Whether they call it a reboot, remake or reimagining, television producers love to capitalize on nostalgia with fresh takes on beloved programming. But this doesn’t automatically mean the new versions are any good.
Luckily, this isn’t the problem for the new take on Saved By the Bell, Peacock’s update – they prefer to go with option three and call it a “reimagining” – of the teen sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1993 on NBC (and then in syndicated reruns for near-perpetuity). The update, which released all 10 of its first season episodes in November on the streaming service, is Certified Fresh with critics calling it “a throwback that looks forward, embracing the past while living in the now” or arguing that it works because it’s self-aware and because it’s “legitimately funny and good-hearted in a time that’s rife with cynicism.”
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when the series was renewed for a 10-episode second season.
(Photo by Chris Haston/Peacock)
Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, who appeared in the original series as the popular, progressive and overachieving Jessie Spano and who now returns to the show as an older, wiser and more accomplished version of the character, says credit for all this praise is due to the new series’ showrunner, Tracey Wigfield.
She “could not have dreamed of someone better to bring this back with the right tone and the relevant issues,” she told Rotten Tomatoes after the series’ November premiere. The 30 Rock and The Mindy Project alum grew up watching the first series take on topical issues like environmental awareness, women’s rights and – as Berkley Lauren’s Jessie herself immortalized when she became “so excited” and then “so scared” when she got hooked on caffeine pills – addiction within a neon haze of pranks, fake bands, large cell phones and Mark-Paul Gosselaar‘s lead Zack Morris’ occasional ability to stop time and break the fourth wall.
(Photo by Trae Patton/Peacock)
The new version follows what happens when California’s idiot mayor (Gosselaar reprising his role as the continually-failing-upward Zack) botches the school budgets and kids from a high school in a lower-income neighborhood join Zack and Jessie’s alma mater, Bayside High, after their school is closed. Class warfare, overprotective parenting, preconceived racial and social biases and more come into play (character actress Dana Powell guest-stars as a Bayside mom with a savior complex named Joyce Whitelady).
But some things about high school never change, no matter the decade. And this show is full of Easter eggs and references to the classic version. The homage is seen most starkly in new show’s inclusion of the original stars and its update on Berkley Lauren and Gosselaar’s characters, as well as their then-paramours Tiffani Thiessen’s Kelly Kapowski, and Mario Lopez’s A.C. Slater (now, respectively, First Lady of California Kelly Morris and the high school’s football coach).
(Photo by Casey Durkin/Peacock)
Or when it comes to recreating inevitable teen-aged infatuations. Josie Totah’s Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio is a power-obsessed Type A personality who has long harbored feelings for her best friend, Jessie’s oft-clueless jock son, Jamie (Belmont Cameli). This dynamic is so similar to the Jessie-Slater pairing from back in the day that, in the episode where Lexi admits her feelings, her hair is styled in long blond waves – a modern-day take on the spirals of curls and big bows that Jessie used to wear (and, quite honestly, is sometimes seen sported even now).
For Berkley Lauren, who is also a producer for this reimagining, it also means a chance to explore what happens when an ambitious teen girl grows into an educated and successful adult. Now the Jill Biden of Bayside High, Jessie is not only the school’s counselor, but she also holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology, is a best-selling author and is known in some circles for her TED Talks.
“Jessie, at the time, was such a progressive character on television — especially for young woman — and a character who has such a strong vision for herself,” Berkley Lauren said. “She was all about success and accomplishments and what she was going to pursue … I felt protective and that I wanted to let [the fans] know what she actually did do and what she actually did go for and accomplish.”
Jessie’s life isn’t perfect, though. She’s a helicopter parent to Jamie, for one. (There’s a joke that she still rocks him to sleep at night.) Her marriage to his dad, the faltering writer Rene (Cheyenne Jackson), is not going so great (although, Berkley Lauren says, she and the show’s writers did decide that this was a relationship that was progressive enough for their son to have her last name). Jessie’s also still woke to the hazards of caffeine, refusing to drink coffee and getting overly paranoid and protective when she senses that all-star student Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) may be going down that path.
(Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)
While some of these issues were rectified by the end of the new Bell’s first season, there is still room for more details to fill in about Jessie’s life and the lives of others in her orbit.
Berkley Lauren had no word on whether the show would have a second season when we spoke to her, but said there’s at least one other thing from Jessie’s past that she’d like to work in a second season: Her notorious fancy footwork.
Saved By the Bell season 1 is currently available on Peacock.