Review: Clever 'Saved by the Bell' reboot is old school with new tricks

Peacock's update on the '90s teen powerhouse is a smart, forward-thinking spin on the original sitcom

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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The Bayside gang is a little bit more self-aware this time around. 

"Saved by the Bell" is a cracked lens reboot of the NBC sitcom that pokes fun at the posh, lily-white world of the original '90s teen smash. Back then, there wasn't a problem too big (an addiction to caffeine pills, pot at a Hollywood party) or too dramatic (Kelly falling for her college-aged manager) that couldn't be solved over burgers at the Max and wrapped up in 22 minutes cold.

Mitchell Hoog, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Pena and Haskiri Velazquez in "Saved by the Bell."

This time around, problems are still fixed and lessons are still learned, but everything is sent through a satirical, post-modern filter that deconstructs the very clichés it's busy reinforcing. It's like if "Community" was set in high school. 

And that's a good thing. This new 10-episode "Saved by the Bell" respects the original but lovingly lampoons it for the milquetoast world it presented, and puts a fresh coat of 2020 paint on it. It's a fun show that knows that in order for a new "Saved by the Bell" to work, it needs to both laugh at itself and also be in on the joke.  

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The focus here is on a new group of students at Bayside High School, the Pacific Palisades paradise that makes West Beverly High look like the school from "Dangerous Minds."

When California Gov. Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, showing up to kick things off) slashes $10 billion from the state's education budget, schools are forced to consolidate and a group of less fortunate students gets bused in to Bayside where they must co-exist in a world of immense entitlement, where kids dress like everyday is prom and the student parking lot is dotted with Teslas.

Mario Lopez, DeShawn Cavanaugh and Belmont Cameli in "Saved by the Bell."

Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and Davante (Dexter Darden) are the trio of newbies, outsiders who give us our way in to the world of Bayside. There, Zack's son Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog) is the new class schemer, pulling pranks and running scams that would make his father proud. Lexi (Josie Totah) is the school's princess, with a twist: she's trans, and her transformation was part of her reality show, "Becoming Lexi: I Am Me," which airs on the E! network. And Jamie (Belmont Cameli) is the dumb jock, but again, with a twist: he's a sensitive, coddled soul, and he's awful at sports. 

Jamie is the son of Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley, reprising her role), who is now an idealistic guidance counselor at Bayside. And A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) is the school's gym teacher/ football coach, who looks like he hasn't aged a day since the last time he roamed Bayside's hallways and whose dimples continue to occupy their own ZIP code. (Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins is the new principal, putting a self-effacing spin on the Mr. Belding character.)  

"Saved by the Bell" is smart to shift the focus to the new characters and their perspectives on the world they're entering into; a show that focused on Mac's shenanigans would fare about as well as "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." The show seamlessly integrates topics of race, class, privilege and wealth and spins them forward in a savvy, humorous way and is never burdened by them, which in its own way makes the show progressive. 

And there are plenty of callbacks to the original that fans will recognize and appreciate, from familiar faces to plot lines to the original Bayside set, which is lovingly recreated in sharp detail. (Even the original theme song gets an update, courtesy of Lil Yachty.)

"Saved by the Bell" is a throwback that looks forward, embracing the past while living in the now. And it shows that you can teach the old school some new tricks. 

'Saved by the Bell'

GRADE: B

On Peacock beginning Wednesday

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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