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Whether you’re a 20- or 30-something who recalls the antics of Zach and chums with fondness and rose-tinted blinkers, or a young pup fresh from the whelping who is only just stumbling across the magic and mayhem of Bayside High School, one thing’s for sure – the ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ excuse never worked for anyone. But what may have helped all of us through the tricky trials and tribulations of the schoolyard are Zach’s impishness, Screech’s inelegance, Kelly’s glamour or Jesse’s feminism. Hell, even Mr Belding provided a reassuring and stabilising presence in our after-school lives.
As is so often the case, TV can provide a welcome release and escape from the angst and arduousness of everyday life, especially during our tenderer years. As such, TV series like ‘Saved by the Bell’ offer us acceptance in the face of rejection, solidarity in the face of isolation and hilarity in the face of sorrow, anger and frustration. Were those really the best days of our lives? Shows like ‘Saved by the Bell’ certainly seem to portray them as such – for examples of other great teen series from yesteryear, cast your eye over the list below.
One of the shows which hung onto the coattails of ‘Saved by the Bell’s’ success and eased NBC’s transition from screening cartoons to live-action angsty teen melodramas, ‘Hang Time’ focused on the students of Deering High.
More specifically, it centred on the Varsity Basketball Team of that institution, and in particular on one female transfer student who had the gall and temerity to install herself on the men’s team, upstaging the lot of them in the process.
‘City Guys’ was a more urban, grittier and ever-so-slightly-but-still-not-really realistic version of life in high school. Instead of being set in sunny California, the high school in question here is Manhattan (‘Manny’) High, and Zach’s preppiness is replaced by Chris’ upper-class privilege, while Slater’s rough-around-the-edges character is supplanted by working-class Jamal.
Predictable lessons about social stereotyping, peer pressure, violence and the dangers of crime ensue.
‘Saved by the Bell’ briefly flirted with exoticism in its two spin-off movies, one of which is set in Las Vegas and the other in Hawaii – but neither came close to ‘USA High’. Instead of choosing another US state as its location, this teen drama turned the genre on its head by setting Paris as the backdrop to the ecstasies and agonies of juvenile woe.
Fear not, though! Subtitles are not needed – all of the main characters are conveniently American students enrolled at a boarding school in the French capital. Phew! What a relief.
How else can these writers keep the teen trope fresh and exciting? I know! Let’s have two twins – one good, one not-exactly-evil-but-definitely-not-as-nice-and-cuddly-as-the-other-one, both of them gorgeous blonde bombshells. That’ll keep those little scamps glued to the screen! (It definitely did.)
What do you do if your school mates ridicule you and your crushes reject you? If you’re Zach, you probably apply a fresh coat of Brylcreem and practice your wink and smile routine in the mirror a few more times… but if you’re a weedy nerd like Gary or Wyatt in ‘Weird Science’, you simply circumvent all of life’s problems by inventing a freakishly powerful and insanely attractive genie-woman using the wonders of computer wizardry.
It’s amazing what technology can do nowadays, isn’t it?
All of the TV shows like ‘Saved by the Bell’ mentioned above share one key facet in common with that landmark series – they are all largely set inside the school building which its cast of characters attend. Of course, school is only a small and tedious part of our adolescence, and indeed the vast majority of the hijinks, shenanigans and skulduggery that is gotten up to takes place outside of the stuffy confines of the classroom.
As in life, so in art – these further three suggestions of series similar to ‘Saved by the Bell’ cover the same torrid ground of growing up with the same breezy air of comedy… but rarely feature school life in the action.
Remember when I said the ‘Saved by the Bell’ theme tune and intro reel was the most memorable of all time? I WAS WRONG. If you can’t remember all of the words to Will Smith’s (debut?) rap, we had very different upbringings. In this iconic series, Smith is spirited away from the ghettos of West Philadelphia to the uppity splendour of Bel-Air, California.
The eponymous Moesha struggles to come to terms with her father moving on from the death of her mother – by marrying her vice principal. As well as covering the difficult subject of the loss of a parent, the series also put drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, marital infidelity and, above all, race relations under the microscope.
After being adopted by separate single parents at birth, twin sisters Tia and Tamara find each other in the pilot episode through a chance encounter. Managing to persuade their foster parents to shack up together in order to avoid a second separation, the girls soon find that their personalities clash just as much as they complement each other.
Of course, the suggestions above neglect to include the two spin-off series and the brace of straight-to-TV movies which were inspired by ‘Saved by the Bell’, largely for the reasons a) they are too obvious and b) they are too awful to make the grade.
You’ll also notice that all of the shows above are made in the good ol’ U S of A – perhaps because series like ‘Saved by the Bell’ originating from other countries are completely unthinkable. It’s America’s gift and curse to combine that unique blend of cheese, schmaltz and smugness which make these teen soaps work quite so well.
HOWEVER… if you can think of any other shows which fit the bill from climes outwith the 50 states, feel free to show me up as the jack-ass that I am by dropping them into the comments section below… or any others at all, for that matter.
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