From 1989 to 1992, Saved by the Bell ran on NBC for four seasons (and one College Years season) and became a staple for Saturday mornings before it became a syndicated celebration of the delightfully corny and wholesome adventures of the Bayside High gang. Fast forward to 2020 and some of the gang is back on Peacock with a new class of Bayside High students and new adventures.
Actors Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, John Michael Higgins, Haskiri Velazquez, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, Mitchell Hoog and Josie Totah were joined by executive producers Tracey Wigfield and Franco Bario on the virtual stage at CTAM to talk about the new reimagining of the series and how it differs but still pays homage to the original. For starters, the news series is a lot more diverse when it comes to the students at Bayside.
Totah, who plays the sharp-tongued popular girl Lexi on the series, came out as trans in 2018 and has been featured on numerous TV shows including Champions, Back in the Game, No Good Nick and appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Her character is a reflection of the times and pushes the needle to the slowly-yet-surely move to authentic representation in Hollywood.
“Getting to play a transgender role on screen is obviously very rare,” Totah said. “There’s almost zero representation of people in the trans community. Growing up as a young trans girl, I feel that never seeing myself [on TV] made me never feel truly accepted by the world.” She added that the role of Lexi is more than her just being trans. “She’s in theater, evil and the most popular girl in school — she just happens to be transgender and I feel that getting to that is an incredible opportunity and I can’t wait for people to see themselves on screen in that way.”
Mario Lopez, who played Slater on the original series and in the new series, was the first time many from the Latinx community saw themselves represented, and Velazquez and Pascual-Pena are looking to further strengthen the show’s representation of the community.
“Mario was one of the first Latinos we saw on screen and it is a reason why I love the show,” Pascual-Pena said. “Lisa was one of the first multi-dimensional Black women that we saw on the show and I really have so much love and admiration of this show due to the fact that we get to progress conversations that need to be spoken about in a transparent form and the show deals with the issues in such a beautiful way.”
She continued, “Specifically my experience getting to play an Afro-Latina — it’s such a blessing. For most of my life, as an actress, there were never roles written from my experience… I really have to pay love to Tracey, Franco and the network for essentially rewriting this role and making her an Afro-Latina and the fact that I can represent little girls and women and a community that looks like me and speaks my language as an immigrant is one of my favorite parts of being part of this show.”
Wigfield points out that the show will be a mix of old school Saved By The Bell episodic stories and season-long stories. “It’s not even a reboot — it’s more of a re-imagining,” she said. “While the original show was a Saturday morning show about high school, this is a single-camera, edgier comedy that will be exciting for people who loved the original but if you never saw the original it’s just a funny comedy about high school in 2020.
In essence, Bayside will live in a bubble and these characters will enter this weird world and that’s where the old and new school mesh. This gives the show an opportunity to poke fun at the original and blend it with larger arcs. That said, there will be Easter Eggs throughout the series for hardcore fans. For instance, Velazquez’s Daisy, like Zack Morris, will be able to freeze time and break that fourth wall. And then there is the classic iconic episode where Jessie (Berkley Lauren) got addicted to caffeine pills. (Check out the teaser trailer above.)
“There is a really great episode that pays homage to that moment where Jessie still has some interesting feelings about that time,” Berkley Lauren teased. “Of course, one of the most loved episodes is the ‘I’m so excited’ caffeine pill episode — and to this day, people still come up to me and say those three words.”
In the new Saved by the Bell, California Governor Zack Morris (Gosselaar) gets into hot water for closing too many low-income high schools and proposes they send the affected students to the highest-performing schools in the state, including Bayside High. The influx of new students gives the overprivileged Bayside kids a much-needed dose of reality.
Watch the teaser above.