Okay, I have no idea what I just watched. But let’s be honest: My expectations for The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story were pretty low to begin with because nothing of quality has even run on Lifetime since it lost its syndication rights of the Golden Girls to the Hallmark Channel.
I also already hated this thing before I even started it because Lifetime is the WORST and requires you to log in via your cable provider before they’ll let you watch anything online, which is asinine. Fox let me watch I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’ NO QUESTIONS ASKED. And because our provider (Cox) was not an option, I had to text a friend in Chicago to get the stuff — know what I mean? Anyway.
The cast is not good. I think part of the problem is that they were all born after the show was over, so how could they make this look authentic? I can’t imagine any of them watched a single episode as research because the acting was as bad and over the top as you can imagine.
And there are definitely missing pieces: For example, someone playing Leah Remini because Stacey Carosi was the bomb-dot-com, and Leanna Creal because Tori Scott will suffocate you with her leather jacket for leaving her out of this story! She got Zack’s class ring and you’re leaving her out of this? PSSH.
We open with the cast in a limo going to some event and they get out to a shit-ton of screaming fans and then Mark-Paul Gosselaar does one of the famous Zack Morris “time outs” until Dustin Diamond proverbially body checks him to the left and basically says, “Step off bitch, this is MY story.” But MPG is not deterred.
The movie, if you can call it that, starts out really slow with auditions, behind-the-scenes arguments with the creators, and the tension between Dustin and his father (this is HIS story, after all).
When we first meet Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley, they are both there to audition for the role of Kelly Kapowski. My first impression of the actress who plays TAT is that her mole is in entirely the wrong place. Lifetime couldn’t even be bothered to have a fake mole position fact-checker?
Before the first read-through, producer Peter Engel gives a lecture about being professional and keeping personal relationships off the set, as we see MPG and Lark Voorhies holding hands under the table — their connection was portrayed as instant — and Mario Lopez cozying up to both TAT and Elizabeth.
It’s ridiculous how quickly Dustin Diamond portrays himself as the shut-out loner with the disapproving father, a true victim and outsider. But since this unauthorized story stems from his memoir which the other cast members refuse to even acknowledge, it’s unsurprising that he tries to portray himself in a sympathetic light, while everyone else is evil and horny.
There is a scene when everyone is talking in their on-set classroom and everything Diamond says is dismissed by the others. He’s making his story parallel to Screech’s because Screech was a sympathetic character, whereas Diamond turned into a giant asshole who no one wants anything to do with.
The first reviews of the show are terrible — and with the cast upset and reacting to them, Diamond is once again the scapegoat. He tells everyone they shouldn’t care what adults think and MPG responds by reading a scathing review of Diamond’s character Screech and how painful his performance is to watch.
It can’t, however, be as painful as this portrayal of the show’s “unauthorized story,” because this happens about 29 minutes in, which feels like forever. Also, side note: I cannot get on board with this kid they cast as MPG (Dylan Everett).
Whereas MPG was tall and strong, and had presence even in the early seasons when he was skinnier, this kid looks like he would lose a stand-off with a leaf blower.
The movie also jumps around and lacks any cohesion. After Dustin storms off from hearing his bad review, he marches into the office of NBC’s president and asks him to change Screech’s character because he’s sick of being the geek on-screen and off. I believe the Prez, in the nicest way possible, tells him to get bent — because Screech makes people laugh and is not going anywhere.
We then jump to a scene with the girls shopping. Two fans come over and tell them how the show is like watching their life on TV and in the very next scene, the girls are trying to convince the guys they need to do more serious shows that tackle real issues like “drunk driving” and “drug abuse.” Both of those wound up as actual storylines — though I would not call a caffeine pill addiction drug abuse, but let’s not split hairs, shall we — although the drunk driving episode involved TORI, so AGAIN why was Leanna Creal shut out? RUDE!
The guys seem less than enthused about this idea.
A particularly painful moment is when Dustin spies on Mario making out with a hot fan — something that apparently is beyond his reach — and then has a Screech-like fantasy:
Forty minutes in and I’m wondering why I volunteered to watch this. Especially because we’re jumping all over the place. We go from a hint that MPG and LV are attracted to each other to a scene where he tries to give her a birthday present on some roof and Elizabeth bursts in and ruins everything. MPG tells her that he “thinks” Lark and he are dating — which doesn’t sound promising to anyone, as EB helpfully points out. But there’s nothing in between and no explanation of their relationship. To be fair, I guess that’s how teenage relationships go, from zero to rooftopping in 60 seconds?
TAT freaks out about a scene where Zack and Kelly share their first kiss and insists that she and MPG practice. This is awfully reminiscent of the rapping Snow White episode (yes, I am aware that was Spano and not Kapowski but work with me here) and I wonder whether or not a Lifetime exec had his 16-year-old niece write this entire thing for him after watching the series on DVD over the course of one weekend — because quality is lacking, people.
Lark starts throwing shade at TAT during a photo shoot for being too flirty with MPG. I personally refuse to believe that any of the girls had issues with one another because — HELLO that’s my CHILDHOOD you’re trying to ruin — and this is really all Dustin Diamond’s fault for being a jackass. As much as he clearly wants us to consider him the pathetic victim, he has done a piss-poor job of making himself the central focus of this “story” — or as I would like to call it, “heaping pile of WTF.”
Tensions run high between the guys, too. Dustin calls Mario a prick for doing push-ups on the set. Dennis Haskins astutely points out that if the network doesn’t kill the show, the hormones might.
I’m going to take my own time out here and point out the following:
In a recent interview, MPG refuted any negativity that happened on the set:
“Gosselaar said he’s only read excerpts of Diamond’s book and has no involvement with the Lifetime movie, but he does take issue with what Diamond wrote.
‘It is negative. That I must say. Everything I’ve heard about his book is that it is negative, and I don’t remember those things because my experience on the show was very positive,’ Gosselaar said.”
If everyone else remembers the experience as being positive, maybe the issue lies with Dustin. Just saying.
Dustin reveals his first kiss ever (on- and off-screen) was with the future plastic iguana Tori Spelling, and that female fans he met just wanted him to introduce them to the other two Don Juans.
Then we take four left turns and a roundabout to get to the classic caffeine pill scene, which is so poorly depicted, Tori Spelling’s left boob could have done better.
During the scene, Dustin actually laughs out loud. After being met with evil looks, he says, “it’s not like she’s addicted to heroin” and everyone gets mad. He storms out, kicks over a trash can, and naturally accepts vodka from a random stranger, whom he befriends.
This random stranger — whose name I can’t be bothered to remember — seems to be Dustin’s only friend. He gets Diamond drunk before fan events (for which he was almost fired) and then blackmails him with a video of Diamond high as a kite, telling him he will release it if Dustin doesn’t get him a better guest part on the show. Poor Dustin.
TAT and Elizabeth make the decision to leave the show and move on — hence the need for a filler, AKA Leanna. I guess there were some episodes of the last season already shot, so Kelly and Jessie are there. But then they’re not, with no explanation. The movie ends with the graduation episode of Saved By the Bell, for which the girls come back. Dustin does another “time out” and talks about what everyone has done since. It’s pretty lame.
For people who grew up watching Saved By the Bell, this story was a travesty. Poorly scripted, poorly acted, incomplete. I didn’t even laugh once. Not even ironically. We really don’t see any relationships develop beyond a superficial level. Maybe because Dustin was the outsider we’re led to believe he was.
Or maybe there was something else there, but this “unauthorized story” didn’t even tell an actual story, and that’s the biggest disappointment of all.