the footage of his female classmates to make a dating video, which he then sells all over town along with their phone numbers. Unaware of this, Jessie, Lisa, and Kelly all get more than a dozen calls from guys asking them out on dates. Hopefully, these guys were all age-appropriate!
Slater's Blatant Sexism
From calling girls "mamma" and "babes" to flat out telling Jessie she belongs in the kitchen, Slater's blatant sexism certainly doesn't land the same way it used to. As the character's only standout quality, Slater's sexism was likely intended to bring laughs. However, watching Saved by the Bell as an adult, Mario Lopez's lines are quite cringeworthy.
It's not just Slater who's guilty of sexism though. It's a disgusting yet common theme throughout the series. Most of the boys act as if the girls are their property, which tells us more about the show's writers than anything else. One example is when Kelly dumps Zack for an older college guy named Jeff. After he's done pouting, Zack shakes Jeff's hand and congratulates him for his big win. (Yuck!)
Jessie's Portrayal Of Anti-Feminist Notions
On the surface, Jessie Spano seems like a positive role model for young girls. She's class president, an excellent student, and a self-proclaimed feminist. However, it's that last bit that Saved by the Bell got so very wrong in the original episodes. Her character embodies exactly what a bunch of clueless old men think feminism is all about rather than what it's actually about. In fact, many feminists today believe that Jessie's character was intentionally created to be the butt of jokes on the show and to help spread anti-feminist stereotypes.
Here's the proof. The writers went out of their way to make feminism look unappealing by making Jessie's character preachy and annoying. Little girls watching the show didn't like her and they certainly didn't want to be her. She's portrayed as a neurotic man-hater whose (often misdirected) feminist agenda isn't accepted by her classmates. Her feminism made her an outcast, and that's the last thing anyone wants to be in high school.
All of this combined with Jessie choosing a sexist boyfriend like Slater gave viewers the wrong impression and implied that feminism was an undesirable trait. This is hardly the notion we want to leave young girls with!
The Cast's Constant And Blatant Bullying
Like most TV-based high schools, stereotypes ran deep at Bayside. Slater was a jock, Zack was a prep, and Screech was a nerd, which got him a lot of grief from his peers. Despite "dork" and "geek" being thrown out as an insult in nearly every episode, the series had more concerning bullying issues. It seems that almost every time Zack had a lesson to learn, it was at someone else's expense.
For example, when a date with Zack is auctioned off to help the cheerleading squad buy new uniforms, he blatantly fat-shames the girl Wendy who wins. Nearly the entire episode is him coming up with excuses to get away from her as he's embarrassed to be seen with Wendy in public.
A similar storyline took place in another episode when Zack uses a teen hotline to get a date. However, when his date shows up in a wheelchair, preppy goes out of his way to make things awkward and point out her disability to his friends. Zack isn't the only one guilty of bullying though. It's a running theme throughout the entire series.
Screech's Obsession With Lisa
Screech's obsession with Lisa was intended to be humorous, but it made him come off as desperate and pervy. While the series had audiences rooting for Screech in this regard, it taught boys that it was okay to relentlessly pursue a girl that has rejected them time and time again. Which well all know now is unacceptable!
While Lisa sends mixed signals every now and then, she made it pretty clear that she was only interested in a friendship with Screech. Despite this, he frequently acted as if he owned Lisa and that she owed him the respect of not dating other guys. One of the worst examples of this was when Screech caught Zack and Lisa kissing. Screech accuses Zack of stealing Lisa from him, keeping in line with the series' sexist undertones.
(Not So) Subtle Racist Storylines
Surprisingly, Saved by the Bell has been praised both for being (moderately) racially diverse and for avoiding racial stereotypes when developing its characters. Unfortunately, the writers neglected to put the same consideration into their storylines.
One example of subtle racism on the show occurred when Lisa spent too much money on her parent's credit cards and tries to figure out a way to dig herself out of the hole. In an attempt to help her pay it off, Zack sells kisses with Lisa without her permission. After she catches on to the scheme, Lisa tells Zack that she feels cheap. Zack's response? He tells Lisa she's worth $36. Sexism. Racism. Prostitution. How did the writers ever get away with all of this?
The worst instance of racism on the show was during the episode "Running Zack." While researching his family tree for a class project, Zack discovered he's part Native American. Following some racially insensitive jokes, Zack's presentation at school is full of misinformation and cruel stereotypes. Fortunately, his teacher agrees and introduces him to a friend of hers who can help him research his ancestry properly.
The show introduced Chief Henry in an effort to educate audiences about Native Americans, but the episode only ended up spreading further misinformation. To make matters worse, when Zack does his presentation for a second time, he walks into his classroom dressed from head to toe in traditional Native American clothing. His culturally appropriated outfit included a headdress and what was likely supposed to be war paint. Clearly, the writers of this episode did just as much research on Native Americans as Zack did for his project.
Tell us about the cringey scenes you noticed while watching Saved by the Bell in the comments section!