Lifetime’s big behind-the-scenes Saved by the Bell tell-all movie, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was … uh, definitely a thing that happened. I know because I watched it. The whole thing. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the disaster I was hoping it would be back when it was first announced. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good, either. On the made-for-TV movie scale, I’d probably put it somewhere between Liz & Dick and Sharknado, which doesn’t say a lot for the movie, I suppose, but it says even less about the things I choose to watch in my free time. I have much to ponder.
While I’m a-pondering, here’s the Best and Worst from last night’s festivities:
BEST: Fake Screech
The kid who played Screech, Sam Kindseth, was actually pretty good. He didn’t have a ton to work with, and the entire thing was pretty stupid from Day 1, but he kinda, a little, made me feel bad for Dustin Diamond at the end. It must have been hard being the nerd on a show about cool attractive people kissing each other and going to the beach a lot. Especially as a teenager.
Many of those warm, fuzzy feeling went away, however, when I remembered…
WORST: The entire thing was blatant pro-Screech propaganda
It was obvious going into this movie that it was going to be very pro-Screech, both because it was based on his original tell-all book and because he was the only cast member credited as an executive producer, but man, did they ever lay it on thick. Let’s skip over the thing where NBC top banana Brandon Tartikoff ends a phone call by saying “I don’t know… this Jerry Seinfeld, he’s very funny… but the pilot feels too Jewish, too New York. Lemme call you back. I just had a big star walk into my office” when Dustin Diamond walks into his office completely unannounced, because I’m willing to file that under C for “Camp.” And let’s also skip over the thing where Screech makes everyone laugh by doing animal sounds and Mark-Paul Gosselaar proclaims “He’s awesome.” But this…
… or the thing where he’s knocking out hecklers in the street…
… or the thing where they had SCREECH call time-out and talk to the audience?
Come on, man.
You probably thought this was getting filed under Worst, didn’t you? WRONG. The blond Zack Morris wig — and, to a lesser degree, whatever was happening in the re-creation of Mario Lopez’s hair circa 1989 — might have been my favorite part of the movie. It was so, so awful. I thought it was going to get up and walk away at one point, possibly after it realized it was going to be involved in a five-minute rooftop scene about Lark Voorhies being a Jehovah’s Witness. And the best part is that Lifetime obviously threw a bunch of money at this movie, based on the era-appropriate songs they somehow cleared the rights for to set the scene (“We Got the Beat,” “Baby Got Back,” “Poison,” etc.). Maybe they spent the whole wig budget on music. Only possible explanation.
And quickly, while we’re on hair and wardrobe, shoutout to Mario Lopez’s pants.
WORST: Wither the scandal?
Lifetime marketed this as a racy tell-all about the salacious goings-on behind the scenes of the show. And yet when it aired… nada. Or, like, next to nada. The worst things in there were (1) Dustin Diamond getting drunk and smoking pot; (2) Mario Lopez playing kissyface with the girls he brought to the set; and (3) Mark-Paul Gosselaar buying a dirtbike without his mom’s permission (“I MAKE THOUSANDS!”) and breaking curfew to drink champagne at a party. Just about every teenager you know or have ever known gets up to more trouble than that. I mean, it was kind of a relief, since the whole thing felt kinda icky what with Diamond spilling dirt on his castmates for a few a bucks, but still. Don’t okie-doke me, Lifetime. If you say you’re gonna deliver something, do it. Show me Rod Belding doing cocaine with Kevin the Robot. Anything.
BEST: Fake Mr. Belding
The actor who played Mr. Belding had something like five total minutes of screen time and maybe 10 lines of dialogue, but dude brought his A-game, right down to nailing Belding’s/Haskins’s high-pitched laugh. I choose to believe he spent hours and hours perfecting it, knowing full well he’d only get to use it one time during a crappy made-for-TV movie. Dude’s a pro.
WORST: Screech’s blackmailing, flat-topped Asian friend
This movie practically climbed out of the screen to wink at the audience at times (see: the Seinfeld line, or the thing where they name dropped Jennie Garth as a potential Kapowski), so the bummer with this one was that they didn’t freeze frame on him at the end and have Dustin Diamond be all “And that young man turned out to be … Daniel Dae Kim” or something during the graduation scene.
BEST: Dustin Diamond’s Muscular Zack fever dream
Remember that one episode of SNL where Tobey Maguire hosted and portrayed Dustin Diamond on Inside the Actor’s Studio? The one with this exchange?
James Lipton: And, finally.. if Heaven exists.. what would you like to hear God say when you arrive?
Dustin Diamond: “Up here.. you’d be playing the role of Zack!”
That was all I could think about when young Dustin Diamond drifted off and started daydreaming — complete with the Saved by the Bell pink daydream border around the frame — about being a musclebound Zack Morris hopping into a hot tub with a bevy of young ladies. It was … a little creepy! Here, look!
WORST: The unnamed evil blond executive who had bad ideas and tried to ruin everything
Unless I missed it, they never even gave this poor lady a name. They just had her crap on Peter Engel’s ideas, and come up with her own horrible ones, and say things like “Without the show these kids are nothing” before quite literally wining and dining them — NOTE: Would I have watched a four-part Saved by the Bell made-for-TV movie in 1993 about Zack and Kelly going on vacation to Paris together? Yes, yes I would have — to trick them into signing on for another year. The only positive thing she did the entire night was get outraged over Mario’s sexy photoshoot, and the only reason that was a positive was because the magazine she held up was titled Cheetah Beat. CHEETAH BEAT!
BEST: Karate Screech
Dustin Diamond found out about Brandon Tartikoff’s daughter’s serious car accident and proceeded to take out his frustration on some workout equipment using sweet karate moves. Between this and the scene where he knocked out the heckler, this movie really, really wanted us to believe Dustin Diamond is/was a secret badass. In fact, I almost included this one in with the other Screech propaganda GIFs, and even considered skipping it entirely, but it ends with him chugging liquor out of a flask in his karate outfit, and I think that’s important and newsworthy.
So it turns out the legendary caffeine pills episode came about as a result of Elizabeth Berkley and the girls on the show wanting to cover more serious topics, because some girl cornered them in a dress store and said the show empowered her to dump her lying boyfriend. Or something. It wasn’t very clear, to be honest. Also, later in the movie, Elizabeth auditioned for a part in a TV movie about Eleanor Roosevelt and everyone laughed at her.
Anyway, yes. Caffeine pills. That brings us to this, which I think is a fitting way to end our discussion. This was fun. Let’s never do it again.