The thing about going back to high school is that it’s never the same as you remember. Nor should it be, given the amount of personal growth and development you’ve hopefully had in the years since graduation. Taper your expectations though, and taking a stroll down memory lane can leave you embracing the fond memories you experienced while recognizing all the ways in which you now, perhaps, know better.
That appears to have been Peacock’s strategy in reviving “Saved By The Bell,” the 1990s-era teen comedy where problems could be solved in 22 minute, high school archetypes were readily available, and the kids had unwieldly power over bumbling authority figures. Was the original show fun escapism on a Saturday morning for the kids of its generation? For sure. But throwing a little lip gloss onto the nostalgia and repackaging that bubble gum history for a new generation without embracing cultural changes would have guaranteed another out-of-touch, face-palming reboot.
All of which is to say this class of “Saved By The Bell” is a pleasant surprise. Showrunner Tracey Wigfield’s experience with skewering meta commentary on series like “30 Rock” and “Great News” comes into play here. She and her team of writers masterfully weave all the best parts of the original into this new iteration, while calling out the ways in which the first show’s foundation was cracked.
At the famed high school the show could have easily centered Mac as the new, entitled protagonist — one who floods the gym, fights over the best parking spots with his frenemy, cheerleader Lexi (Josie Totah), and makes life hard for yet another authority figure who would prefer to be your best friend, Principal Toddman (John Michael Higgins). But the real central figure here is Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), a transfer student with big ambitions who is paired with Mac on the first day of this new school experiment.
It’s from her vantage point that viewers take a “time out” to follow these new teen stories, which include student elections, missing iPads, and planning a school dance. Those plots are universal to be sure, and while the main problems are still solved for a blue-sky happy ending by the time the credits roll, the writing digs deeper to explore themes of class and privilege. Along the way it also turns traditional character tropes on their head—the stacked athlete is actually terrible at football, the presumed jock has theatrical aspirations, the new QB is not who you’d expect.
“Saved By The Bell” drops its 10-episode season Nov. 25 on Peacock.