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'Saved by the Bell' Loses in Its Sitcom About Teens

August 19, 1989|LYNNE HEFFLEY

By launching its new Saturday morning sitcom, "Saved by the Bell," with three prime-time airings--Sunday at 8:30 p.m., Aug. 28 and Sept. 8--NBC hopes to build an audience for the show's regular run, which begins Sept. 9.

It would have been wiser to let this one tiptoe into its Saturday morning time slot unsung and unheralded.

Meet six, cutesy, cardboard teens at a fictional California high school. There's Screech the nerd (Dustin Diamond), Slater the jock (Mario Lopez), Kelly the class queen (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen), Lisa the airhead (Lark Voorhies) and Jessie the intellectual (Elizabeth Berkley).

Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is the star. He occasionally addresses the audience directly. This is not an inspired innovation.

The owner of the local teen hangout, "The Max," does magic tricks. The would-be-hip principal and the few teachers who are in evidence are fools.

It might work if it was all done with no-holds-barred campiness, a la Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That on Television." But this is "message" TV.

In the first episode, "Dancing to the Max," by producer Peter Engel and Tom Tenowich, the gang must choose partners for a dance contest hosted by guest star Casey Kasem. To win Kelly's favor, Zack challenges rival Slater to a dance-off. But, gee, Zack can't dance, so Jessie, who isn't going because she's self-conscious about her height, secretly teaches him.

Will Zack ask Kelly, or will he suddenly see Jessie in a new light and ask her?

Actually, the mystery is how to avoid wincing when Zack is supposed to be wowing his friends on the dance floor: Gosselaar really can't dance.

Tenowich's second episode is only slightly more bearable. In it, Lisa runs up a $300 tab on her father's credit card and Zack thinks up money-making schemes to get her out of trouble. He auctions off most of her clothes and has her sell kisses. The nerd buys the most tickets (chuckle). Then she works as a waitress for a day, but that's a disaster until the gang shows her how it's done.

Cartoons, anyone?

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