Review: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

saved-by-the-bell

Plot: Based on true events detailing the formation and gigantic success of the early nineties live action kid’s show, Saved by the Bell.  Told through the eyes of Dustin Diamond (Sam Kindseth), as the teenage cast learns to deal with the ups and downs of success.

If you don’t care about Saved by the Bell, this won’t hold your interest. But if you were like me who grew up in the nineties, Saved by the Bell was unavoidable. While we all poke fun at it now, we forget how ridiculously successful this show truly was. If there’s one thing this movie does right, it’s hammering that point home. Yes, I am an unapologetic Saved by the Bell fan.  Now having said that, do I think it’s a quality show? Not so much. It falls into that guilty pleasure category of laughing at it, not with it. It’s why we watch reality television. Zack. Slater. Screech. Kelly. Jessie. Lisa. Mr. Belding. If you grew up in that era, there is no way in hell you don’t know those names. I loved them all. With this new Lifetime movie, I got exactly what I wanted: A cheesy over dramatic cringe fest that was made for the people who loved Saved by the Bell for the same reasons I did – to laugh at it, not with it. Let’s delve into the glory and wonder that is The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, shall we? Bayside!

First of all, there’s the acting. This is really hard to explain, but I’m going to try my best. The actors do a good job of doing bad impressions of the real actors. That’s the best way I can describe it. I have no idea if that was intentional, mixed, or maybe these actors are really just that bad  I have no clue.  What I do know is that Dylan Everett who plays Mark-Paul Gosselaar/”Zack” in the film looks like he’s about twelve. The blonde hair was out of control, and he’s actually called out on it in the movie. Then we have Taylor Russell who plays Lark Voorhies (“Lisa”), and in the first half hour she actually does an impeccable Lisa impression. But as the film goes on, she’s just boring. We got Tiera Skovbye as Elizabeth Berkley (“Jessie”), who’s just as annoying as the character, so they got that right. They even casted a Dennis Haskins (Ken Tremblett) as the fake Belding. And he does a Belding laugh! Watching that was probably three or four on my “Best of Life” list. Before we get to the main event (Screech!), we also got to hit on Julian Works and Alyssa Lynch who play Mario Lopez (“Slater”) and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (“Kelly”) respectively.

While the other actors were in the “decent” category, these two were a complete mess. Works as Lopez is bad acting at its finest. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there comes a point where he randomly starts doing push-ups on the set. You can’t make this stuff up. The actress who played Kelly looked as though she was a Kristen Stewart clone, biting her bottom lip like it was licorice. She always looked scared or confused.  It drove me crazy because I never knew if she was intentionally bad, or just plain bad. The man of the hour though, and the true focus of the movie was Sam Kindseth as Dustin Diamond (“Screech”).

They make it clear early on in classic Saved by the Bell fashion that this is Screech’s story.  Its been inferred that Dustin Diamond was the most bitter cast member on Saved by the Bell, and this movie tells us why.  Who knows how much is true, but this all fascinated me. Dustin Diamond in this film is like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. He’s this wide-eyed happy-go-lucky kid who’s excited to start a new chapter in his life, but becomes a cold, bitter, and emo human being. The whole crux of the movie is how Dustin becomes increasingly tired and pissed off at being the geek, and even the cast treats him like crap. I even felt like a jackass while watching this because the more he tried to distance himself from Screech, the more I saw him as Screech. I’m sorry, that’s just how I felt, even when he punches some dude. The one time I actually did feel sympathy for him though involved a plotline with a friend who’s an extra on the show. If that actually happened to Dustin Diamond, then that sucks.

This brings me to another point that is both a weakness and “strength” of the film. This is billed like a VH1: Behind the Music type story. You might go in thinking all these innocent teenagers and cast members started doing crazy drugs and completely self-destructed. Aside from the Dustin Diamond character who drinks and smokes a little bit, it’s not that at all. Seriously, the most dramatic scene is when the fake Mark-Paul Gosselaar whines about not being able to spend money on a new car. Riveting stuff. The film shamelessly tries to make it seem like a Behind the Music special though, as every scene before commercial break is Dustin Diamond either smoking or drinking. Oh my, heavens! I’m sure successful teenage actors have never done that before! The movie even calls itself out on this, as one of the show executives claims these kids could have done a lot worse.

If you don’t care about Saved by the Bell, stay away from this. But if you’re someone like me who loves the cheese factor of the show, this unauthorized story is for you. I’m ashamed to admit that a lot of the stuff they talked about in the first twenty minutes, I already knew. They even reenact the classic Jessie “I’m so excited!” scene. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the reaction afterwards had me in stitches, particularly with how Dustin Diamond responds. And again, it really is his story. He even makes reference to the fact that the other cast members did other things, but he was always Screech. Give this film a chance. It’s better than Saved by the Bell: The College Years.

Rating: 8 “I’m So Exciteds!” out 10, but only if you’re a Saved by the Bell fan

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.