- Sergei Bachlakov
- Jessie, Zack, A.C., Lisa, Kelly, and Screech versions 2.0
Even among not-terribly-avid viewers of the terribly unfunny late-80s teen sitcom Saved by the Bell, it’s common knowledge that the episode when Jessie Spano becomes addicted to caffeine pills was the show’s landmark moment. The 20-second clip of a manic Elizabeth Berkley straining every acting muscle in her body—a sort of thespian gusto we wouldn’t see again until the pool-sex scene in Showgirls—and wailing “I’m so excited. . . . I’m so scared!” has millions of YouTube views and remains a great example of why doofy shows should avoid serious subjects whenever possible. It’s every bad after-school special condensed into a tiny, erotic morsel.
A rehearsal for that scene is reenacted in Lifetime’s The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, and it’s about as fun or druggy or sexy as anything gets in this scarcely controversial waste of two hours and Vagisil’s advertising dollars.
What should’ve been a calorie-laden treat for lovers of 90s camp and B movies—a Lifetime adaptation of a sleazy tell-all by self-styled provocateur and former amateur porn star Dustin “Screech” Diamond—plays out as a dull, superficial glimpse at teen stars behaving like teen stars, but ones with decent heads on their shoulders and competent parental supervision. Diamond’s book Behind the Bell purported to reveal “the dark, behind-the-scenes story of the cast and crew’s extreme lifestyle: sex, drugs, and wild parties post-Bell.” But after it was released, he claimed that his ghostwriter had fabricated details and played up the sexual interplay between the cast members. In reining in the source material, someone left out all the fun.
It’s well documented that Dustin Diamond grew to resent his SBTB alter ego. He’s said so in his stand-up routines, demonstrated it by showing this world his penis in the film Screeched, and whined about it on many a VH1 reality series. And here he’s found another platform to bemoan being typecast as a nerd and having difficulty finding young women to have sex with him. Dustin (played with little enthusiasm by Sam Kindseth) angles to become our connecting character, a kid who can’t seem to find his place in the world and deserves our sympathy as a result. His dad’s kind of a jerk. He’s bullied in real school, and struggles to fit in with his new cast members on the set of a fake school. Meanwhile, the show struggled to find its place in a Saturday-morning lineup populated by cartoons.
Love blossoms all around poor Dustin. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Dylan Everett) and Lark Voorhies (Taylor Russell) enjoy a heavy flirtation that’s thwarted by the fact that she’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Later Mark-Paul and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Rachael Ray dead ringer Alyssa Lynch) flirt lightly over a few sips of wine on a junket in Paris. Mario Lopez (played by the adorably simian Julian Works) is making out with all girls all the time because he’s so studly with his curly mullet. Dustin shares his first kiss—a scripted, on-screen kiss—with Tori Spelling, who later asks if Dustin can introduce her to Mark-Paul. As for partying, there’s one time we see the cast attend a party. Mark-Paul and Mario get invited to an afterparty, but we’re not invited to come with (rude). Presumably something wild happened there.
The only person in the film who actually does any substantial drinking, drugging, or sexing is Diamond himself. He meets an unsavory extra on the studio lot who introduces him to vodka and weed. Eventually, his new (and only) friend uses a video of Dustin smoking pot and doing bad Wayne’s World impressions—potentially disastrous to his career in equal measure—to blackmail him. That brief glimmer of drama is resolved when Mark-Paul suggests that Dustin tell the studio so they can threaten to sue the guy. And that’s that.
Elsewhere, revelations are few, far between, and not terribly exciting. Like: that Jennie Garth was in the running to play Kelly Kapowski. Mark-Paul is part Indonesian. Oh, and, the show was originally going to be called “When the Bell Rings,” a move a number of people on Twitter seem to believe would’ve dramatically changed the course of history. As for Diamond’s costars, the script is content to let us fill in blanks. There are conversations between costars that are awkward but we don’t quite know why. Characters barely register as human even though they were written with real live people as their bases. The whole thing is a few Jessie Spano caffeine fits shy of being bad enough to be a good time.