By: Addison Wylie
I don’t normally write reviews for TV movies, but when I do, it’s for The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story. A film that only exists to peak curiosities and indulge Bell actor Dustin Diamond.
As someone who grew up watching Zack Morris and the gang attend Bayside High and ensue in melodramatic hijinx, it’s hard not to write this review from a fan’s point-of-view. Jason Lapeyre’s biopic about Saved by the Bell’s run seems as if it was tailor made for people like me – viewers in their mid-to-late twenties who hold nostalgia for the hot NBC program.
However, even looking at this rushed cash-in from that particular perspective, The Saved by the Bell Story fails to do the show justice. They’ve sort of re-created sets and they’ve lifted at least a few of the scenes from the television show to tap into our memories. But, the film misses the mark on the show’s charisma and colourful energy; the two ingredients that made the original show identifiable.
Part of the problem is with the cast of no-namers filling out the show’s young roster. I can’t help but look at Dylan Everett’s poesy recreation of Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Julian Works’ goofy portrayal of Mario Lopez, and wonder what the casting department was thinking.
With the exception of Taylor Russell McKenzie (who’s imitation of meek Lark Voorhies is spot-on and deserves her own vehicle), everyone seems to be out of order and confused with why this project exists. They can’t scrounge up any loyal excitement towards Lapeyre’s film or to Ron McGee’s thin script. They emote as conventionally as possible to get through each scene in order to call it a day. Hopefully, to return to their dressing rooms to mull over upcoming scripts to better projects.
The main focus is on Diamond’s experience on the set – another one-sided flaw. Following suit, Sam Kindseth looks the part of Diamond and his geeky alter-ego Screech, but he guides us with stale sombreness. He does so because Diamond was allegedly miserable behind-the-scenes. His odd sense of humour rubbed people the wrong way, his appearances were often scoffed at by older folk but embraced by younger children, and he could never be “cool” because of his on-screen comic relief.
The real Dustin Diamond (who serves as an executive producer on The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story) has had a history of crying wolf and bending the truth about life behind-the-scenes. Everyone – and, I mean everyone – involved with NBC’s show claims to have had a heartwarming time taping all four seasons of the series, but Diamond kicks and screams with the mere mention of the original cast.
His tell-all book Behind the Bell (which was also co-penned by a ghostwriter) issued many allegations against his fellow cast mates, and the show itself. His exaggerated written work may have been laughed at and labeled as moody bologna, but it’s been used as The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story’s backbone.
So now, the audience watching The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story receives a story that doesn’t cut too deep out of fear, leaves subplots untied, and is afraid to look Diamond’s demons directly in the eye. It’s a cowardly work that feels like watching someone throw embarrassing tantrums for a very long time.
Because of the iffy background surrounding the source material (and the inclusion of ‘Unauthorized’ in the title), the audience can’t believe in what the film is trying to present. Diamond may have been seen as a silly outcast and his struggles to shake the image of Screech might have some truth to them, but that’s about it. And, even those scenes are blown out of proportion with Kindseth brooding, doing karate, and dramatically taking swigs from a flask to drown his sorrows.
There are important discussions where Diamond isn’t even in the room for, like Gosselaar’s first kiss with Tiffani Amber Thiessen and the decision to add more life lessons to episodes. How does he know what happened if he wasn’t there? Who’s going to tell him the details when no one wanted to talk to him?
All these flimsy hiccups make The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story pointless. It’s watchable and some bizarre sequences evolve the film into a amusingly confused gongshow (take a drink whenever you see a stagehand carry a random prop across the screen), but there’s nothing to gain out of this whatsoever.
No one working on the TV movie benefits from this either. Well, maybe the real Dustin Diamond. He may have been able to use this puff piece as a portal to unwind and vent. However, there are therapists for that – those sessions should only take place between the doctor and the bitter actor. Leave a national audience out of it.