Saturday, February 13, 2016
The Other Saved By the Bells – Saturday Morning Weirdness
We all know about great and irredeemably stupid live Saturday Morning comedy/drama Saved By the Bell: originally the Disney Channel’s Good Morning, Miss Bliss and then moving to NBC and the sunny shores of Bayside, California; on through a summer season at Malibu Sands Beach Club and weird last-season cast changes and into the College Years; finally culminating in the shameful New Class, which is not spoken of in polite circles. But there were a bunch of also-rans, pretenders to the throne of Samuel “Screech” Powers that were, at times, even more delightful because they were so unabashedly insipid. Wish you could have seen them! So long now. What’s that? You want me to write about these “other” Saved By the Bells? Well, I guess it’s my own fault for bringing them up in the first place. Read on to see what little I remember of these other shows!
These legendary Saved By the Bell rip-offs were actually created due to NBC completely retooling its usual Saturday Morning Cartoon schedule and creating TNBC—that is, Teen NBC—which was a three-hour block of mostly-scripted live action programming aimed at (you guessed it) teenagers. Saved By the Bell showrunner Peter Engel produced virtually all of this programming, and as a result it was totally indistinguishable from that show chronicling the adventures of a handful of kids and one blundering adult at Bayside High School.
The first new show in this lineup was actually not new at all. California Dreams began its life as a television program about the Garrison family, transplants to Southern California by way of Iowa, whose musically-inclined children were in a rock (and probably roll) band named (gee, you’re smart) the California Dreams. The first season focused on this family, but then the edict came down from NBC to only make successive carbon copies of Saved By the Bell and the show was changed. For the rest of its run, California Dreams focused on the kids in the band, shattered the family dynamic by writing out the youngest Garrison completely and sending Jenny Garrison and her mother to Italy forever in the third episode of the first season, and added a new character: Jake Sommers, who literally wore a motorcycle jacket and had the 1990s equivalent of greaser hair (which was, incidentally, moussed hair.) I really remember the band’s manager, Sylvester “Sly” Winkle, who was sort of a conniving douchebag that got crummy gigs for the band and wore sports jackets with the sleeves cuffed up, per the style of the day. California Dreams performed a bunch of original, shitty songs during the life of the show, but none was more memorable or pithy than their final song, which I am going to assume is titled “I’m So Glad (I Was There)”:
Another TNBC program I watched lots of times but can barely remember was Hang Time, which followed the hijinks of Deering High basketball team, the Tornados. Like California Dreams, it didn’t pick up Peter Engel as an executive producer until the second season, so it didn’t become a complete Saved By the Bell clone until then. Still, this show was always a little different, in style and format, than its counterparts. We enjoin the Deering Tornados when Julie Conner becomes the first girl on the varsity basketball team, which was already a motley crew of kids. Over the course of six(!) seasons, the cast changed constantly, and I didn’t even watch the last two or three years. Often the team would be comprised of fat kids, small kids, and other marginalized bullies’ targets in the popularity hierarchies of the American educational system. This was in contrast to the usual formula: all hot dudes and chicks except for one nerd (aka the “Screech factor”). I don’t really recall any specific episodes of this show, but I do chuckle at the fact that, due to the movie Hoosiers, the state of Indiana is inextricably linked to basketball in popular media.
Being from New York City myself, I couldn’t help but “get down” with the show City Guys, which was set in the Big Apple. Centering on best friends Jamal Grant and Chris Anderson, attendees at Manhattan Public High School, the real hero of this show was the enigmatic and way-too-old-to-still-be-in-high-school character Lionel “L-Train” Johnson. He turned the “Screech factor” formula around by making the hapless weirdo into the most compelling and nuanced (albeit goofy) character on the show. One thing that annoyed the hell out of me about City Guys was how students were allowed to recreate on the roof of the building, something which I’m sure is against public school safety code. City Guys had the best theme song out of any show of its ilk, because it was a rap:
There were some other Peter Engel shows floating around at the time—USA High, about a high school on a cruise ship that aired on the USA Network, for instance—but it gets pretty redundant to describe them all, and I didn’t even watch a bunch of them. I mean, almost all of these programs debuted after I was out of high school already, I really should not have been enjoying the antics of moralizing pseudo-teenagers beyond drinking age. But that, my friends, is the insidiousness of adolescentsia eternalis; it’s cute to seem young at heart until you’re old enough to need heart medication.