Getting the Band Back Together

June 9, 2009

I don’t watch late night talk shows very often.  The hosts are typically unfunny hacks and I have very little interest in hearing about the personal lives of celebrities.  Occasionally I’ll watch to see the performers — Flight of the Conchords and Jenny Lewis, recently — or watch a comedian or celebrity that I’m especially fond of.  Recently I’ve been venturing over to the late night section of Hulu, clicking on clips from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon that intrigue me, like interviews with the magnificent Bill Hader.  One such clip was this morning’s most recent upload, an interview with “Zack Morris.”250px-SavedbytheBell3

If you aren’t a Fallon fan or just haven’t been paying attention, several weeks ago Fallon began a quest to reunite the cast of “Saved by the Bell” to mark the 20th anniversary of the show’s first broadcast.  The quest began with Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins agreeing to sign on for the reunion, and since then Lark “Lisa Turtle” Voorhies and Mario “A.C. Slater” Lopez have also agreed to be a part of the reunion.

Last night Mark-Paul “Zack Morris” Gosselaar appeared on Fallon’s show, in character, to promote his current acting project (a courtroom drama . . . snore) and to announce that he and Elizabeth “Jessie Spano” Berkley will also show for the reunion.  It was quite enjoyable to see Gosselaar acting as Zack again.  Except for slightly sunken eyes and a creased forehead, he looks exactly as he did 20 years ago.  I don’t know if it’s from cosmetic treatments or if he just aged well, but the man looks good.  My North American readers can see the clip on Hulu or on Fallon’s website.

I really like the idea of a “Saved by the Bell” reunion.  I loved watching the show as a child, though I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I watched.  The original air dates show that I was only 6 when the final season aired, so I was obviously watching reruns and just didn’t realize it.  Even so, the show was a big part of my formative years, and I have no doubt that it will live on as my generation’s nostalgic heirloom.

I was fond of many other shows as a child — I watched much more television back then than I do now — but none left the same lasting impression as “Saved by the Bell.”  Maybe because that show was so ubiquitous; it seemed like from my elementary school years to high school I could catch an episode on television somewhere.  Other (non-animated) programs that I enjoyed when I was younger — “Boy Meets World,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Salute Your Shorts,” and “Clarissa Explains it All,” among others — all had good runs, but none had the syndicated staying power that “Saved by the Bell” enjoyed.  The only program that really comes close is “Full House,” but where “Saved by the Bell” had the occasional tender moment or moralistic message, “Full House” was nothing but eight years of very special episodes.

My own school experiences were very unlike those I saw on the show.  I mean, did anyone go to a high school like Bayside?  With date auctions, telethons, vicious rivalries with other schools, or an administration made up of a single principal who had enough time to socialize with a handful of kids on a regular basis?  Did your high school have a wrestling team that more than five people cared about?  A student pop band that performed at school events?

Yet, despite the unrealistic experiences depicted on the show, I felt a kinship with these unusual teenagers.  My high school may have been drastically different from Bayside, but I still enjoyed the show, maybe because of how unrealistic it was.  Zack and and the gang were special — students who had extra privileges, were especially popular and lucky, and who seemed to be at the center of all the school’s events.  It made me think that I could be special when I got to high school.  Of course, things didn’t quite turn out that way, but that’s an entirely unrelated matter . . .

Anyway, as I said before, I like the idea of a “Saved by the Bell” reunion, but ultimately the only exciting thing about the whole event will be the anticipation.  Because, once they’re all reunited, what do we expect will happen?  Time will turn back, we’ll all be children/teenagers again, the actors will get into character, and the show will continue as if it never went off the air?  Sure, it’ll be cute to see everyone in the same room together, but what then?  It’s more likely that it will be an awkward moment to witness.  These people aren’t really the friendly gang that we came to know them as on the show, and though I’m sure Mario Lopez and Dennis Haskins will be very kind and generous to their fellow actors, some may be more awkward with each other than chummy.

Then there’s the cast members who haven’t been asked to be a part of the reunion, like the short-tempered Mr. Tuttle or Stacey Carosi, played by Leah Remini, as Zack’s love interest during the Malibu Sands summer arc.  No call for them from Fallon?  Or how about Tori, the brunette biker who had a short stint on the show in the final season?  She only starred in episodes in which neither Kelly nor Jessie appeared — the actresses would not renew their contracts for more episodes — and was an alternative love interest for the two male leads.  Tori may have only appeared in a handful of episodes, but I always thought she was a lot more interesting than Jessie or Kelly.  Yet there’s evidently no interest in Leanna Creel, the actress who played Tori, appearing on a reunion episode, at least not from Fallon.  There isn’t even a request for Hayley Mills, whose character Miss Bliss was the namesake for the show that eventually became “Saved by the Bell”!

Nevertheless, it’s rare to see the cast of your favorite show reunited.  If you’re a fan of the gang and want to see them on stage together, head over to Fallon’s website and sign the petition.  Only two cast members have yet to agree to participate, Tiffani “Kelly Kapowski” Thiessen and Dustin “Screech Powers” Diamond, so I guess the purpose of the petition is to convince the remaining actors that it’s worth coming on Fallon’s show.  Ordinarily I’d think getting Thiessen on the show would be the toughest challenge, but with Diamond’s amateur porn career going so well, it may turn out that he is the more difficult actor to get a hold of.

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I </3 New York

March 28, 2009

For the past several months, my Friday routine has included eating lunch while watching the previous day’s episode of “Ugly Betty” on ABC’s website.  With the show now on hiatus (I’m not certain if last week’s episode was the season finale or just the last episode before a long break), I have to find something else to take the show’s place.  I have gotten so accustomed to watching something while I eat my lunch that I don’t feel ready to break the habit just yet.  My first idea was to see if ABC was offering any of the earlier episodes from season 3 of “Ugly Betty”, as I hadn’t watched them in forever and hardly remembered some of the content.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had come up with an awful idea.  The first few episodes of the season were lame, and, for the most part, centered around Betty’s quest to find independence in Manhattan: a new apartment, more work responsibilities, and freedom from romantic entanglements.  In many ways, Betty is an unusual character and the show has a lot of unique and relatable characteristics.  The idea that the show’s protagonist wanted to avoid romance was refreshing, and I’m sure many young adults in Betty’s age range (22-25) have experience searching for the perfect apartment or striving for more meaning to their post-graduate employment.  There is one thing about the first few episodes of “Ugly Betty” season 3, however, that I find completely annoying: New York City.

If television writers are correct, everyone who’s anyone lives in New York City, or, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles.  Every other city in the United States is evidently full of Walmart-shopping, McDonald’s-eating hillbillies — the kind of unglamorous people that no television viewer would be interested in seeing on TV.  There are obviously exceptions to this rule.  “Frasier” lasted 11 seasons depicting life in Seattle and the U.S. version of “The Office” takes place in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I’m sure there are other programs that aren’t set in NYC or LA (Boston, Chicago, and Miami are less common than the primary two offenders, but still horribly overused in comparison to the 19,000 other cities in our nation), but it really bothers me that an overwhelming majority of shows, both current and past, are.

During the 2008 election, there was a lot of talk about “real America” and “real American values” and “average Joes” —  enough of it to drive anyone to insanity.  I don’t hold the same opinions as those who were making these comments — ideologically I fall more in line with the liberal New Yorker views, not those of my home state — but I do believe that the so-called “middle America” has been largely forgotten by the entertainment world.  Listen to the commentary track for any episode of “Sex and the City” and you’ll hear series producer and writer Michael Patrick King’s unabashed admiration for NYC and his belief that the city is a significant fifth character for the show.  He and other New Yorkers display all the characteristics of brainwashed zombies when discussing their adopted home: as they talk dreamily of the city’s perfection, its diversity, its unexpected surprises, their eyes glaze over and their voices take on a tone of ecstasy.

A long time ago I read an article (or was it an interview? and who wrote/said it? I said it was a long time ago!) that lamented the overabundance of cop shows, hospital dramas, and courtroom procedurals on television.  In a season with a handful of new pilots, it said, the majority of them will fit one of those three categories.  I think workplace comedies can be added to the list, as well.  Even worse than the hackneyed environments offered by these programs, though, is the predictable fact that most programs on TV currently are set in NYC, and those coming out in the future will continue to be set there.  Never mind the ubiquitous presence of NYC in most movies; one would think there are no other inhabitable cities in the United States.

Even literature is becoming obsessed with the city.  “Chick lit” that depicts women navigating the turbulent streets of Manhattan in books like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Something Borrowed” is all the rage in bookstores.  Harlequin has even added a line of novels called Red Dress Ink: “Fun, flirty and hip! If that sounds like you, then you’ll love our Red Dress Ink books. Read these sexy, funny stories that follow the struggles of dating, careers and romance in the big city!” It seems that writers, both scriptwriters and novelists, feel certain that women are desperate to escape their podunk lifestyles and experience the glamour of the big city, even if just for a few hours.

I know that this post is a little ranty and circuitous.  For the sake of clarity, let me be straightforward: NYC is not the center of the universe.  While some women may be interested in fantasizing about the possibilities of life in New York, I have no doubt that there are just as many women who couldn’t care less about the polluted, rat-infested circus.  Our nation is full of fascinating, lively, and culturally diverse cities, all of which would make for just as entertaining a setting as NYC and LA.  I’ve been to NYC, and I can say with certainty that I would never want to live there.  Why, then, do I have to be continually bombarded with television shows, movies, and books that worship at the concrete altar?  Entertainment industry: take a vacation or two.  I hear New Mexico is nice this time of  year.  Maybe you’ll get some inspiration.