I don’t know why I do this to myself. It’s Christmas, and while I should be thinking about family and loved ones, I am sitting here and watching a two-part Saved by the Bell like some kind of animal. Yes, two parts. I considered making it two separate entries so my misery would be worth it, but that’s for cowards. Let’s get to it!

Saved by the Bell“Home for Christmas”

Original airdate: December 7 and 14, 1991

I will tell you right now that I’m certain I’ve never seen an entire episode of Saved By the Bell. It’s kind of like Star Trek where I know the greatest hits through pop culture osmosis. I have listened to every episode of Go Bayside! and I seem to recall that my sister enjoyed this show at the time. And somehow, despite hearing people like Paul F. Tompkins decry the production values on the aforementioned Bayside podcast, I was not prepared for just how shoddy this is.

The sets look terrible and there’s never any sense that anything exists beyond the frame. When characters enter a scene, they don’t notice the person who left the space they are now occupying one second earlier. The logic that takes them from scene to scene and even line to line is non-existent. I’m not even sure who this show was made for – it seems too dumb for teenagers and too… aggressively sexually charged for children. It feels like elderly men guessing what kids like and not real caring if they get it right.

And I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the sexual politics of this show because they are atrocious. There are all these sideways allusions to teenagers just straight up boning but also there are frequent references to women as possessions and it’s super gross, but it’s also not going to be fun if I talk about that, so just know this is a very bad show. Actually, let me call out the most horrifying moment – Zack gives a potential girlfriend a candy cane and his mom says “Luring them in with free candy again?” HIS MOM. She just straight up makes a casual joke about her son being a predator. Take a minute to live with that because I certainly can’t get it out of my head.

So, most of the main kids have jobs at the mall for Christmas. Jesse mentions getting $8 per hour taking pictures of kids with Santa. This episode is 28 years old and that’s still more than the federal minimum wage. That’s another thing that’s going to sit with me for a while. And that means we get a bunch of mall scenes. Slater is bad at wrapping presents and kids are mean to Jesse. Screech, who is famously an absolute monster in real life, buys a doll that’s supposed to wet itself and this doll, which is not in any kind of packaging, starts pouring water out. Like, gallons. They are under the impression that this is hilarious. Zack and Screech bring this doll to the bathroom.

There, a man teaches Screech how to use the hand dryer to dry his clothes. And rather than imagining Dustin Diamond blowing hot air onto his genitals, let me remind you of what Hank Venture said in this situation – “It’s like a guy with a fever is yelling at my crotch!” The man puts shaving cream on some parts of his face and never gets around to shaving, and the boys determine that he’s homeless. Zack leaves him some money. Zack bumps into a girl his age who is carrying around an apple and he flirts with her and it’s already clear that she’s the man’s daughter, but they don’t reveal that until the end of part one.

Zack has a lunch date with this girl, Laura, and she’s exceptionally hungry. We also find out that she’s working at a men’s wear store with Kelly. There is so little context to anything that I’m trying to remember the moments that are necessary to make sense of the plot as opposed to the bits that take up a lot of time and don’t go anywhere. Then the homeless man collapses and even though he’s eight feet away from Zack, Screech, and Slater when it happens, they don’t know it until they get even closer.

The kids all go to the hospital where Lisa works I guess and they dress up and give presents to kids. Lisa kisses Screech and he says that Santa finally gave him what he asked for and then gives money to Zack (who is in a Santa costume), and that’s gross and labored and it’s the worst. Anyway, they swing by to visit the man and find that his daughter is visiting him… Laura! GASP!

So, he turns out to be OK. There is not even a reason given for his collapse. Is “homeless” a diagnosable condition? Zack’s mom has the man (his name might be Frank) and Laura over for dinner and asks Laura to be in the Christmas play that they’re putting on in the mall. The play that’s happening tomorrow. So screw you, whoever was playing that role! Mr. Moody, the store manager, won’t let her have time off and also wants to fire her for being homeless. Then Zack makes a deal that we don’t hear.

They put on a production of A Christmas Carol in the middle of the mall and now it includes product placement for the men’s wear store. Laura plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, which seems like a role that you cast before the morning of the play. Later, Mr. Moody thinks Laura stole a jacket so she runs away. Everybody splits up to find her, and then they do.

Mr. Moody comes by Zack’s house to give Laura the jacket he thought she stole. And Zack’s mom offers to let Maybe Frank and Laura stay at the house until they’re on their feet. First off, cool mom to let the girl who son is trying to hook up with just live there. Second, these two never appear again so clearly things got much better for them in less than a week. Just like in real life!

This was bad and dumb. I’ve watched a lot of Christmas episodes over the years and while these weren’t the worst, these were the first ones that made me think about how my life is finite and I only have so much time on this Earth. I’m using that time so very poorly.

 

Best Line: “Who’s your doctor? Famous Amos?” – Screech. I will not offer any context because it gets less funny with context. Isolated, it seems like it might be part of an OK joke.

 

Holiday Tropes

Trimming the Tree – The kids at the hospital decorate a tree. Lisa and an unidentified tall man help a child put the star on top.

Christmas Decorations – Virtually none. That would have taken time and money and the producers of Saved By the Bell didn’t make four seasons of television for $1100 by decorating.

Santa Claus – Zack takes Laura to see mall Santa and she asks Santa for something in a whisper. Presumably a home, but they don’t actually tell us. Also, this is kind of a shoddy looking Santa and in the credits it says ‘Santa Claus as Himself’. Jesse wears a Santa costume that is maybe too sexy for a teenager to wear in a show aimed at children. Zack later dresses as Santa for the hospital kids.

A Christmas Carol – That’s the play they do in the mall, with Screech as Scrooge. If you think his usual acting is bad, you should see him trying to act another layer on top of that.

Gift Exchange – Laura gives her father a suit jacket so he can get a job. Frank(?) and Laura sign “Silent Night” as their gift to the kids. They don’t sing especially well, so it’s not a great gift.

A Christmas Miracle – Apparently the Man Who Might Be Frank gets a job and a home immediately, so let’s just count that.

Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – This was rough. That said, on some level, there might have been a good message for the children I assume this was aimed at about not shaming the homeless? I’m going to stretch my good will to the breaking point and give them a 3.

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