Some Thoughts On The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story


If you watched last night’s Lifetime movie on the 90’s Saturday morning show Saved by the Bell, you’d be forgiven if you were confused on what exactly was so unauthorized about this behind-the-scenes look at the program. If anyone was tuning in hoping for some of the salacious accusations that Dustin Diamond (Screech) leveled in his now disavowed memoir about his time on the show, you would be sorely disappointed. Diamond’s book was probably hokum, but at least it was semi-interesting hokum. Though Diamond was a producer on the Lifetime movie and the film is told mostly from his point of view, any hint of scandal or intrigue have been eliminated or whitewashed. While Diamond’s book documents on-set hookups, threesomes with producers and drug use, the most sensational thing that happens in the Lifetime movie is that Diamond smokes some pot and gets drunk – neither of which is a shocking revelation. The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story was less a tell-all and more a poor re-enactment of scenes from the show and boring snapshots of the behind the scenes “drama,” so much as it was. Honestly, I think there is more drama around my office and we’re a pretty boring office.

Still, I sat through the entire two hour movie, despite the fact that pretty much nothing happened and I’ll be damned if I wasted my time for nothing. So as a public service announcement to anyone that is thinking of watching the movie or has it sitting on their DVR, here are the highlights and lowlights from the movie. Admittedly, it’s hard to tell which are which.

  • Apparently no young actors look like the cast of Saved by the Bell.


Without any context, I don’t know that you would guess that the people above were supposed to be portraying the people below.


Lifetime didn’t seem too concerned with authenticity when making their casting decisions – a point that is only reinforced by the trailers for the Brittany Murphy biopic this weekend – and that might not be a problem if there was more going on in this film. But since there is not much else happening in the movie, I found myself fixated on the laughable job that they did in finding the actors to portray Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkeley, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond. Other than getting the skin color mostly right and bleaching and coifing the actor that played Gosselaar’s hair within an inch of its life, it appears that they just took the first actors that remotely could work and called it a day. It’s legitimately distracting.


Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s mother is part Indonesian.


I know what you are thinking – who cares, right? That would be the normal response, but this was apparently a VERY big deal to the people at Lifetime. Gosselaar’s mother’s heritage is referenced multiple times in the film, for no real apparent reason. I guess they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for new information. A scene also revolves around Lark Voorhies being a Jehovah’s Witness. Again – these are the shocking tidbits you learn from The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story. I’m clutching my pearls as we speak.

The writers seem to think that Elizabeth Berkeley was Jessie Spano.


Maybe this is a case of life really imitating art, but I’m going out on a limb and saying that the writers of the Lifetime movie forgot that Jessie Spano was not a real person and just wrote the depiction of Berkeley like she was her character. Berkeley is shown as wanting Saved by the Bell to be more than it was and fighting behind the scenes for more real-life story lines. Her crowning achievement is the most laughable and iconic moment in the history of Saved by the Bell – Jessie’s addiction to caffeine pills. They also show her auditioning for a role in some movie about Eleanor Roosevelt, which is a very Jessie Spano thing to do (though I’m curious who she would even be playing in a movie about Eleanor).


Ironically, the “I’m so excited” scene may have led to Dustin Diamond’s drinking


In the Lifetime movie, Berkeley and Gosselaar unveil the famous scene to their fellow cast members who are all really impressed by this thespian achievement – except for Diamond. Diamond may be a jerk, but even he saw that over the top nonsense for what it was. He laughed after the end of the scene and said “It’s caffeine pills; it’s not like she was addicted to black tar heroin” which did not go over well with the cast. He is called names, runs off the stage and the next scene shows Diamond drinking from a flask. As presented, this is clear causality.


Even a fictional depiction of Mario Lopez is a douche.


I have never liked Lopez, so the fact that he is shown to be a womanizing jerk behind the scenes in the Lifetime movie made me extremely happy. Everything else was pretty sanitized, but his inherent douchiness managed to shine through.


Not enough Belding


There is no way that you are going to convince me that Dennis Haskins, the actor that played Mr. Belding on the show, was not a straight up creeper. Ain’t gonna to happen. In fact, I guarantee you that there are some legendary stories where that dude acted inappropriately or weird around the set. Yet there is very little of Belding in the movie, which leads me to believe that the real reason that Haskins refused to watch the film was because he knew that he wasn’t a major part of it.


Jennie Garth was almost Kelly.


According to the film, the role of Kelly was narrowed down to three actresses – Theissan, Berkeley and Garth. Garth was eliminated from consideration because they “though they could do better,” which is kind of hilarious. Now, Garth is no Oscar winner, but she also didn’t appear in Showgirls. As we all know, they ultimately went with Theissan, but created the role of Jessie for Berkeley.


Gosselaar and Voorhies dated…or something.


The Lifetime movie paints Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Lark Voorhies as being romantically interested in one another, but only show them occasionally holding hands and chastely kissing once or twice. This had to be done all in secret, since they were supposed to keep their personal and professional lives separate, but it’s unclear that this was a real relationship. Gosselaar also may or may not have been romantically interested in Thiessan – they kiss once in the movie, but it was called for the Saved by the Bell script. Because the film is so vague and PG, it’s unclear if any of this amounted to much of anything beyond youthful flirtation. And really, that’s the stuff that people tuning in for an unauthorized movie are looking for.


What happened to Max?


There is no mention in the movie of Max, the proprietor of the restaurant where the kids hung out. He was a main character early in the series – he even made the opening credits – but then abruptly disappeared. The kids still hung out at the Max throughout the series, but the restaurant appeared to be run without any adult involvement.


They skipped over Zack Attack


How you ignore the seminal musical act of a generation is beyond me.


The movie is under the impression that both Voorhies and Berkeley had careers after Saved by the Bell.


The end of the film discussed the careers of the kids after Saved by the Bell and indicated that both Voorhies and Berkeley continued to work once the series ended. They did make the concession that Showgirls didn’t turn out how Berkeley had hoped, but that her career eventually bounced back and that she’s worked ever since. Someone might want to pass along this information to Berkeley and Voorhies, since based on their respective IMDB pages this might come as a shock to them.

I was never a huge Saved by the Bell fan back in the day – by the time it was on the air my preferences for darker and more sophisticated material had already manifested – but I think even die-hard fans would have found Lifetime’s The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story a snoozefest. I don’t know how they managed to make a two hour film where nothing happened, but that’s what they produced. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare – this is Lifetime after all and the source material isn’t exactly high art to begin with – but I thought that they might put together a moderately interesting movie that unearthed some new or sexy information about the goings on on the set. This Lifetime movie gave the impression that they were scared to death of being sued for defamation of any kind, so they put together the blandest and most boring version of events and hoped to cash in on nostalgia without offering anything of real value. I wish I had some of Jessie’s caffeine pills to keep me interested; I wasn’t excited or scared – just bored.