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The Saved By The Bell Spin-Off You Probably Forgot About

NBC's Saturday morning teen sitcom "Saved by the Bell" was a sensation, running for four seasons (five if you count its predecessor, "Good Morning, Miss Bliss") and introducing the world to characters like Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), AC Slater (Mario Lopez), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), and Screech (Dustin Diamond). In retrospect, though, Zack's schemes were arguably super villain-level depraved — there's actually a whole YouTube series about this — and many more of the shows' zany plots and character beats haven't aged particularly well, either.

That said, the series' place as a pop-culture juggernaut is more than secure; it's the best kind of bad show. And much of the original program's silliness was rectified by the 2020 series reboot on Peacock. Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall called the new "Saved by the Bell" "a clever recontextualization" of the source material that acknowledges that "some of the antics that seemed adorable in the '90s were actually awful." Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle's Zaki Hasan commented that the reboot "manages the hat trick of giving a socially relevant point of view and being cuttingly funny while honoring our collective warm memories of a not-very-good vintage series."

However, "Saved by the Bell" 2020 isn't the first time NBC attempted to shake the cobwebs from the cheesy classic. The same year that the original aired its final episode, Zack, Slater, Kelly and Screech moved to primetime with "Saved by the Bell: The College Years." To say that it missed the mark is an understatement.

Saved by the Bell: The College Years failed to connect

On the surface, there was a lot to like about "Saved by the Bell: The College Years." The original and its characters had the benefit of a young audience; continuing their story in a university setting allowed Zack and the rest of the crew to grow up alongside their fans. And by moving to primetime, the new show would be able to do things that the first "Saved by the Bell" couldn't.

Unfortunately, that growth could be hard to identify. Zack largely continued to pull the same kind of stunts he did as a tween. Now, though, he was an adult engaging in behavior that bordered on antisocial — but he was still the show's hero. Moreover, several notable cast members from the original were either nowhere to be seen or only appeared sparingly. Namely, Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), and Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins). 

The latter's absence as a foil for Zack was particularly noticeable. Former NFL star Bob Golic was seemingly cast to fill that role as resident advisor Mike Rogers, but the push and pull dynamic never really landed in the same way, and Dean McMann (Holland Taylor) was introduced too late in the run to pick up the slack.

In the end, "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" only lasted a single season; it currently holds a "Rotten" critics score of just 9% on Rotten Tomatoes