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The Story Behind The Infamous Jessie's Song Episode Of Saved By The Bell

If you're old enough to remember when broadcast television was still king, you might remember something called a "very special episode," an episode of a sitcom that dealt with hard hitting issues (often drugs). Lots of shows had them. "Home Improvement" had the episode "The Longest Day" where the family finds out that Randy might have cancer. In "Boy Meets World," Shawn was suckered into joining a cult in "Cult Fiction." Oh, and who could forget "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue," the Saturday morning cartoon special featuring every cartoon character you can think of teaming up to stop one kid from doing drugs? 

According to No Film School, the "very special episode" format, which began in the 1970s, seems to have originated from writers — particularly those working on lighthearted programs — wanted to delve deeper than their usual fare. And in the book "Very Special Episodes: Televising Industrial and Social Change," editors Jonathan Cohn and Jennifer Porst open their introduction by talking about what they call the most recognizable very special episode ever made: the "Saved by the Bell" episode "Jessie's Song." 

The 9th episode of Season 2, which aired in 1990, remains the most famous and infamous episode of the series, and has been the subject of a lot of much teasing over the years, including the 2020 "Saved By the Bell" reboot, which made several jokes about the episode. However, what was the story behind this very special episode of "Saved by the Bell?"

It's Elizabeth Berkley Lauren's favorite episode

In the episode, Jessie, stressed from having to balance school with a potential shot at starting a pop group with her friends, gets addicted to caffeine pills and ultimately has a meltdown when confronted by her good friend, Zack Morris. In the most famous scene from the episode, Jessie attempts to sing the Pointer Sisters' song "I'm So Excited" but breaks into tears, resulting in the episode's most famous catch phrase "I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so scared!"

If you think that a caffeine pill addiction doesn't sound like a huge problem, you have a point. Peter Engel admitted in his memoir that, as allegedly pointed out by Dustin Diamond, "Jesse was acting more like a heroin addict than someone on NoDoz" (via Vulture) In fact, the script originally had Jessie addicted to actual amphetamines, but NBC's standards and practices department refused to let them air an episode about hard drugs. It was the suggestion of switching to caffeine pills that sold NBC on the episode. "I didn't even know what caffeine pills were!" Engel later recalled.

Still, many people, including Engel, remain proud of that episode to this day. And one person who still stands behind "Jessie's Song" is the episode's star, Elizabeth Berkely Lauren herself. "I especially loved it because Mark-Paul [Gosselaar] and I have always been so close," Berkley Lauren said a "Today" interview. "He's such a good friend, dear friend. And we got to really get more dramatic and juicy with it. So it was fun for us, as a change, to go a little bit deeper on the show ...  It's amazing to us that all these years, all different generations have appreciated it and it's had an impact in pop culture." 

Lots of fans still laugh at it

Fans of the show continue to discuss the episode to this day, mostly to make fun of it. A 2017 Reddit thread on r/television discussed the episode and fan's memories of it, and most of them mocked how extreme an addiction to simple caffeine was depicted. "Showgirls is the official sequel to this show btw," wrote u/Gankdatnoob, slyly referencing Elizabeth Berkley Lauren's most famous role from after "Saved by the Bell," the movie "Showgirls." 

The same thread saw other jokes. "Caffeine: not even once," wrote u/DeadPirateRoberts, referencing the slogan from a famous anti-drug ad. Others simply point out that she seems to be acting like she's on hard drugs rather than caffeine pills, which, as we now know, was what the original script called for. Still, it did strike an emotional chord with some viewers who don't just see the episode as a joke. "​​I remember watching this for the first time as a child wishing I had supportive friends like she did," wrote u/Versatile337 in the same thread

So, while many modern fans mock the episode, it seems there are still people who enjoy the episode unironically.