One of my earliest TV obsessions that I deemed worthy of countless re-watches (mostly due to incredibly limited channels in my house — my parents upgraded from antenna to satellite dish about ten seconds after I got my driver’s license) was the quintessentially 90s teen comedy Saved by the Bell. In the mornings, I would sit on the edge of my bed in a towel, half-asleep with dripping wet hair, as I predicted punchlines and mouthed them along with the gang at The Max. For years, I thought “preppy” meant blonde and I was terrified that one day I would become so stressed about geometry that I, too, would develop an addiction to caffeine pills. I pined for a high school experience as gnarly and tubular as the one everyone seemed to be having at Bayside High. More than I wanted the dramatic irony of a kooky mixup at a masquerade dance or to save ducks from oil spills, the thing at Bayside that I really wanted was Zack Morris.
I pulled all three of these pictures from an online dictionary entry for “smarmy”. Zack Morris was incredibly selfish and would do anything or betray any one of his strangely loyal friends to get what he wanted, but OH BOY, is he cute or what?
A couple of years ago, we introduced this cultural phenomenon as charter bus entertainment for the helpless 55 teenagers on the WPC youth ski trip. They pretended to hate it. They begged us to turn it off. They even stole the DVD box set from a chaperone’s bag while we were stopped at Chick Fil A so that they wouldn’t have to watch another second of it. I later serenaded them with an a capella version (including a vocalized guitar solo) of the SBTB theme song over the bus mic. Kids these days groan and yell when they love stuff– isn’t that fun?
As I watched hours of SBTB on the bus that weekend, suggesting pivotal episodes for the queue (which only further confused the kids– “WHY DO THEY ALL RANDOMLY HAVE JOBS AT THE BEACH NOW?” “WHO IS THAT GIRL ON THE MOTORCYCLE?” These are incredibly valid questions.), my lingering affection for the fun nature of the show itself and all the teenage antics to which I once aspired was not as strong as I expected. Maybe, on the other side of high school, I’m sad that I didn’t get the full Bayside experience and that life has passed me by. Maybe I just have a slightly more sophisticated sense of humor than I did from ages 9-17. Maybe I never actually paid attention to the show at all, but was so enamored of Zack Morris that I fell victim to his charm, his wit, and his super cool cellular phone.
That’s not the only time that my affections for Mark-Paul Gosselaar have taken the wheel from my sense of reason. I took the LSAT a second time after becoming enthralled with his role as a NYC public defender on TNT’s Raising the Bar. To be fair, that was the dream long before I ever saw the show, but this definitely pulled it off the back burner. Zack Morris as a PD? Cut to hours and hours in the architectural wonder that is the Seattle Public Library, practicing logic games and listening to Vampire Weekend and envisioning myself working alongside MPG to provide legal counsel to all the accused. My return to the law school plan didn’t stray too far from the first attempt and a career in public defense remains a missing chapter in my story, despite my motivational daydreams.
So, this morning, when I was getting ready for work, I got out of the shower, sat on my bed, wrapped in a towel, and turned on Hulu ONLY TO FIND that there is a new NBC sitcom starring none other than the bodacious MPG.
And it’s not great. I watched the pilot of Truth Be Told and things do not look good. Pilots are tough and I never bail after a single episode (except with Lost, but that’s because it scared me). MPG plays the white guy in a pair of couple-friends and, while the writing seeks to brave difficult ideas about race, I think Mashable’s Hillary Busis really nails it with her review entitled Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s ‘Truth Be Told’ is the edgiest comedy of 1985. I appreciate NBC’s stab at diversity, but the gratuitous emphasis on the struggle of being the white guy in a group of non-white-guys (asking what words he can and can’t say, for instance) doesn’t excite or challenge me. Neither does worrying that if a white man has both a wife and a babysitter who are both of blended Asian ethnicity, that people will think he has “a thing”. I can hear conversations around me that echo this fear of talking about race and understanding one another and maybe seeing adult Zack Morris exemplify a lot of those fears in one thirty-minute block is just disappointing because this is where we are. This is what network TV writers think will resonate with America’s Friday night primetime viewers: laughable insecurity with otherness and a clumsy attempt to express tolerance. I thought we were a little further along than this, and maybe next week’s episode will turn back toward a fun comedy about friends who happen to make up a racially diverse group, rather than a caricature of how hard it is to be white and not subsequently racist.
But yeah, I’m going to keep watching. Unless… is Franklin and Bash on Netflix?