×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Saved by the Bell episodes that wouldn't happen today

Of all the TV shows of the 1990s, there are very few that are as iconic as Saved by the Bell, the teen sitcom that was downright inescapable through its four-season run and its nearly constant reruns. It was so prominent, in fact, that an entire generation of pop culture fans can quote entire episodes from memory without even trying, a talent that makes us so excited ... and so ... so scared.

But despite the Trapper Keeper-looking aesthetics and Zack Morris' gigantic cell phone that identify it as an undeniable product of the '90s, the show holds up as well as it ever did ... mostly. As much as Lisa racking up credit card deck and Zack getting sad about that oily duck are pretty universal themes, there are a few episodes that just wouldn't work in our modern era. From dubious addictions to Zack's ill-advised attempts at "romance," here are the episodes of Saved by the Bell that just wouldn't happen today.

Model Students proves that Zack is a creep

As a kid, you probably laughed along with super cool teen heartthrob Zack Morris as he got up to his zany exploits, but when you think about Saved by the Bell as an adult, the first thing you realize is that Zack is quite possibly the worst person in the world. He's casually cruel to his "friends," he's constantly exploiting others to get money (even though he's already rich), and most of all, he's a total creep to the women who have the bad luck to be trapped in the orbit of his endless scheming.

Case in point, season two's "Model Students," in which the plot revolves around a mixture of Zack's two favorite hobbies: capitalism and revenge porn. After utterly failing to line his pockets by making the school store a profitable business, Zack and his slavering hench-nerd, Screech, decide to secretly take pictures of the girls' swim team to make calendars. Surprisingly, this doesn't even lead to Zack getting a stern talking-to. Instead, when a creep photographer shows up in pursuit of more salacious photos of a bunch of underage girls taken without their consent, Zack preys on his victims' desire for fame and weasels his way into being the girls' modeling manager.

As much as it might make the Millennials in the audience feel like crawling into an open grave to rest their weary bones, this episode first aired 30 years ago. If this plot happened today, we'd hope that it would lead to less of Zack getting 10% of Kelly, Lisa, and Jessie's modeling earnings and more of the Bayside Swim Team re-enacting the ending of Death Proof.

Fatal Distraction is a Saved by the Bell episode with a lot of problems

"Fatal Distraction" might not be as bad as some Saved by the Bell episodes ... although there is a bit where Zack dresses up as a cartoonish Arab stereotype in order to better lie to women. So yeah, it's still pretty awful and proof that Zack is basically a sociopath.

In a great resume builder for his future as a lackey of the surveillance state, "Fatal Distraction" finds Zack bugging a sleepover at Jessie's house in order to get some information that he can use to gaslight Kelly Kapowski into going on a date with him. Some of you may recognize this as being essentially the plot of Netflix's You scaled down to high school. It's also pretty standard as far as Zack goes. The real twist, though, comes when the girls actually discover Zack's bug and decide to mess with him by making him think that Kelly is "criminally insane" and will murder him if they start dating.

This one just wouldn't fly today for several reasons. First and foremost, illegal surveillance done to manipulate someone into dating you is, to put it charitably, frowned upon in most 21st-century protagonists. Second, if you've been on TikTok lately, you've probably noticed that today's hashtag teens are a little more sensitive and far less likely to fake a mental illness for revenge. Third, Zack would obviously know something was wrong with Kelly's story when he realized that he'd never heard her tale on any true crime podcasts.

The Zack Tapes is creepy in every way imaginable

Over the course of Saved by the Bell, Zack tried to manipulate and coerce his classmates through methods that would likely end with felony charges today (and probably should've back then, too). And one of his worst offenses has to be the time he tried to brainwash the school through subliminal messages in order to get a date to a dance.

Here's the thing, though ... Zack's deranged actions, reprehensible as they are, might not actually be the most ill-advised behavior in the episode. When his plot — which works, by the way — is discovered, the entire school decides to turn the tables on him, leading to a scene where every girl at Bayside tries to swarm him while moan-chanting his name like they were a herd of zombies on The Walking Dead. It makes sense that the students would want this public revenge. Where it goes off the rails is when the teachers get in on it.

Even with the fact that "my teachers staged an elaborate prank involving the entire school in order to publicly humiliate me after I tried to use mind control on Kelly Kapowski" is the kind of sentence that would make a network censor's head explode, the adults are the most worrisome factor. Both Principal Belding and Miss Wentworth engage in fake seduction attempts on Zack who, just to be clear, is a high school freshman. Oh, and also the tape that Miss Wentworth makes to teach the kids about subliminal messages includes a line about how they should hook her up with their single fathers. If you think about this episode for like two seconds here in the 2020s, there's nothing about it that's not truly horrifying.

Screech's Woman is a Saved by the Bell episode that's ... well ... it's something

If the title doesn't ring a bell, "Screech's Woman" is the episode where Zack pretends to be a girl named Bambi in order to seduce Screech into doing all the work on a group project. You've already figured out the problem here, right?

All things considered, Zack Morris catfishing one of his friends for personal gain actually does seem like the kind of plot that could survive to the 21st century. We didn't even have the term "catfishing" back in 1989, and if anything, it's only gotten easier to pull off a scam like this in the years since. If the show was still running, "Zack gets into deepfakes" would be a perfectly viable premise for a new episode. It even treats Zack's date as "Bambi" with a surprisingly modern sensibility. Sure, it's played for laughs, but unlike similar setups in a lot of its contemporary media, Zack's challenge to the gender binary isn't frowned upon by his friends. Jessie and Lisa help him pick out an outfit, and even Slater seems to approve of the whole thing, complimenting Zack on his looks when he finds him at the Max.

So what's the problem? Well, it's mainly that Zack looks like Holly Gennero from Die Hard with Gorilla Monsoon's shades. No way Jessie and Lisa would let Bambi go out of the house without a better outfit in 2020.

Thanks to social media, Rent-a-Pop wouldn't work today

In "Rent-A-Pop," Zack engages in some highly relatable teenage hijinx by hiring an actor to impersonate his father at a parent-teacher conference, so that his dad — who's absent most of the time anyway and whose neglect shaped Zack into the nightmare child that he is — doesn't find out that he's been spending all of his time at school on truly upsetting schemes. You know, like we all did. Classic school days stuff.

We kid, of course. Taking things one step past a logical extreme is what makes a sitcom work, and considering that the show includes literal super powers and a sentient robot that nobody ever mentions as being unusual, it's far from the least relatable things have ever gotten over at Bayside. While we're on the subject of Kevin the robot, though, the reasons this episode wouldn't fly today are mostly related to the technology that actually showed up over the past three decades. For one thing, social media would make it nearly impossible for Zack to convince Belding that James the actor was his dad, no matter how good a performance he was turning in.

Second, and far more pressing for today's audience, that title has to go. These days, going out and finding an out-of-work actor you can pay to be your daddy for a couple of hours has a very different connotation.

Save the Max is too dated for its own good

"Save the Max" has one of those reliable sitcom plots that never seems to go out of style. A beloved institution is in danger of financial ruin, so to save it, our cast has to put on a show! In this case, the institution is the Max, and the show comes in the form of using the Bayside High student radio station, which they use for a call-in telethon to raise money for their ... local hangout that contains all school functions for some reason? Weirdly stylized cafeteria that the kids hang out in after school? If anyone out there knows what the Max is actually supposed to be, let us know, because we've been wondering for three solid decades.

Anyway, this one seems a bit dated. High school radio stations do still exist, of course, but they're not quite as prominent as they were before everyone started carrying around a supercomputer in their pocket that could access virtually all media at all times. "Using terrestrial radio to save a '50s style diner" just would not appeal to "the Kids These Days."

If Saved By the Bell was happening today, we'd be far more likely to get an episode where Zack started an official @BaysideHigh TikTok account in order to smash capitalism. Replace the subplot about Zack finding out that Belding was a cool teen DJ back when he was in high school with some scenes where they find out that he used to do furious reviews of classic video games on YouTube before he was canceled for being problematic and went back to his day job, and now you've got something that's #relatable.

Running Zack is a Saved by the Bell episode with some serious racial missteps

One thing you have to give to "Running Zack," in which young Mr. Morris learns that racist stereotypes are bad, is that its heart is in the right place. It's one of the few episodes that actually addresses the fact that Zack is kind of a terrible person and shows him trying to address that and improve himself. His methodology, though, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

On the one hand, there are a lot of individual pieces here that feel like they could be relevant to today's audience, like Jessie grappling with her guilt over finding out that her ancestors were slave traders and pressuring Lisa to absolve her of her familial sins. Also, depicting Chief Henry as completely shattering the stereotypical Native American image held by Zack (and the audience) was a very good choice on the part of the show.

On the other hand, Zack showing up in buckskins, face paint, and a war bonnet, identifying himself as "Running Zack" (because he's on the track team), and delivering his class presentation in a stern monotone is ... less than ideal. It's tough to imagine the story resolving in quite the same way, especially given that while Zack Morris the character is revealed to have Native ancestry, Mark-Paul Gosselaar the actor does not. No matter how well-intentioned it was, getting some justifiable complaints about "redface" would've kept this one on the cutting room floor.

That musical number from Snow White and the Seven Dorks hasn't stood the test of time

Most of the memorable episodes of Saved by the Bell stand out because of how weird they are and how far they wander from the generic roots that they start with. Zack cradling an oil-covered duck in the show's most intense display of emotion — sorry, "Jessie's Song," but you know it's true — or Zack and Screech fooling the government with an alien encounter hoax are pretty bizarre when you get right down to it. "Snow White and the Seven Dorks," on the other hand, is about as standard-issue sitcom as it gets.

The plot of two characters having an onstage romance in a school play that causes them to question their real-life feelings for each other is ready-made drama, and so are the scenes where Jessie tries to keep her secret by getting extremely weird about it. It's such a well-known formula that it's hard to imagine a show dusting it off today without doing something to subvert it, but as long as schools have drama departments and hormonal theater kids, it's going to be a reliable premise.

What wouldn't work today, though, is the actual play-within-the-play itself. Saved by the Bell wasn't exactly Hamlet to begin with, but pop culture has thankfully moved past the idea of doing a "rap version" of something where the "rapping" — and please imagine the largest possible scare quotes around that word — is just a bunch of people talking at each other over a Casio keyboard breakbeat with the cadence of a Fruity Pebbles commercial.

There's no way that Jessie's Song would happen today

If you know one episode of Saved By the Bell, it's "Jessie's Song," the infamous "very special episode" that deals with the pressing issue of teen addiction ... to caffeine. The original concept for the episode was that Jessie would get addicted to speed — as in, actual amphetamines — in her pursuit of academic perfection. Unfortunately, NBC's Standards and Practices department didn't actually want to show a teenager doing drugs, which makes things pretty difficult, especially when the script has already been written. In the end, according to series producer Peter Engel (via Vulture), someone in the writers room suggested nerfing the drug use to something a little less harsh, and Jessie's illegal uppers were swapped out for caffeine pills without changing anything else about the script. As a result, Jessie's reaction to ingesting the equivalent of about five cups of coffee is a manic breakdown of truly epic proportions.

Needless to say, it's pretty tough to imagine this one making it to the air these days, although admittedly, this was a weird one even at the time. Part of the reason it sticks out in so many viewers' memories is that we all knew that Jessie's crushing withdrawal from, y'know, a grande espresso was over the top even back then. The problem isn't the subject matter, though. It's that it's presented as completely serious — with Elizabeth Berkley and Mark-Paul Gosselaar's genuinely intense acting making some lemonade out of the toned-down script — without ever crossing the line into (intentional) comedy.

Compare that to today's most notable teen drama, Riverdale, where a high school sophomore spends her afternoons operating a secret speakeasy. The closest they got to this plot, sandwiched between Archie being forced into a bare-knuckle boyfights league while in prison and the long-running Satanic Panic arc about a Dungeons & Dragons monster created by a secret teen cult, came in the stories about drugs called "Jingle Jangle" and "Fizzle Rocks." Admittedly, the two shows take very different approaches to their subject matter, but if we told you that one of them involved a kid with the unexplained ability to stop time, and you didn't know which one it was, would you really be able to guess?