Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Movie Write-Up: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

I watched the recent Lifetime movie, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, which is about the actors and actresses in the 1990’s TV series Saved by the Bell.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story got poor reviews, but I still enjoyed watching it.  Although many have alleged that the movie is based on Dustin Diamond’s scathing expose, Behind the Bell, the movie actually lacked many of the book’s scandalous allegations (i.e., sex and drug use on the part of certain actors).  The movie essentially depicts the actors and actresses as good people, who largely got along with each other and supported each other.

There were exceptions to this in the movie, though.  I would say that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkeley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Mario Lopez were the closest to each other in the movie’s depiction, whereas Dustin Diamond and Lark Voorhies were outsiders.  Lark Voorhies and Mark-Paul Gosselaar had somewhat of a romantic relationship, but Mark-Paul was frustrated by Lark’s reluctance to define what their relationship actually was, plus her strict Jehovah’s Witnesses faith may have alienated her from him.  Mark-Paul and Dustin Diamond initially got along: when they were both auditioning for Good Morning, Miss Bliss (the precursor to Saved by the Bell), Mark-Paul actually was friendly towards Dustin, whereas another person auditioning for the role of Zack Morris wanted Dustin to leave him alone.  Mark-Paul and Dustin became more estranged from each other as the movie progressed, however, and Mark-Paul, to his credit, apologized to Dustin for this near the end of the movie.

In a sense, Dustin further alienated himself from the group through things that he said.  When Mark-Paul and Elizabeth Berkeley were doing the notorious scene in which Zack was confronting Jessie about her addiction to speed pills, most of the other actors and actresses watched it with silent solemnity.  Not Dustin, though.  Dustin laughed and said that she wasn’t using heroin but mere caffeine pills, which was not that big of a deal!  Mario Lopez then called Dustin an idiot, and Dustin stormed out of the room.  Fortunately, Dustin found some people with whom he connected.  There was an NBC executive who mentored Dustin and encouraged Dustin to look on the bright side of playing the geeky Screech, and there was the executive’s daughter, who loved Screech.  It was sad when they were both hurt in an automobile accident.  Dustin made another friend, but this friend later blackmailed Dustin by threatening to reveal a video of Dustin smoking marijuana, unless Dustin got him a better job on the set.  In their reconciling scene, Mark-Paul offered Dustin advice on how to handle this problem.

As someone who likes Hayley Mills and her Disney movies, I was glad that The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story acknowledged that Saved by the Bell derived from Good Morning, Miss Bliss, in which Mills starred as a beloved teacher.  My favorite scene in The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was when Hayley Mills was meeting Dennis Haskins, who would play Principal Belding in both series.  Haskins said to Hayley Mills (and his zany mannerisms were like those of Principal Belding), “I had such a crush on you in The Parent Trap—-both of you!”  (Mills played identical twins in that 1961 movie.)  Classic!

A theme in the movie was the attempt of some of the actors and actresses to make a positive impact on their world and to grow.  When Tiffani-Amber, Lark, and Elizabeth learn from some female fans that an episode of Saved by the Bell encouraged one of the fans to stand up to her lying boyfriend, they lobby the board to have more serious episodes of Saved by the Bell, noting that there have been comedies that have touched on serious issues (i.e., All in the Family).  And Tiffani-Amber and Elizabeth both come to conclude that Saved by the Bell is holding them back and leave the show for a while.  The movie ends on a positive note, however, as the Dustin Diamond character tells the viewers all the positive things that the actors and actresses went on to accomplish.

What shocked me a bit was how some of the NBC executives in the movie could make a big deal about race or ethnicity.  “A.C. Slader is supposed to be an Italian ladies man, not a Latino!”  “Seinfeld is too Jewish and New York!”  I don’t know if that is technically racist or bigoted, but it did not sound good.

Good movie.

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