Plot: Saved by the Bell was a pop culture phenomenon, one that has endured and not only remained a part of the nostalgic zeitgeist, but remains part of syndicated television even decades after the show ended. While Saved by the Bell is the core of the series and was the show that won over audiences, the roots were in place before that show and would continue on after it ended, with another series and two made for television movies to cap it all off. Zack, Lisa, and Screech have been around the entire run, with Mr. Belding always looking for reasons to get on their cases, but the story really blossomed when Kelly arrived to give Zack a romance and Slater, who would be the rival he needed to open up so many more narratives. In this box set, you can experience the entire arc of Saved by the Bell, from Good Morning, Miss Bliss through Wedding in Las Vegas, as well as browse some insightful extras.
Good Morning, Miss Bliss: This is where it all began, with Miss Bliss (Hayley Mills) and her colorful students, not all of whom would return in the show’s later incarnations, but the core of the show was established here. Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Lisa (Lark Voorhies), and of course Screech (Dustin Diamond) are all present here and Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins) is entrenched as the principal. This is a fun show at times and has some of the Saved by the Bell vibes we know and love, but it focuses more on the teachers than the later shows would. This means Miss Bliss gets a lot of the spotlight, while the schemes of the students take a backseat in most episodes. This was first broadcast is prime time as well, so that explains the focus on the adult characters, but the tone was inconsistent and of course, it failed to find an audience. While Good Morning, Miss Bliss stalled, it did set the stage for what would become Saved by the Bell and for fans of Bayside hijinks, it remains well worth a look.
Saved by the Bell: Zack, Lisa, and Screech would return in this followup series, which takes the kids to high school and of course, they’d be joined by A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), and Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), with Belding back in his office and a host of recurring background performers who helped make the high school vibe seem plausible. The show would become iconic and a pop culture smash, shifting the focus back to the students and moving to Saturday mornings, where the show found an audience and helped inspire several other live action shows that proved more popular than the cartoons. This is the main course of the Saved by the Bell legacy, with fun stories, memorable dialogue, and episodes that became quite iconic, such as Jessie’s infamous meltdown. The show focused on humor, but dealt with real issues and ones young viewers could relate to, so while the series is a lot of fun, it touches on a lot of important topics as well. I think it remains popular for a reason, as it has a great balance between humor and drama, colorful characters, fun stories, and just enough camp, not to mention immense replay value.
Saved by the Bell- The College Years: As the title suggests, this show follows some of the Bayside crew as they venture into the college world and while the series wasn’t a hit, it has some fun elements involved. The show centers on Zack, A.C. Slater, and Screech, with Kelly arriving at one point and that is the most important aspect of The College Years, to further the Zack and Kelly narrative. I do think the show takes an interesting approach, as the guys aren’t at the top of the food chain like at Bayside, but I can see how fans might not appreciate the drastic shift. Saved by the Bell was a brisk, fun show about the cool kids, so knocking them down a few pegs might not have been a wise choice and the show had a short run. The material isn’t great, but it does provide a little more of the Saved by the Bell vibes and for fans, a little of that feel is better than none, so at least it was a few more stories with the crew.
Hawaiian Style: This first made for television movie in the series takes the gang to Hawaii, where Kelly’s grandfather runs a lush hotel, but finds himself threatened by a rival that seeks to put him out of business. But the Bayside crew aren’t strangers to schemes and the group makes a plan to save the hotel, getting into various hijinks in the process. As it turns out, Belding happens to be there, Screech is abducted by natives, Jessie and Slater make a wager, and of course, Zack and Kelly reunite, but will their romance rekindle or fizzle out in the tropics? This is pure cheese, but it makes sense given the Saved by the Bell roots and while it is no classic, Hawaiian Style offers some laughs, some Saved by the Bell vibes, and it pushes the big picture narrative ahead, to get us a little closer to the finale.
Wedding in Las Vegas: The series wraps up with this second made for television movie, which as the title suggests, takes the crew to Las Vegas and builds toward the potential marriage of Zack and Kelly. This wouldn’t be a proper finale if all kinds of hell didn’t break loose and the movie delivers on that front, including a humorous thread which has Slater involved with organized crime. The movie allows all of the characters to have a last chance to shine and get into trouble, while keeping the main focus on the romance and wedding of our beloved leads. This includes the obligatory flashback scenes that bring up some solid sentiment and for fans of the series, this is a bittersweet, but proper conclusion for the Bayside crew.
The Disc: Shout Factory’s release offers the complete runs of Good Morning, Miss Bliss, Saved by the Bell, The College Years and both of the feature films, so you can revisit every moment of this epic saga from start to finish. The episodes all look good and on par with other shows from the period, though of course not as slick or detailed as more recent, high definition content. A bonus disc holds some extras, including a retrospective documentary on the series, which runs just under an hour and collects mostly production crew to discuss the show. I wish more of the prominent cast would have been featured, but it was nice to hear some behind the scenes stories and listen to those who actually worked on the shows. There’s also a look at the music of Saved by the Bell, with interviews with composers Scott Gale and Rich Eames. The music was a crucial part of the show, so fans should appreciate this piece. You can also check out three brief, promotional style featurettes on other elements of the series, as well as view some photo galleries.