Lifetime achieved the best and worst possible results with “The Unauthorized 'Saved by the Bell' Story,” a TV movie that premiered last night: It wasn't exactly a cringe-inducing retelling of Dustin Diamond's memoir about his time as Screech on “Saved by the Bell,” but it wasn't titillating or scandalous either. The movie had the stench of looming legal ramifications, as if the producers were terrified of Tiffani(-Amber) Thiessen and Mario Lopez arriving with defamation suits at any moment. (That makes sense considering the original memoir contains its fair share of serious accusations.) Subsequently, the only cast member with any dirt to spill was Diamond, whose woes were still pretty mundane as depicted. In other words: We weren't so excited or so scared, and we needed a few hundred caffeine pills just to stay awake during this damn movie.
But we did pick up a few interesting tidbits from the two-hour Bayside biopic. Here are the main takeaways.
1. Jennie Garth was almost a cast member.
In one amazingly shady aside, the producers of “Saved by the Bell” compare headshots of prospective cast members and determine that they like Jennie Garth, but she's not right for the show. Ironically, Jennie Garth is “right” for almost every other TV movie on the Lifetime network.
2. Elizabeth Berkley had a backbone and wanted to do something better than “Saved by the Bell.”
Though we're aware that Berkley will go on to give us “Showgirls” and a fascinatingly telling arc on “Dancing with the Stars,” she's portrayed in “Unauthorized” as something of a real-life Jessie Spano: proud, smart, defiant when need be, and concerned with personal integrity. We see her walk into a meeting about a TV project concerning Eleanor Roosevelt at one point. I don't know who she thought she was going to play in an Eleanor Roosevelt film, but damn it, Elizabeth Berkley was probably the first in line to see “Hyde Park on Hudson.”
3. Dustin Diamond was basically an idiot for befriending the man who'd later blackmail him.
Dustin Diamond was, as depicted, a kid who was low on friends and self-esteem before “Saved by the Bell.” As his popularity increased in the film, we watched in terror as a cocky tank-topped teen befriended him and never left his side. Later, that friend threatened to blackmail Diamond with a video showing him smoking pot. Come on, Dustin. I understand it's hard to find real friends when you're unbelievably famous in the “Tiger Beat” realm, but that doesn't mean you should settle for a comically obvious sleazebag.
4. Kelly and Jessie were supposed to be one character, but in a single two-minute meeting, executives decided both Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley needed to be cast.
Producers appeared to despair over whether to hire Thiessen or Berkley on the show. “It's supposed to be three guys and two girls!” clamored the most humorless female exec ever. But that mandate was no match for Brandon Tartikoff and company, who insisted on both ladies being hired and written into the show — because that's a decision you make in 90 seconds with headshots tacked on a bulletin board in front of you.
5. The “I'm so excited!” scene was added because Elizabeth Berkley demanded edginess.
The caffeine pill freakout scene on “Saved by the Bell” may be the campiest moment of “drama” in teen TV history, but it was apparently thrown into the show because Elizabeth Berkley's bargaining with producers worked. The movie depicts Berkeley as overjoyed to realize she's playing a very serious, dramatic scene. Why? Because acting isn't hard. Geometry is hard.
6. Lark Voorhies' religious beliefs ruined her chemistry with Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
Though Dustin Diamond was trying to be a bad kid and Mario Lopez was an aggressive womanizer backstage on “SBTB,” no one else in “The Unauthorized 'Saved by the Bell' Story” seemed particularly naughty. When Mark-Paul Gosselaar attempted to give Lark Voorhies a belated birthday present, she kindly swatted it away and cited her Jehovah's Witness background. Oh. That's… something? Fine?
7. Mark-Paul Gosselaar apparently always had the highest, blondest hair possible.
Dylan Everett, the actor playing the man behind Zack Morris here, doesn't look much like Mark-Paul Gosselaar. But he was certainly dyed to match the “Franklin and Bash” star. From the beginning of the movie 'til the end, Everett sported a head of shock-blond, aggressively poofed/coiffed pseudo-hair. You'd think some of that was a Hollywood creation. Nope. Mark-Paul Gosselaar is just an alien yellowhair from a better dimension.
8. Teenage Dustin Diamond scored his first kiss with Tori Spelling.
To be more precise, Diamond's first kiss was with “the beautiful Tori Spelling,” as the narration noted. She played his short-time girlfriend Violet on the show.
9. Teenage Dustin Diamond actually drank from flasks.
When Diamond hit hard times as a popular teen whose identity was subsumed by the entity known as “Screech,” he started drinking regularly. From a flask. Always. Like a character in “Blazing Saddles” or something. Ride on, Dustin Desperado.