Bayside alumni update: Zack Morris is now the in-over-his-head governor of California.
Kelli Kapowski is his “still smoking hot” wife. And A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano are back working at the high school that once brought them together.
In the new version of “Saved by the Bell,” the originals are around, but the high school experience is left to a new generation – Zack and Kelli’s son, Mac, Jessie’s son, Jamie, and a group of teens who transfer from the less prosperous Douglas High because Morris made poor budget decisions.
According to Executive Producer Tracey Wigfield, the new “Saved by the Bell” isn’t a reboot but a “reimagining.” “While the original show was basically a Saturday morning show for kids about high school, this is a single-camera, edgier comedy that I think will be exciting for people who love the original,” she says during a Zoom conference.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen and Lark Voorhies make appearances, but they’re not regulars like Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Mario Lopez, who interact with the 2020 teens. Sets and props (like Zack’s old cellphone) are familiar but the new Bayside embraces more contemporary hallmarks.
Josie Totah, for example, plays Lexi, a transgender student who rules the drama club like a Kardashian. For the transgender actress, the series is an opportunity to show a trans character who’s more than her gender identity. “She’s the popular girl in school (who) just happens to be transgender.”
Alycia Pascual-Pena plays a Douglas girl eager to play on the Bayside football team.
And Mitchell Hoog – who plays Mac Morris – is more interested in a good parking spot than ruling the school.
Toss in a beleaguered principal (played by John Michael Higgins) and it’s a different world.
Wigfield fell for the series when she was a child and wanted to give it a contemporary spin when she got the opportunity. “It’s a show a lot of comedy writers my age really loved,” the Emmy winner says. “It was a very sanitized, safe version of high school, which I think was part of the appeal to me.”
To get the same vibe, she encouraged her staff to watch the old episodes and “think about them through a 2020 lens.”
The actors got a crash course, as well, because the show was frequently running in the executive offices. “That kind of put us back in that Bayside mentality and mindset,” actor Dexter Gordon says. “It’s definitely there. It’s not hard to dive into that when you’re on set.”
Those freeze-frame moments Zack used to enjoy are now the property of Haskiri Velazquez, who plays Daisy, a Douglas student who runs for class president.
“It feels odd breaking that fourth wall because, as actors, you’re told, ‘Don’t look at the camera, ever,’” she says. “It’s really fun to connect with the audience.”
Lauren, who had been approached many times to do a new “Saved by the Bell,” said something about this version felt right. “It was just interesting to go back to understand what drove her and, then, what made her return home,” Lauren says.
Wigfield populated her writers’ room with fans who knew the original show’s conceits. “We want to poke fun at it in a way you only can if you deeply love something,” she says. “We also don’t want to be like, ‘Look how stupid it was.’ That isn’t our intention.”
The Bayside students still long for things like ice cream socials and post-school fun at To the Max. They drop references to current affairs and look at the “Bell” veterans like they’re, well, old.
“Even with the new edge, there’s heart at the core of everything,” Lauren says. “Which is something people also loved about it – the human connection, relationships, all the hijinks and everything.”
For Darden, the original “Bell” was one of the few series that showed diversity. “We weren’t used to seeing black women who were on a show with white women and white men who were on a show with a Latino man. To be able to bring that back and really cross racial boundaries and show that inclusivity is important.”